The benefits of cloud computing, versus on-site infrastructure or some hybrid of both, have been heavily debated. One thing for business owners to consider is that the utilization of cloud-based computing is not an all or nothing conversation. Between total cloud-computing and total on-site infrastructure exists private vs. public cloud solutions, and having a multi-cloud infrastructure may be able to satisfy businesses with a range of computing needs. Business IT options are varied and need to be specific for the company’s day-to-day operations. The other big factor in the conversation is cost-effectiveness, unless you’re fortunate enough to be in the business of printing money, funds are not unlimited.
There have been numerous studies and op-eds pieces that highlight the benefits of using one cloud provider over another, or sticking to private cloud and/or on-site infrastructure to avoid security disasters. Many of the metrics discussed revolve around speed, efficiency, and consumer-centric business models. But what makes one option better than another when it comes to being affordable?
Cloud Cost Considerations (aka: Clouds that Make it Rain)
One of the greatest benefits the cloud presents is freedom of space and flexibility for company personnel. Ryan Thomas, head of architecture and technology strategy at Bank of America, commented on the benefits of building efficiencies in operations by using a public cloud infrastructure (for non-security sensitive workloads), noting that Bank of America was able to condense from 64 data centers to 31 in the space of one year, with plans of having only eight by the end of 2016. Notre Dame, too, has recently adopted the cloud as one of their core IT strategies, utilizing Infrastructure-as-a-Service for their website and several IT needs. As a result of shifting to the cloud, Notre Dame was able to reallocate IT staff to improve productivity, security, and IT efficiency. Staff that was formerly dedicated to maintaining data security now work with their vendors’ architects, building customized tools to analyze activity data provided by the cloud provider’s reporting services.
Depending on the annual budget, these benefits may not be as substantial for all businesses. There are those that see a tremendous cost-risk associated with cloud security issues, such as loss of data or inability to access data if a breach or other hack were to occur. Smaller businesses, too, may not require multiple data centers to maintain, and thus may not see the associated savings of partnering with a cloud provider. Going one step further, there are some business needs, primarily those involving extremely sensitive customer information or trade secrets, that require on-site computing and security.
Multi-Cloud Considerations (aka: Cloudy with a Chance of More Clouds)
Bank of America, Notre Dame, and other large businesses are not using cloud computing for all of their IT needs, and smaller businesses that trust their on-site infrastructure more than the cloud may wish to host some non-critical parts of their infrastructure off-site. With the number of cloud providers growing, and with services ranging from data storage, data analysis, security, and even server monitoring, businesses have a unique opportunity to be able to piece together a multi-cloud solution. This ability to choose specific services with different providers, often with long-term time commitments, have reportedly helped businesses achieve savings of up to 74%. The opportunity for long-term cost savings, though, comes with an upfront cost of copious amounts research and price comparisons.
Do Your Research (aka: Clearing the Fog)
Even when you have a clear understanding of your company’s computing needs, comparing how different cloud platforms can work with your data and security needs will be time consuming. Additionally, this can require a high-level of understanding that not every executive may grasp. Cloud platforms are not all constructed the same, and cloud architects may handle your data in different ways and at different costs. This makes direct cloud to cloud comparison difficult.
The availability of cloud comparing calculators don’t always simplify the choice. In an article about how to plan for the cost of cloud computing one subject matter expert pointed out, "What works with three servers on [one] cloud may require five on another," and the components that make up one cloud infrastructure will never be identical to another.
To complicate cloud-option shopping further- dividing your computing needs in order to utilize multiple cloud vendors for different services, while it may enable you to receive the best support at the lowest overall cost, multiplies your research time and resources required to arrive at a decision. Your matrix of options and costs expands as your study of cloud-providers amplifies. Additionally, you will likely need to predict costs associated with having data transferred from one platform to another. These costs may vary based on the type of data being transferred, and may not be immediately clear while doing your research. Another cost that is less easy to grasp revolves around the support and type of data recovery plans a cloud provider offers.
Outsourced IT Support
In the face of so many choices, another option presents itself: outsourcing IT support. This option may be particularly helpful for smaller companies or businesses that do not have the capital to devote to full-time IT staff, support, hardware, maintenance, etc. Rather than researching the differences and intricacies of several computing platforms and providers to determine how they satisfy business needs, outsourced IT staff can spend time getting acquainted with your business’s IT systems and customers. A managed services vendor may be able to more quickly apply those needs to a full-service cloud computing solution package. Bringing on an outsourced partner can help make the prediction of total costs of computing needs easier, and you have the added benefit of a staff entirely dedicated to optimizing the system as your business needs may change.