Beyond the browser interface and the surface service experience, at its core the cloud is hardware. An array of cables, servers, switches and firewalls - the really important (ugly technical) reality that nobody wants or cares to think or talk about.
It is not magic. Over the past 10 years, we have seen a rush to adopt cloud software. This has been fuelled by a perception of the cloud as an unlimited computational resource, with unlimited storage, access and scalability, where you pay less money for ever-increasing efficiency.
But, generally speaking, the hardware underpinning cloud services is provided by tech giants, since they have the almost limitless resources to buy up large amounts of hardware and run extensive data centres across the globe. Not only does this mean that a huge amount of the world’s digital resources are placed in the hands of a few giant tech vendors, but companies have less ownership over the technical core of their business, often leading to a degradation of in-house skillsets and understanding.
So, let’s take a step back and take a more critical view.
The cloud doesn’t necessarily offer good value for money
Running cloud services on a large scale requires a significant amount of hardware, meaning tech giants are required to invest a lot of money in building infrastructure. These large vendors charge based on usage, which allows them to advertise services in apparently low-priced increments, with potentially unlimited scalability, making cloud services appear, at first glance, to be far cheaper than they are in practice. Companies don’t immediately see how much they could end up spending in the long term, with realisation only dawning once the monthly bills start coming in.
Big vendors often use old and overprovisioned hardware
All of this hardware is expensive, which means vendors will keep using older hardware to try and squeeze as much value as possible out of each unit (especially as it may well be sitting there unused for much of its life).
Additionally, to maintain the illusion of unlimited resources and extract maximum value, hardware is likely to be overprovisioned. This, combined with the fact that older hardware may be populating these large data centres, means lower levels of performance.
High cost doesn’t necessarily translate to high performance
You may think that despite all these issues, at least the big vendors are more likely to maintain uptime due to their seemingly limitless resources and points of presence. But the reality is that services run by Amazon and Microsoft go down pretty regularly, taking out huge swathes of global services when they do so.
And that downtime can be extensive. Why? Because bigger infrastructure gets increasingly complex which in turn makes identifying the root cause of problems much more difficult. Everything is fine until it’s not. And when it’s not fine, it’s really not fine.
What companies should be looking for in cloud vendors
Despite some of these lesser-known issues with the big cloud providers, it is important to remember that hosted services can still work wonders if used correctly!
Indeed, I am not suggesting that companies should go back to on-prem infrastructure – as it generally no longer fits the bill for our increasingly hybrid working world – but rather that companies should take the time to understand the services they are considering as underpinning their businesses. Querying vendors about their platform, costs, and benefits and then modelling this in a realistic way based on the way you need to work is a vital step in finding a service that works for you and your budget.
Anyone looking to move their infrastructure off-premises needs to take the time to ask themselves the following questions:
Is the hardware used to run the service going to give you the best level of performance for your investment?
Does this service give your business a good level of resiliency?
How much is it going to cost and is it better value for money than other solutions?
Since it will likely cost more than on-premises solutions, is the additional cost going to provide you with a better ROI? This could take the form of more efficient operations, continuity in business terms or even converting to a smaller office environment.
The importance of transparency
Since the cloud, at its core, is simply hardware in an off-site location, it is important that companies work with straight-talking hosting partners that offer transparency on the details that matter to their operations and finances.
If you cannot get clarity and a firm idea of performance and cost, don’t just assume the best or that because it is the cloud, it is what you need. Remember, it’s not magic. Don’t be afraid to look behind the curtain.