PRIVATE CLOUD: HOW TO NAVIGATE CLOUD COMPUTING AND DATA CENTER COLOCATION
We have written pretty extensively about the sea change of cloud computing and the many ways it is changing business operations and the demands on IT infrastructure.
One of the biggest infrastructure changes in recent years has been the shift from capital expenditures on physical equipment to more predictable operational expenses. Public cloud providers have made some seductive promises: No CapEx! Infinitely scalable resources! Access to IT tools and systems that small businesses and startups could only dream of 15 years ago! And all for a reasonable price!
Granted — there were some security concerns, especially in years past. And — there have always been some hiccups when addressing load balancing and uptime requirements. And — it’s a major undertaking to set it all up. But, public cloud services have now succeeded in some pretty undesirable ways. We have gotten used to the benefits now, and the limitations are starting to chafe.
Maybe — perhaps due to regulatory or security concerns — you’ve never been able to utilize cloud up to this point. Perhaps you’ve been maintaining an on-premises server room that you’re rapidly outgrowing? Maybe you need the flexibility and scalability of cloud, but the most obvious solutions definitely aren’t going to work for your situation. Something needs to change, and this article will lay out some of the best options.
Cloud is the New Capital
It’s become pretty clear that cloud, as a solution, has “won.” It’s cheaper, more readily scalable, and it allows companies to focus on the business at hand rather than constantly procuring and maintaining physical IT infrastructure. Legacy on-premises solutions are either a massive CapEx burden or else they are aging out of being able to meet business demands. Often, it’s both.
SNAPSHOT: Take the example set by heavy truck manufacturer Navistar — which is using data analytics to reduce operating cost-per-mile 80%, reducing unplanned repairs and downtime by 30%. They are also able to identify driver behaviors lead to warranty repairs, allowing for real business operations savings outside of the data center.
This is where growth is coming from: Emerging insights from big data analysis, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. This growth relies on the instantaneous scalability and flexibility of the cloud.
While the benefits of the cloud are obvious, it poses some challenges. Are you going to build a data center, staff it, fill it with expensive hardware so that you can run this data analysis in your own facility? The costs and expected returns probably don’t make sense. More likely, a cloud provider can store your data more reliably, with less risk, less cost, and more flexibility.
Public cloud makes sense if you have a big team in-house to keep things running. But public cloud providers have a LOT of limitations. If your organization is facing:
- compliance requirements that demand owned infrastructure
- legacy applications that need coddling
- needs that are particularly demanding of high performance
- large-scale or long-term data storage requirements
- A requirement to maintain testing environments
— you may not want to risk anything but the least critical infrastructure to a company you don’t control. Public cloud providers are surprisingly hands off. Just migrating in the first place is a serious undertaking.
Private Cloud is the Path Forward
If you’re not wild about outfitting your own data center, and the downsides of public clouds are too much, (and they are for almost everyone but serious enterprise teams with a budget to hire and train) private cloud hosting makes a lot of sense. We bring the hardware and the technical and support acumen — and you get the best of both worlds. It really is the best of both worlds: locked down access and dedicated computing resources but without having to buy your own hardware.
The initial cloud boom was driven by the tremendous appeal of reducing capital expenditures by renting servers in someone else’s warehouse. Freedom from capital expenditures meant easier budgeting and flexibility for growth or expansion or evolving priorities.
But reducing CapEx was just the beginning. Cloud computing has made analysis, security, data interfaces, and edge computing feasible. If these concepts strike you as obscure, it may be a sign that you haven’t kept up with what the cloud is making common. And, as we’ve seen, these are the very avenues that are increasingly driving growth.
Advice: Embrace a Cloud-First Strategy
Learn What Expertise Is And Isn’t Fungible
Cloud computing is opening up dozens of new skill sets and domains, and there are too few subject matter experts. That being said, it hardly ever pays to reinvent the wheel.
Where possible, identify needs that can be met with an ‘aaS’ solution. Although you must do your due diligence, in general, it is easier and more effective to hire such a service (along with their processes and software) than it would be to recruit and outfit a specialist of your own — and faster, too.
However, someone at your organization must have deep experience in the data set at your company. This member of the team can impute more meaning than an outsider can, and can analyze and transform the information into something that is useful to the organization. That kind of expertise is something you just can’t afford to outsource.
In the new economy, the cloud is your most essential tool. Companies will need to come to grips with the role that the cloud will play in their organization, and the advantages that competitors are gaining by moving first.
Making the Transition to the Cloud
Cloud migration may seem on the surface to be an obvious move, but getting the timing and green lights can be tricky. We have found that in many cases, senior leadership is keenly aware of the scope of shifting legacy data and applications to the cloud. Not surprisingly, many hesitate to bite the bullet and incur the short-term costs and investments.
