How much cloud do I need?

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor @ DCS Europe Published 2017-09-12 08:03:54

Whatever the latest trend in the world of data centres and IT, or our lives more generally, the marketing folks do a great job of convincing us all that, if we do not acquire the latest piece of technology, or adopt the latest diet (which seems to contradict the one we were on previously), or change the whole focus of our life/work balance (again), then we’ll be in the minority, feeling like those dunces at school who, once upon a time, used to have to wear silly hats and sit in the corner of the class while their fellow pupils laughed at them.

The American humourist, James Thurber, wrote a great story entitled ‘The Day the Dam Broke’, whereby an unfounded rumour that a city’s dam is about to collapse gets the Chinese whisper treatment, until the whole population is in such a state of panic that they abandon the city. Of course, the dam isn’t about to break, and everyone feels just a tad sheepish as they return to their homes and offices.

Right now, the world of Cloud feels a little bit similar. Everyone is talking about Cloud and, if you are not careful, or a strong enough character, you could easily take your organisation headlong into the Cloud, without really understanding why, fearful that others have got there before you and are gaining significant business advantages that you can no longer afford to ignore.

The good thing is, if you feel like that, then you care enough about your business to know that the Cloud does offer some very real possibilities and advantages for most, if not all organisations. And you’ve probably already done some research into the subject matter, so you understand the difference between the Public, Private and Hybrid Cloud models.

However, I would suggest that, whatever flavours of Cloud do make sense for your business – and the Hybrid model, combining some Public and some Private, seems to be the most likely solution – that Cloud will be just a (significant) part of your overall Hybrid IT strategy, at least for the time being.

For, alongside the emergence of Cloud, there’s been the emergence of a whole range of Managed Services that leverage the Cloud model, but then added to this (as the name suggests) some kind of management service, so that the customer doesn’t need to worry too much about anything other than maintaining connectivity to his pools of compute and storage and, increasingly, the applications themselves (software-as-a-service).

So, however young or established your company is, the first question to ask when considering your overall (Hybrid) IT strategy is: “What do we need or want to do ourselves and what do we want/need to outsource?” 

In terms of the likely answer, there are very few data centre/IT operations that cannot be successfully outsourced right now, but for most organisations ‘losing control’ of various applications and organisational functions is just a step to far.

An increasing amount of start-up businesses, with no cultural baggage or server-hugging legacy, are happy to fire up their IT 100% in the Cloud and by leveraging Managed Services – knowing that a fixed monthly fee in exchange for the services they need is a much better way to start out (or even the only way), than making a massive upfront investment in the necessary IT infrastructure and then stressing about paying this off over time.

However, for the vast majority of existing businesses, a total Cloud/Managed Services model is a step too far. The finance department is keen to sweat the existing data centre/IT assets over the required three to five-year period. The non-essential applications might be outsourced, but the essential applications that are the life blood of the company cannot be entrusted to the outside world. And what will the data centre and IT folks do if their functions are no longer required in-house?

Ah, but Cloud and Managed Services are good for DevOps, bursting (accessing some temporary, extra IT capacity as and when needed) and accessing resources that are otherwise unobtainable - running some kind of Big Data/High Performance Computing application, which would be prohibitively expensive if the required infrastructure had to be provisioned in-house.

So, to establish how much Cloud your organisation needs, somebody needs to carry out a comprehensive audit of the current data centre/IT infrastructure. It would make most sense to get the data centre/IT folks to do this but, of course, if they fear for their jobs, then they might not be as independent or objective as required, unless they understand that their roles are unlikely to disappear, rather change significantly.

Whoever carries out the audit, the objective is to try and understand as accurately as possible the cost of running any particular application today, and whether or not this cost can be reduced and/or the application reliability increased, by providing this application in a different way. Not an easy task, but the only way to understand how to develop a truly optimised, overall data centre/IT infrastructure strategy.

And the likelihood is that this strategy, when established, will, for the foreseeable future, include a mixture of on-premise, colocation, Cloud (of all flavours) and Managed Services resources. The data centre/IT department might be re-named the ‘IT enablers’, with their job being to understand the needs of the business and to then provision any new requests in the most efficient, agile and cost-effective manner, leveraging whatever data centre/IT assets they require from the overall infrastructure pool.

The marketing folks want to build and run a campaign-driven microsite. The IT enablers have to decide is it better to use that server/storage box sitting idle in one of their colo racks, or to hire in the necessary Cloud resource for the month?

Crucially, although one of the advertised advantages of Cloud is that anyone, anywhere, any time, can purchase and fire-up some compute resource (this circumnavigating the cumbersome IT department), it’s vitally important that company policy forbids the provisioning of any data centre/IT resource except by going via the IT department. That’s the only way you’ll keep control of what’s going on and, crucially, understand just how much Cloud your company does need.

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