|By Bart Copeland||
|March 15, 2012 07:00 AM EDT||
Remember the early days of the cloud? Outsourced application hosting seemed so...alluring. Public-cloud providers like Google, Heroku, EngineYard and DotCloud seduced us with promises of cost-efficiency, scalability and convenience. Early adopters spun off a few VMs, connected the users and prepared for growth. And when that corporate growth arrived, the public cloud would grow too.
At least that was the vision; yet the reality is more complicated. Public cloud deployment entails hidden costs. Enterprise growth introduces new challenges - challenges like data privacy, security and compliance. Public-cloud infrastructure doesn't scale for business growth. It scales for application growth, and though that's important, it's not enough to support the demands of the (growing) real-world enterprise.
The Public Cloud: It's a Good Thing
Public cloud infrastructure offers relief, relief for IT managers from the headaches of managing their own iron. Virtualization can lift the burden of application-management responsibility, lightening IT load. Public clouds deliver tangible benefits like shared-resource efficiencies, utility computing and scalability.
Those are great benefits for the IT manager seeking a turnkey outsourcing solution. It's an ideal situation: That IT manager hands over the keys to the DevOps kingdom, sits back, and watches the savings accumulate. And they do. To a point...
The hidden costs of the public cloud: language support, app migration, APIs and vendor lock-in
Public cloud offers a chance for IT managers to get out of the hardware management business. That's a compelling message, and a great value proposition. But there are hidden costs to deploying on a public cloud infrastructure, and the real-world enterprise must recognize them (and associated risks) before committing resources to "going public."
How multilingual is your enterprise?
Are you an IT manager? In what languages do your developers like to code? Probably the ones in which they're skilled, and the ones that are appropriate for the types of applications your business needs to create and run. Here's the catch: Most public cloud providers play favorites. That's fine if your apps are all in the right language, or if you're willing to code all-new greenfield apps from scratch in the new language. But what do you do if you have an existing suite of custom apps on which your end users depend, and oh, they were written in several different languages, and oh, your vendor only supports some of them? Expect to retrain your devs, hire for some new skills and recode. IT managers who have been through that process know it's not trivial, nor cheap.
Looking for straightforward SaaS support? Need Office 365 for your desktop clients? Public cloud infrastructure will do the trick. Does your enterprise maintain a suite of legacy applications? Moving to the public cloud introduces a basic practical challenge and another hidden cost: App migration isn't a simple process. Regardless of whether your developers code in your cloud vendor's preferred language(s), if your apps aren't written in them, you'll have to recode or customize, probably to a significant extent.
As long as you're budgeting for recoding, be sure to add a little more for connecting your data and messaging services. If your cloud-hosting provider doesn't support your database, prepare for data migration.
Finally, though public-cloud providers offer hosting and scalability at an attractive (at least as advertised) price, they're understandably out to make a buck. And to hold onto your business. To make the public cloud work, you'll have to adapt to your provider's way of doing things. You may be realizing some great cost-efficiencies, but your hosting provider has you locked in, and switching costs are now a formidable barrier to exit. Remember all that recoding you did for your vendor's benefit? Want to do it again for the sake of moving to another vendor? You've also lost leverage: if your hosting provider decides to raise monthly service charges, or make adjustments to SLA performance, you have little (affordable) recourse.
Enterprise Growth Brings New Opportunities, New Challenges
One of the great advantages to public cloud infrastructure is that it can scale. Vendors often promote that scalability as a way to support customer business growth. But that's not quite accurate: Public clouds don't grow with your enterprise. They scale to support application or traffic growth.
Real-world business growth introduces new demands on enterprise data - concerns like security, data sovereignty, compliance and privacy. Addressing those concerns is an imperative for the real-world enterprise, and not something that can be done in a public-cloud environment.
Your data is safe in the public cloud - most of the time. There are the occasional breaches, some of which receive histrionic publicity. Ultimately, security is peace of mind, and handing your data over to someone else (a public-cloud hosting infrastructure provider, in this example) requires trust and a leap of faith. As your large real-world enterprise experiences growth, data management becomes more important, and releasing your valuable data from under your span of control introduces risk.
How big do you want your enterprise to grow? If you're looking at international expansion, recognize a new risk of the public cloud hosting model: data sovereignty. Public cloud vendors host your data in their own data centers, in the locations your vendor prefers. That's okay if you're doing business in the same jurisdiction. But in many countries, your partners or government administrators can demand that their application servers retain and provide data from physical hardware located within a national boundary. Such inflexible data-sovereignty mandates can limit your ability to serve your subsidiary customers with pure public-cloud architecture.
The more your enterprise grows, the more visible its success becomes. With great success comes greater oversight. Public cloud architectures - with their one-approach-fits-all delivery - are understandably rigid, with standardized tenancy and service models. That makes for basic compliance with government regulations. But by the very nature of its serve-many operations, the public-cloud model can't be flexible enough to adjust to frequently evolving regulatory climates.
More business growth means more data to manage and a need for greater data privacy. But the more data to be managed, the more difficult it becomes to protect it, particularly in a public-cloud environment. We're not talking about cyber-attacks. We're talking about eavesdropping from government authorities. For instance, the USA Patriot Act empowers U.S. federal agencies like the FBI, CIA and Department of Defense to require enterprises to provide data records pertaining to suspected terrorist threats. This applies to data stored in U.S. jurisdictions, including data in the cloud. In the summer of 2011, Microsoft warned customers that the USA Patriot Act could require the company to hand over customer data to United States authorities. Your data's safe, it's just not as private as you'd like it to be.
A Private-Cloud Model Designed Around the Growing Enterprise, Not the Vendor
Public cloud isn't going away, and neither is private cloud. Private cloud technology marketers often lobby for the "pure," host-it-yourself private cloud environment. Public-cloud providers pitch the outsourced service model. The real-world solution lies somewhere in-between. Private PaaS is a flexible middleware layer that puts control of your data back in your own hands, enabling IT management to control applications, whether they're launched on-premise or to public cloud infrastructure.
Public cloud services promise cost savings. But with all the hidden costs, those savings can be temporary (or even illusory). A 2011 study by the Aberdeen Group found that an enterprise deploying private cloud saves twelve percent combined annual costs over a public cloud on a per-application basis. Companies that implemented private clouds also incurred 38 percent fewer costs related to security and compliance events compared to public cloud users. Public cloud users had 25 percent more incidents related to audit deficiencies, data loss, or data exposure and unauthorized access than private cloud users.
Private Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) software can bridge the two extremes of public and private cloud. Some enterprises - small businesses and municipalities, for example - will benefit from the "pure" turnkey-outsourced public cloud service model. But the growing enterprise needs more - more security, more privacy, and strict adherence to compliance mandates - than a public-cloud model can support. For some, that will entail self-contained, on-premise iron. But for many growing enterprises, private PaaS can enable a flexible hybrid cloud model that enables data to shift as business priorities evolve. The real-world enterprise demands an operational model that flexible.
Grow Your Business...in Private
There's plenty of hype around the cloud. An IT manager must look beyond the hype to do what's right for the growing enterprise, and recognize that business interests should dictate cloud strategy, not the constraining operational limitations of a public-cloud service provider. The growing enterprise must address concerns of security, privacy, and compliance. A private-PaaS-enabled private or hybrid cloud is the best way to deliver the freedom, control, and ROI that enterprise deserves.
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