What seems like a straightforward process with a young company gets considerably harder year by year. Here’s how to tackle the process with a mature organization.
It’s easy, especially when attempting to get buy-in, to highlight the cost-saving measures of a cloud migration. But don’t forget that while moving your infrastructure is a net gain, moving itself can be an expensive proposition, tying up key personnel, costing money, and introducing bugs into a functioning system.
To ensure project success top to bottom, research thoroughly. Although your legacy applications may be unique, chances are someone, somewhere has navigated a similar transition, so tapping your network for advice, recommendations and pitfalls to avoid may be extremely useful.
Consider Your Application Portfolio
Moving is a great time to declutter! While most of your applications were at one time a great choice for your ecosystem, in the intervening time, and on the new platform, it may be that starting in a new application (with the data transferred as necessary) might be a better option.
While the knee-jerk reaction might be, “This application works great and everyone knows how to use it! Don’t mess with it!,” unfortunately, many legacy apps rely heavily on the underlying infrastructure and don’t weather the transfer to cloud well. Cloud-native apps, on the other hand, were designed from scratch to be more resilient and scalable. If you discover you are looking at an application rewrite to make the app transfer, look at cloud-native alternatives first.
Researching Providers Pays Significant Dividends
Cloud infrastructure (and expertise) is by no means standardized across the industry. As a result, many purpose-built solutions exist alongside hastily-assembled legacy systems. The more legwork you put in at this stage, the better off you will be down the road.
When you get proposals back from potential providers, it should be clear that they are experienced with your type of situation, and not just taking their best guess at what might work. Look for certainty in the responses you get.
Develop a Robust Mitigation Strategy
There’s an old joke about how a surgeon is really only a fancy mechanic — except that he has to operate while the engine is running. While a smaller organization might be able to complete a cloud transfer on a holiday long weekend, at any larger scale you must organize things so that the engine is not only running but moving.
To do this, first break the project into manageable stages, grouping applications with a high degree of interdependence. Allow your teams ample time, because you will need to account for the time to set up temporary applications for users to use while you are moving things, testing the move — and then when it is live again, affording yourself plenty of time to work out the kinks. (Ed. We’re experts at helping IT leaders anticipate the hurdles and timing, so — give us a call at 703-485-4600)
Tackle Skill Shortages Head-on
Companies don’t typically have a battalion of IT specialists sitting in a bullpen ready and waiting to deploy on a major project. These personnel must be reassigned from other, presumably important roles. And even then, migrations are a fairly specialized field. It may be that there’s no one in your organization with much experience at it.
If you have assessed your technical staff and determined that this isn’t a great strength, put the issue straight right at the top of your to-do list. If you can find the right person to spearhead the project, things will go much smoother — there’s nothing like an experienced hand on the tiller.
But if it is not in your budget to hire, or the timeline is too short to recruit, ensure that the provider you choose is capable and willing to do a lot of the heavy lifting with the transition. At Atlantic Metro, our clients often decide to utilize this feature of our cloud service package.
Data Center Colocation Can Mitigate the Downsides
If you have compliance issues that are going to prevent you from fully embracing cloud and a server room is too small, or doesn’t offer enough redundancy, then clearly a data center is the next logical step. But the cost to lease and provision a data center is enormous, and that is on top of your pre-existing workload!
Colocation can be the interim solution. With colocation, you’re renting a space in a larger data center — but you still have total physical access and control of the equipment. You can supply your own hardware or lease it, and you can even outsource the management and network management. There are lots of options for flexibility and staying hands on.
Colocation is also very scalable. You can start with a single rack and expand as needed. You can also add some flexibility and disaster preparedness by splitting your load in multiple locations. For instance, you could split out across three racks in one of our Virginia data centers and three in one of our California data centers.
With colocation, you’re no longer sharing resources with other tenants. This gives you total control over load balancing, spinning up virtual environments on the fly, and if there’s a surge in demand at an inopportune time, well, at least it’s your surge and not a nationwide run on streaming a basketball tournament.
Remember, It’s Not All-or-Nothing or Strictly One Solution or the Other
Private cloud is only one option, and it doesn’t have to be your only option. You might choose to maintain some on-premises resources and handle a few things through colocation, in addition to managed hosting. You may even retain colocation services as a failsafe avenue, or for deep storage once you’ve grown into a full Virtual Private Data Center of your own.
That’s part of what makes the problem so thorny — there are very many viable configuration possibilities, and you need a trusted partner to help you work through your priorities and constraints.
Our engineering team would love to go over your options and design a strategy that works. Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get right back to you. Until November 30, new contracts for colocation or cloud hosting are eligible for up to two free months of service and 6 months of free object storage. Lock in your rate now.
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