Designing a Cloud Environment that Fits Your Business
By Edward Buck
For some time now, the notion that every business must have a cloud strategy has evolved to one that says every business must identify the unique blend of cloud services that make sense for them. The question then becomes how do you determine the right blend of cloud services? What criteria should be used to make these decisions. The stakes for the business couldn’t be higher as identifying the right set of solutions could be the difference between competitive advantage and non-competitiveness, success and failure. Here are some criteria to help with the decision.
Just like any purchasing decision you make, selecting a cloud service should begin with an identification of need, and ultimately, justification for the purchase. This requirements analysis should be as rigorous as your company policies dictate. In some cases, there may be an existing service associated with the need, which may make justification of the need easier but make it a choice between continuing the existing service and migrating to a new service. It doesn’t necessarily help you to use some cloud service because everyone else is using it. All service starts and renewals should be assessed and reassessed for need to ensure that company resources are maximized.
Upon identification of need, selecting a cloud service starts with identifying the resources that you have available to you, whether staff resources and skillsets, existing infrastructure, and current projects. Once you’ve identified your resources, make an assessment as to your strengths and weaknesses. Cloud services will typically allow you to outsource much of the day to day setup and maintenance of some needed service. There are potentially great cost savings to be had with this approach but ultimately, the potential time savings need to be weighed against the resources available to you and the priorities of your business. For example, if you have a team of engineers who are exceptionally talented managing a web services environment using specialized hardware and software, rushing into a public cloud hosting service might not be your best next step. Meanwhile, you may have a local VoIP and PBX system that is aging and the resources available to you to maintain it are minimal or inadequate. In this situation, you might prioritize the phone system as a prime target for migration to a cloud service to maximize the impact of your limited resources and attention span. Determine the resources you have on hand and make an assessment as to what’s right for you.
Taking the example of the web services environment further, it may be that the hardware and software is working great but the server room in the office where the environment is hosted has resulted in frequent outages because of poor UPS equipment or inadequate cooling. There may be an opportunity to move part of the infrastructure to the cloud by moving the server room to a managed data center. Doing so would allow the IT team to focus on their strengths and leave some aspects of infrastructure management to a more capable partner.
Multiple Vendors vs. Single Vendor
The old adage that says, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is certainly relevant when it comes to IT cloud services. By using multiple providers, you can mitigate risk when it comes to service outages, security events, and other service related issues. With multiple vendors, you can take a “best of breed” approach, and select the services that offer the “best” match to your identified needs. For example, you may have determined that a particular company’s project management software is the best match for your company. Meanwhile, a different company’s cloud-based bug tracking system may provide the best fit for your development needs. Understanding the options available to you and finding the best fit among those options can maximize your team’s productivity.
There are some limitations to the multiple vendor or services approach however. In some cases, using a single vendor may make more sense. Managing multiple service providers can be very time consuming, and if the resources to manage multiple vendors is not there, you may be better off consolidating services across fewer providers. Also, having too many service providers can expose you to more risk not less, especially if some of those services have not been well validated and usage scenarios are not well understood. Security lapses happen at all sizes of companies. Determining the right balance of services and vendors is a critical step in deploying a cloud environment that maximizes your capabilities and resources.
Taking a Hybrid Approach
A hybrid cloud approach acknowledges that there is no one size fits all when it comes to cloud services. A hybrid cloud setup may comprise multiple vendors, multiple architectures, and multiple platforms, driven by the reality that different IT workloads may be better addressed by using different types of cloud services in combination. Also, a hybrid cloud approach recognizes that service architectures are rarely designed as a greenfield deployment. Instead, there are typically deployment constraints resulting from existing systems and networks, legacy environments and location constraints. These constraints may make a hybrid cloud setup the most practical and resource efficient.
An example of a hybrid setup would be a company that has a need for vast amounts of storage in close proximity to their office with very high transfer speed requirements. At the same time, the storage must be accessed by web services that already live in a public cloud. The ideal solution may be a hybrid setup consisting of a private cloud storage solution in a nearby data center, combined with a high speed P2P between their office and the local data center, and a public cloud environment to host the web services. In some situations, there may be a substantial existing investment in infrastructure that makes a hybrid cloud setup the most cost-effective solution.