What is cloud? …asking for a friend

I have happily been running cloud consultancy business for the past couple of years now, and my clients are proving that there is a space in the market for a trusted advisor to help with getting cloud right.  But what is this cloud everyone goes on about? How can you drive efficiencies using modern cloud technology?

Maybe to understand what the cloud is, we first need to know what it isn’t. It isn’t just somebody else’s datacentre, no matter what anyone tells you!  For years it has been possible to buy a fully hosted virtual machine, or whole physical server which you can then carve up into virtual servers yourself and run what you like thereon.  You would decide what kind of workload you are going to run, how many CPU cores you might need in your busy times, and how much storage you’re going to need. You would need to know your business pretty well, because this asset has to last 5 years.  Your hosting provider of choice would procure the machine for you, power it, cool it, feed it that sweet sweet Internet nectar, and manage all the contracts around doing so.  What a brilliant partnership.

But what about Black Friday, or however long that goes on for nowadays?  Your application is super busy – a little bit busier than the server you bought can cope with.  So you have a couple of options – you can buy another server from your provider, and it’ll sit idle for most of the time, but when you really need it, it will be there to cope with demand.  Or, you can just live with it.  Users of your application get a little poorer experience when things are super busy, and you might lose 10% of the sales you were going to make.

Similarly how much of that capacity you had to buy on day 1 of your three year agreement did you ever need if you were to average it out? If this is what your IT estate sounds like, it isn’t cloud.

We see unused (and often wasted) computing resources everywhere and everyday

Digital Information and Communication Technology and Its Applications: International Conference – Hocine Cherifi, Jasni Mohamad Zain, et al.

Similarly, if you just send your current servers into AWS, that’s not cloud either.

Okay, so what is it then?

Cloud is a different way of thinking about your IT estate.  We need to stop thinking about what we might need, what a given server has done for years, and what Gina the developer set up before she left and that nobody will touch.  We need to think about what our business demands are right now.

So let’s take a look at some really common business demands:
We need an Active Directory Domain What if I said you can have a domain as big as you will ever need, and you don’t even need to tell me how big you expect it to get?  Better than that, your cloud bill will only ever be as big as the number of users you have added to it, regardless of what kind of capacity it could theoretically handle.

We need a file server. Again, what if I told you I can give you a limitless file server system, and you only pay for the amount of data you currently have?  What if on top of that I tell you that the chances of losing a file from that system are less (a lot less) than the odds of you winning the lottery this weekend?

We need a web server No worries, here’s a web server which will scale almost infinitely with the demand places upon it.  Your product goes viral and you go from 10 visitors per day to 10 million per hour, no worries.

The un-sung heros of cloud

They’re three of the most popular use cases, and they’re true and everything, but they’re not even the whole story!  How do your current servers get patched?  Maybe you don’t know because your IT team are actually ninjas who come in (through the window of course) at night and patch your systems against all the latest vulnerabilities, get out again, nobody notices, and they don’t even trip the laser beam.  Or maybe it’s because your servers haven’t been patched in years, and they’re currently full of infections. Well if you use cloud services the way they’re meant to be used, all the patching is taken care of for you, behind the scenes.  No more inconvenient maintenance windows.

Something else which is often overlooked – licensing.  If one of your major software suppliers like Microsoft or Oracle audited your business (which they’re absolutely allowed to do, as per the agreement you must sign before using their software), would you be able to show them all of your licenses? Cloud, done right, can take away all of these headaches by rolling licensing into the hourly rate you pay for each service.

Who’s doing it right?

So you can see how customers who get the most out of cloud are those who know their own business well, and know what they want and need from their IT platform. The toys have been invented – the biggest file server anyone could ever want.  The fastest database you could ever need.  The machine learning algorithms trained by data science experts with brains the size of small planetary moons.  They have all been created to serve the biggest companies in the world, but the thing is, you get access to just the same toy box, and you can play with anything!
If any of this sounds useful, if it sounds like the future of your company, if it sounds exciting and like it could open up untold opportunities, get in touch and let’s do this cloud thing properly.

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