True cloud services are a lot more user-friendly and cost-effective than remote hosted services, but not everyone is getting true cloud, says Grant Vine, Technical director at Cybervine IT Solutions.
Cloud computing has a lot to offer businesses, and can deliver real scale and cost benefits. But much of what is being offered on the market in South Africa today is not true cloud computing. Much of it amounts to little more than standard remote hosted solutions with the cloud brand slapped on them.
These hosted solutions have been offered in much the same form for years: customers sign a contract to have access to X amount of capacity for X amount of time, usually 12 months. Whether they use the capacity or not, their fees remain the same. Should the customer suddenly need additional capacity, there’s a good chance they will have to upgrade their contract with no opportunity to downscale once the peak requirement has passed. Unfortunately, every man and his dog is slapping “Cloud” on the product name and adjusting their fees upward to cash in on the hype. In fact, when hosting your virtual machines with an infrastructure hosting company, the overall cost in the long term could prove higher than buying the infrastructure yourself.
In contrast, true cloud computing requires a complete change in the way we look at the deployment of software. It gives customers the ability to scale up and down as needed, and to pay only for what was actually used. In South Africa, this utility billing model for computing has been talked about for some time, but it is only starting to become a reality now. Few hosted service providers are starting to offer month to month billing, rather than a 12 month fixed term contract. The next step will be to pay for actual use rather than a fixed infrastructure framework. This ties in very heavily with web-based self-service and administration of your Cloud provisioning framework, where you do away with sales and account management staff – and the necessity to “get a quotation” prior to increasing or decreasing your capacity. This is what true cloud computing is really all about – but not everyone in South Africa is getting this.
When looking to move to cloud-based services, companies should consider their needs carefully, and not just sign up for the first cloud-branded service they see. A complete evaluation of internally utilized products and services is required to gauge exactly what is appropriate to be run on a public cloud infrastructure. Re-evaluation of some services could result in a complete migration to cloud delivered solutions; a good example of this would be migrating from an internal Microsoft Exchange Server and Local Office applications to the suite of services available from Office 365.
Companies need to assess if what they are about to buy is actually what they will use.
If contracts are necessary, companies should try to isolate to shorter-term contracts; month to month being the best currently available. The costs of new technologies are dropping all the time, and committing to 12 months at a set fee could result in unnecessary expenditure.
Be wary of the costs of putting data into the cloud vendor’s platform, as well as the cost of getting it back out. You may find there is a charge to take your VMs and files to leave their environment, so it is important to read contracts carefully.
Understand the policies and procedures around what you are allowed to do in the environment and what the host will do if there is a breach. You may discover that in terms of your agreement, the hosting company may shut down access to your servers in the event of a problem, for example. Protection of their environment is more important than protecting the clients that are hosted there, and therefore situations such as this are a means of managing their own overall risk and exposure. This could leave your company offline and unable to function, which could be costly.
In some instances, it may be most efficient and cost-effective to rethink your IT completely. It might be best to deconstruct your IT requirements into individual elements and solutions, therefore choosing elements to be hosted on the infrastructure where the solution best suits your needs. You may find that certain solutions are best for certain components, and by deconstructing your IT environment, you are able to use best of breed cloud solutions from a variety of vendors.
Because the cloud is much-hyped at the moment, there is always the risk that companies will blindly rush in to any service branded as cloud, and move their entire infrastructure without careful consideration. But the ‘forklift approach’ to putting everything in the cloud could be risky and expensive. So be weary of being swept up in the tornado of hype, throwing caution to the wind and finding yourself with your head in the clouds and no way back to solid ground.