Cloud sticker shock: that’s what many chief financial officers experience after a period of time with cloud services, as usage and data transfer and storage costs mount. Those savings from “renting” compute services and applications versus buying it all quickly vanish. But it’s not about the money saved — and it never should have been.
Instead, it’s about the money made — through greater agility, speed to market, and innovation — says David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer for Deloitte Consulting and author of the just-published book, An Insider’s Guide to Cloud Computing. There’s also greater peace of mind with the greater security — and yes, availability — that cloud providers offer.
This is especially important these days as companies embrace artificial intelligence and machine learning, and are leaning on cloud providers to provide the compute power and big data storage needed to make it work. The growth of AI increasingly gives these providers the upper hand in negotiations and contracts, and cloud customers need to understand the workings of the business.
Linthicum, who has consulted, written, and spoken on cloud economics for years, observes that cloud providers are in business like anyone else, and, understandably, don’t intend to give away the store.
Here are just some of Linthicum’s cautionary notes about working with a cloud provider:
- Moving to cloud doesn’t avoid vendor lock-in. Many cloud providers talk about the flexibility of moving in and out of their domains, as if they’re some kind of technology “Switzerland,” neutral in all regards. “If you use a cloud provider’s native features to localize applications and databases, then moving to another cloud means the code and databases still need to be modified to accommodate another cloud provider’s native cloud services,” Linthicum points out. “You’re just moving from one walled garden to another. You must adapt application processing, governance, security, database access, and so on to accommodate the new public cloud provider’s services.”
- Cloud providers won’t clean up customers’ messes. In an update to the maxim “automate a mess, get an automated mess,” an on-premises mess will become a cloud-based mess. They will not fix the inefficiencies, spaghetti architectures, and junk data that get moved from onsite to the cloud. This is also significant because storage is the most expensive and expansive piece of the cloud. “Junk data on premises moved to the cloud is still junk data,” Linthicum points out. “Migrating data to the public cloud will usually make the situation worse for most businesses. Poorly designed storage systems — including on-premises data — will be just as bad or worse in the cloud. To compound the problems, panic fixes deployed in the cloud — for example, just tossing resources at problems — will result in more cost inefficiencies.” This all needs to be addressed before the move to cloud.
- Cloud providers won’t hold customers’ hands. “Many mistakenly think that cloud providers will also offer best-practice information about moving data from on-premises storage systems to their cloud-based storage systems,” Linthicum says. “Think that through for a minute. It’s not their responsibility, and there is zero business incentive for them to increase your storage efficiencies and agility because poorly planned results make them more money. It’s their job to keep their services running and to fix any issues that arise on their end. You, not cloud providers, must be or become the expert in terms of what your business needs to solve its specific problems.”
- It may be better to leave some things on premises. “Here’s something we often overlook when we search for a cloud storage solution: cloud storage is not always the solution,” Linthicum states. “Traditional on-premises storage could be more cost effective than cloud-based storage, even considering the potential benefits of cloud computing such as speed, agility, and the ability to better support innovation.” On-premises solutions such as solid state drives may offer the speed and scale needed for particular applications.
- Public cloud providers are reticent about their multitenancy approaches. Multitenancy — sharing resources with perhaps thousands of other cloud customers — has long been a concern. As a result of sharing resources, performance may be slow or “bursty.” Still, cloud providers “now offer solid multitenant services that optimize performance, even though they multiplex your use of a public cloud across many different physical resources,’ Linthicum says. At the same time, “public cloud providers consider their approach to multitenancy proprietary to their IP. Although you get some overviews around how a provider approaches tenancy, what occurs in the background or in the native public cloud system that you can’t see is really what determines how the provider carries out multitenancy. In some cases, you can insist that the public cloud provider reveal how multitenancy is carried out, typically around compliance audits that you need to support.”
Linthicum leaves us with this thought: “cloud computing is not magic, and its adoption does not ensure success. Enterprises need to make a series of strategically sound decisions for cloud computing to deliver its promised value. For many enterprises, cloud computing will be another path of trial and error. The key here is to question everything as you move forward with cloud computing or any other technology.”