How Compatible Is Your Software Stack With Cloud Computing?

horse from clouds
Image by: O hai :3

The hype surrounding cloud computing and the benefits it can offer to companies, often repeated in a fervent, religious-mantra like way by its adoring proponents, has actually contributed to a widespread misunderstanding of the term by many people.

It is certainly true that the cloud can have a myriad of benefits for companies that want to harness the potential of quick scalability, but offloading your data and applications to a third party is by no means the magic bullet that is going to elevate your company into the realms of hyper-efficiency.

While more and more businesses are beginning to integrate the cloud into their business operations in a dizzying number of ways, but significant concerns remain about security, integration and issues over liability.

So let’s cut through the confusion and look at exactly what the cloud can offer your business in terms of your hardware.

Hardware

Cloud computing has not yet made as much of a dent in the server market as it has in other parts of the IT economic scene. While many companies are beginning to embrace hybrid mixtures of internal and cloud servers, but you would be hard pushed to find many that whole-heartedly move their entire infrastructure to the cloud.

There are a number of ways in which hardware related services are offered by vendors. The two main categories of service offered tend to be the virtualisation of servers (allowing additional CPU and RAM to be added easily and gives the option of moving the server to other pieces of hardware while it is running) and the use of the cloud for large amounts of data storage. These services are usually grouped together as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

Reasons why you should move your hardware onto the cloud

Locating your servers on the cloud can have a number of distinct advantages for businesses that are looking for the following:

  • Low initial costs. The disparity in start-up costs for a company purchasing cloud server services and one buying its own physical server architecture can be very large indeed.
  • Fast deployment and easy scalability. In-house servers require a lot of man-hours to launch while cloud servers can be mobilised quickly and scaled out very easily due to the traditional physical limitations no longer applying.
  • Hourly billing. Many companies testify to the increase of managing their businesses by paying for the hardware capability that they need at that moment on an hourly basis instead of the potentially expensive exercise of internal server maintenance.
  • Relatively cheap CPU performance. For applications that are purely CPU bound, cloud computing can give you great performance for a relatively cheap price by allowing single nodes on a physical server to utilise more CPU then it usually would.

Reasons why you shouldn’t move your hardware onto the cloud

Despite these benefits, there have been a number of pertinent reservations raised about moving significant parts of your hardware architecture over to the cloud:

  • The savings in cost are not guaranteed. If you already have physical servers then they are a significant investment, and simply getting rid of them means dumping that investment. You may be able to tweak and upgrade them at a decent price.
  • Your data is now out of your hands. This is the issue of security as you will never know exactly where your data is on the cloud. The rise in corporate hacks in the last couple of years shows that even the “securest companies” can be exposed.
  • Extremely variable performance. In a cloud server you are dependent both on what other clients are doing but also the vendor’s connection to the internet. Owning your own servers mean you can be sure of the level of performance you should be getting.
  • A “one size fits all” approach. Cloud servers on the whole offer little in the way of customisation as compared to more expensive sets of internal, dedicated servers.

In the end, it comes down to common business sense: it is not a good strategy to place all your eggs in one basket. A hybrid solution of owning some physical servers (and therefore a certain degree of control and ownership) and placing those applications on the cloud where you can benefit from a quick boost of capacity. This may all change if cloud providers manage to convince us all of their ability to guard our data well and those thorny issues of legal liability get ironed out substantially.

Hopefully this has cleared up some of the confusion surrounding cloud computing and your company hardware. What do you guys thinks of the potential benefits and risks of moving your hardware to the cloud?