Cloud Hosting

Careful when comparing public cloud apples with private cloud pears

Written by Andrew Vize

New Year resolutions…

So, you buy some trainers in the sales and take up an offer to join a gym – time to get fit. That first step was easy – you bought the capability to get fit with a few clicks from your chair. Now you must put them to work as part of your fitness programme to achieve the weight-loss and well-being you anticipated. But what is the best approach? What type of exercise? How long and how often? Delivering and sustaining the benefits of your programme, whilst worthwhile is not nearly as easy as that first step – much the same as benefitting from Public Cloud.

‘All the gear but no idea…’

This disparaging term for faddy ‘newbies’ has some relevance in the technology market too, particularly for developers and commentators who’ve dabbled with spinning up some cloud resources in a sandbox but who’ve never had to stand-up, populate and run a production service over a significant timeframe economically, securely and reliably.

Buying some Cloud is not buying a solution - it’s buying space, storage, capacity and access – the building blocks of a service or solution. That said, the process of procuring this capacity from the cloud compared with traditional datacentre, hosted capacity or supplier-cloud solutions is now a markedly different experience.

Tale of two sources

Within the public cloud, you can spin-up VMs and configure them within minutes. Larger organisations with DevOps capability can provision and deploy them with similar speed through coded automation.

Compare the equivalent experience of engaging an MSP, specifying the capacity and then procuring it, particularly if it involves provisioning new hardware from a vendor or distributor, alongside the paperwork and negotiation.

In the former cloud scenario, the provisioning experience is ‘consumerised’ and automated – slick, frictionless and ‘just-in-time’. With the latter MSP procurement scenario, things can look comparatively ‘clunky’, even with some automation or pre-configured solutions.

The devil is in the retail…

In terms of the buying experience, consumerising cloud procurement to ‘iTunes-like’ immediacy is tantalising, but such a retail perspective distorts perceptions of the costs of running full production workloads.

With the public cloud procurement scenario, costs are micro-transactional for each element suggesting longer-term lower cost levels compared with traditional or supplier cloud sourcing. There are cloud cost calculators and modellers but anticipating all the capacity and I/O of a full production system is difficult and needs experience of running such systems – a perspective that many organisations do not have in terms of the cost vectors through which public cloud is charged.

MSPs however, whilst giving cloud-like itemised capacity costs, will also look forward to a full production cost scenario giving more transparency of the total cost of ownership (TCO) over the lifetime of the relationship. Ironically, this transparency tends to work against MSPs as compared with the elemental cloud costs, fully loaded long-term solutions will appear initially as comparatively expensive.

But these two early-stage impressions of public cloud belie both the true TCO and challenge of delivering a successful service over the long-term. This however is a limited perspective which happens when you focus on the ‘tech’ and lose sight of the solution to achieve the benefits you want.

The long haul…

So far in the journey to a solution, cloud appears to be the smart choice – quicker to source and the elements look as ‘cheap as chips’ but as soon as perspective shifts to deploying that cloud capacity, things change. Architecting, developing and operating for cloud is now an entirely new set of IT disciplines requiring specific skills and experience.

Whilst this disparity in the experience of procurement of the disruptive cloud vs. traditional hosted services might be refreshing at this initial stage, it may not be representative of the successive stages of engaging that capacity as part of ‘live’, populated enterprise-grade business service operating securely, compliantly and responsively.

Partnering for success

Simply stated, capacity – however easily acquired, is not a service or solution. The latter needs experience, business understanding and knowledge to build a solution. Working with a managed service provider (MSP) like SysGroup provides organisations, who don’t have DevOps, and solution engineers with the capability, knowledge and experience to apply and deploy that raw capacity most effectively.

Importantly, an MSP will provide full TCO comparisons of functioning services to prospective organisations, not misleading elemental capacity costs. This again belies the mythology of the cloud.

Cloud has many strong advantages, but also, some disadvantages and myths too. The trick is to gain the advantages with awareness of where and when the benefits trail off and become less effective for the business outcomes required – usually in the important, but non-technical categories of governance, compliance, experience and cost.

Cloud from a managed service provider

MSPs like SysGroup help get mid-market organisations the best of each delivery platform – colocation, hosted services, supplier cloud and public cloud for an optimal service mix delivered consistently from a single service management platform and support function. When it comes to public cloud, the choice for an organisation is a B2C like engagement and transactions and you build your own service, re-architect your services and dial-watch to manage consumption and data charges. Or a B2B engagement with an MSP but you receive a service, expertise, support and cost clarity. In these terms, the choice for most mid-market organisations to retain flexibility is clear, particularly when you can have your cake and eat it with MSPs deploying and managing their own supplier clouds, as well as public cloud as part of a hybrid solution.

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