The cloud is such a great concept. Virtualise your workflows, downsize your hardware and all the responsibility that goes along with it, work collaboratively and from anywhere – what’s not to like? It was useful before the pandemic, but even more so throughout enforced home working, and now – as we look beyond that – it will enable the anticipated flexibility of our ‘next normal’.
Public cloud service providers such as Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure have carried the bulk of the load here. In fact, AWS has a ~45% market share, making it the biggest public cloud provider by a long shot. But for some companies, public cloud poses a number of challenges and risks that cannot be tolerated, meaning that private cloud or Hybrid IT are a better fit.
What are the risks with public cloud?
The lack of responsibility that makes public cloud so great is also one of its major downfalls. You’re effectively a guest in someone else’s system, which means the control lies with them. This has an impact across the board:
- Your cloud provider configures your platform. It’s not bespoke, which might mean it’s not a good fit for you.
- Security has also been configured in the same way. Will a generic approach to security suit your organisation, or do you need a more tailored strategy? From a compliance perspective, will the public cloud’s security protocols meet regulatory demands?
- Not only are you not in control of the platform’s security, you also don’t know who else is using the system – and how. Sharing resources makes it easier for people outside of your company to access your data – a huge security risk.
- Sharing resources can also reduce performance, since you might have to ‘fight’ with other users for capacity, which increases latency.
- Global public cloud providers like AWS and Azure have facilities all over the globe, which might leave you unsure as to where your data is being stored. Depending on your organisation, this could be a big problem, as some regulations (such as GDPR) stipulate that data should be stored in the country where it originates.
The cost factor
Another way in which public cloud can be problematic is in the pay-per-use cost structure, whereby unpredictable data usage can lead to unpredictable costs. You can attempt to ‘lock in’ savings by reserving or committing to a certain amount of data usage. But, of course, if you don’t end up using that capacity, you will have paid over the odds.
Runaway costs are one of the biggest disadvantages of public cloud systems.
In fact, in 2016 DropBox made the decision to relocate 90% of its data away from AWS. Instead, the company built its own data centres and reportedly reduced its operating costs by $75 million in the first two years.
DropBox says the move was driven by a desire to retain control and ensure a high level of performance as the company grew, but the cost savings can’t have hurt. (Though the capex involved in building all those data centres shouldn’t be ignored.)
How to identify if public cloud is not right for you
If any of the above are red flags for your organisation, then public cloud is probably not the right solution for you. In particular, if you are managing highly sensitive data – for example, those organisations working in financial services or healthcare – your customers look to you to protect their data. It’s difficult to honour that responsibility if security isn’t totally in your control.
If speed and performance are your priorities, sharing capacity with other organisations may be a big no-no. Likewise, the cost-per-use payment program favours users with lower data processing and storage needs. In all these cases, you might need an alternative solution.
What are the alternatives?
Private cloud is the obvious alternative to public cloud. This might be a system you own and manage yourself, or a service offered by a managed infrastructure provider. In either case, the hardware is allocated just to you, so no shared capacity, no noisy neighbours, and no security risk from other users. It solves a lot of the problems of public cloud while still providing that seamless cloud experience.
Set up costs for a private cloud are more expensive than public cloud, especially if you’re purchasing the hardware and building it yourself. But it is configured precisely to your requirements so you have to consider the value of that bespoke setup. This is a system that will do exactly what you want it to do. And if it doesn’t, it is yours to change. You also won’t be faced with the same unexpected costs you get with public cloud, and in the long-term as you scale-up and grow more efficient it might well end up being cheaper than the public cloud.
However, you won’t have the ad hoc scale-ability, as private cloud environments will need a little more time to scale.
Hybrid Cloud/Hybrid IT
What some organisations do is utilise private cloud for the ‘known’ workflows and public cloud for the unexpected – this is one example of a hybrid setup. Hybrid IT enables you to choose the best platform for your workflow. For example, a publishing company might use Office 365 – a public cloud Software-as-a-Service – for email, chat, the Office suite, etc., but use a private cloud platform for its subscription database and all workflows relating to that. This same company might also keep its own web server in a data centre. Done right, this workflow-centric approach to IT infrastructure can be very efficient and cost-effective. You get the security and reliability of private cloud and keep public cloud's rapid scalability.
The future is…mixed
It used to be a given that the future was cloud. But today’s forecast is less clear cut. While public cloud is excellent for those SaaS applications, the suitability of infrastructure provisions really varies according to the nature of your usage.
Essentially, it makes sense to design IT systems that support your workflows, and not try to adapt your workflows to the capabilities of your IT infrastructure. Choosing a workflow-specific hybrid IT strategy enables you to streamline costs, maximise performance and optimise security where it counts. And setting up Hybrid IT doesn’t have to be a complicated process, since a managed infrastructure operator, like 4D, can provide you with the cloud, colocation and connectivity services you need all from one supplier.