3 min read

What is cloud repatriation?

Watching TV recently, I was served an ad for hybrid cloud services which surprised me, but I suppose it shows how the industry has evolved. Of course, to anyone following the industry, this won’t be news. After the initial ‘cloud rush’ of the 2010s, the spiralling cost of public cloud has become a core business concern. In response, new, arguably better and more cost-effective means of storing and organising work flows have evolved, enabling us to meet our scalability and flexibility requirements while controlling expenditure. And now, companies are turning away from ‘cloud first’ and repatriating off of the cloud to a more bespoke hybrid IT arrangement – one that appears to be worthy of a TV spot.

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A plane flying away from public cloud - cloud repatriation

Cloud repatriation – the end of the dream?

Migration is typically driven by the dream that something better lies ahead. Certainly, that must have been the belief of all the many thousands of businesses who leapt on the cloud train, some with little thought of what was waiting for them further up the track. And while public cloud has made life easier in so many ways, it has also sent some companies on a journey that proved far bumpier than expected.

So, what happens when the dream fades and reality sets in? Do you turn and go back to the life you lived before? Well, not exactly. Cloud repatriation doesn’t require you to return to your former existence. It simply describes the act of removing your data from the public cloud. How you manage it instead is up to you.

Why are people leaving the public cloud?

The number one reason for cloud repatriation is cost. We’ve used this analogy before, but imagine that the public cloud is a hotel. It has unlimited rooms, all beautifully decorated and ready to receive you. You can take one to begin with, and then as your family grows you can book out more rooms as and when you need them. No one will ever tell you there’s no more room. But you will be charged hotel rates, and of course these will go up over time. You’re not just paying for the room; you’re paying for the staff, the land, the building, the service costs – and those charges will continue throughout your residence. You will never be ‘paid up’.

This is the nature of the public cloud. While in the first instance you save money – you didn’t have to build the hotel, or furnish it, or absorb the costs of staffing it – there comes a point at which those savings are moot because you have now covered those costs, but will continue to pay for those things for the remainder of your ‘stay’. That’s why so many businesses are now opting to remove their workloads from the public cloud and place them instead on privately held infrastructure, where higher initial costs prevent it getting expensively out of control down the line.

The most startling example of cost savings accrued by leaving the public cloud is Dropbox, which saved nearly $75 million in two years by repatriating their workloads from the public cloud to colocation facilities. This was way back in 2017, yet it’s a story that I’m sure many people are still taking to their board of directors when they suggest cloud repatriation.

Looking beyond costs

In addition to the cost benefit of repatriation, there are other reasons ‘hotel life’ is not a good fit for every business. Public cloud, like a hotel, is typically kitted out to fit the broadest possible user base. It’s going to have the basics that everyone needs, but not necessarily all the things that you want. And while you might be lucky to find a really good account manager (concierge), as one of thousands of users (guests) you are unlikely to get the personal service your business needs to thrive.

Accessibility, security and performance are three key reasons businesses choose to remove workloads from the public cloud. Businesses dealing with personal data, for example, might find the lack of transparency surrounding some public cloud providers an obstacle, particularly for personal data that is required to remain within the country in which it originates. Likewise, if the public cloud is congested with a high number of users, performance can be affected – so for businesses where every millisecond counts, this would be reason enough to repatriate.

Future trends – home, away, or something in between?

Given all this, can we expect a mass exodus from public cloud? Well, yes and no – depending on what you use it for. The old attitude of ‘all in’ will go, to be replaced by a more pragmatic approach that puts workloads first, focusing on which infrastructure solution or service is the best fit.

There will always be a place for public cloud, just as there will always be a place for hotels. But private infrastructure – whether that is private cloud or colocation – offers a more cost-effective solution in the long-term for established and growing workloads that can quickly grow out (or be priced out) of public cloud. Hybrid IT is the next big trend…which I guess is why some companies have started buying up TV slots.A guide to understanding what belongs in and out of the cloud banner