Cloud Computing: Myths, Fears and Facts

Head of Products and Services at ELEKS

Last time we were writing about Cloud Computing basics. Today we are going to discuss myths about cloud computing. Our main goal is to understand what is real and what is just a myth.

Lower cost

Probably the most controversial topic about Cloud Computing is it’s cost. On the one hand, vendors usually say cloud computing is cheaper then traditional IT. On the other hand, there are lots of examples when count their cloud expenses, compare results with traditional infrastructure cost and get opposite experience. So, where is the truth?
Well, the truth is that Cloud is expensive but sometimes cheaper. How can it be? There are three basic principles of cost calculation when you are trying to determine cost of your cloud infrastructure:
1. Do correct TCO calculation.
2. Remember about workload patterns.
3. Do not forget about additional benefits of the Cloud.

Cloud cost is like an iceberg: you see only its top part and most its volume is hidden under water. People usually tend to calculate only hardware price when they are comparing cloud cost with on-premise infrastructure. However, total cost of ownership is much bigger than just a hardware price: you have to remember about staff salary, training, operations costs, risk management and lots of other things that cloud vendor do for you.
Another important thing you have to understand when you are considering cloud hosting for your application: workload patterns. There are several types of application workload that work best with the cloud:

Each of the patterns above utilize key property of the cloud: ability to scale up and down. Main difference with traditional IT here is in pay-per-use nature of the cloud: you don’t have to pay for resources when you don’t use them. With traditional IT you have to pay in advance for all resources you need and it is not so easy to get rid of them in case they are no longer needed.
And what if you have this:

Well, maybe it means cloud is not suitable for your case. Or you forgot about additional benefits of the cloud. What are these benefits?

Additional Benefits

First of all, cloud allows you to transfer your capital expenses to operational. Basically it means you don’t have to pay in advance for your infrastructure. It is usually easier to pay money after you serviced your clients and got money from them than to pay in advance when you are still not sure if anyone will actually buy  your service.

Another great benefit of the cloud: faster time-to-value. With cloud you can shorten time, required for infrastructure setup from months to hours. It is very important for big enterprises, where IT services are often terribly slow. Sometimes it takes several months to buy and setup servers for some particular application. At the same time with the cloud it takes just several minutes to allocate resources and deliver them to development team. It means additional flexibility and agility for your business which automatically leads to competitive advantage.

And the last but not least: with cloud computing you can focus on your core business and don’t care about IT infrastructure management. Let professionals do their part of job and focus on your part.

Fears

Cloud is still something new and unknown for lots of people. People are usually scared by new things and cloud is not an exception in this case. We are going to review most common fears about the cloud and determine whether they are real or not.

Security

Security is probably the most discussed thing about the cloud in the enterprise community. Businesses want to leverage cloud benefits, but they are worried about their data which sometimes is their biggest asset. How to make sure that data is secured in the cloud? Let’s take a look at facts. Security risks in the cloud are pretty much the same as in your own data-center. Really. If you don’t make some extraordinary efforts to secure your data center from unauthorized access, you have the same security as in the cloud. Moreover cloud providers continuously improve their security which probably means that your data center actually might be less secured. Simply because big vendors hire world’s best security engineers and you usually don’t.

Most vendors nowadays offer the customer different levels of security protection. You can setup virtual private clouds accessible only from your corporate network. You can use numerous encryption algorithms. You can have almost any type of security configuration you can imagine with modern cloud offerings. So, security is just a matter of right usage, not an actual issue of the cloud.

Data control lose

Some people are worried that they can lost access to their data in case of some catastrophic failure. It is true that it can happen, but let’s look at the facts. In fact, the data in the cloud is replicated and geographically distributed, which means it is much safer than in most private data-centers. Just ask yourself, are you sure that the data in your data-center is replicated to several devices? And what about geographical distribution? What if there will be some natural disaster in the region where your data-center is located? Moreover, nowadays, if you lost the Internet connection it usually means lost data access is not your biggest problem. It is hard to underestimate importance of the Internet for modern international companies. In case they would lost the connection they could not operate at all. Data accessibility would not be biggest of their problems in such case.

Reliability

When Amazon data-center fails it looks like the whole Internet is down. Too many people host their sites on AWS and when it fails everybody notices that. Does it mean cloud is unreliable? Not at all. Important thing to remember: those guys who fail with Amazon don’t use geographical redundancy for some reasons. Amazon recommends to use it in case you want to deliver reliable service. It is not so hard to build reliable application hosted in the cloud and it is not a vendor problem if people don’t do it. SLA is still 99.95% or so.
Additionally, imagine what would you do if such kind of failure happened in your data-center? With cloud you can have a mirror setup in another region or even in another vendor’s cloud. It is hard to do have the same within your own data-center.

Performance

People often think that cloud computing is slower than traditional servers. There are various reasons of such opinion and some of them really make sense. People blame virtualization, but it is not the main reason of a slowness: vendors use hardware virtualization which means that for most operations they have the same performance as bare metal appliances. It is true that I/O latency is higher, but it matters only for high performance computing apps, not for most regular business software. It is also true that some of legacy applications could be slower after migration to the cloud. In fact, it is relatively easy to get good enough performance in the cloud if you think about it from the very beginning. It is just a matter of system architecture.

Legal regulations

There are some regulations that restricts some types of data to be hosted in a public cloud. Sometimes it simply means you need a mirroring to your private storage: just to have ability to provide government with physical access to your servers if it is required by some regulatory act. Some clouds are certified to be compliant with some regulations (e.g. there are plenty of HIPAA-compliant cloud storages). Sometimes there is no workaround and you have to use on-premise infrastructure for some part of your solution.

Conclusions

Cloud Computing is still new and evolving technology. It makes it interesting and attractive for engineers, but also there are plenty of missunderstanding and fears about it. Lots of people don’t understand how it works, where it is applicable and when it makes sense to use them. High level of uncertainty leads to mistakes. Mistakes lead to disappointment. And disappointment produces fears. In fact, Cloud Computing is quite a nice technology which makes lots of things easier. You just have to understand how it works and what can you get with it. We hope this post brought you better understanding of Cloud Computing technologies.
We wish you Happy New Year and sweet winter holidays. See you in 2013!

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