Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Pitfalls of Virtualization - Part 3 The Cloud

So if you really don't want to deal with the pitfalls of your own virtual infrastructure you have the option to use someone else's.  

Yes, I'm talking about the cloud which promises unlimited potential so long as your internet connection is working.

Bean counters like the cloud too.  After all to them it's almost free.  No hardware costs, no support overhead and virtually no downtime just a monthly invoice.

That's the promise at least...

Far beyond simple cloud storage from services like Dropbox, software as a service and hosted services via the cloud offered cost savings over the traditional model of keeping it all onsite. 

The highest profile players in the space currently are Microsoft (of course) and Google.  Both are more than happy to rent you their infrastructure for a "nominal" fee. 

The early days of this kind of service tended to over promise and under deliver.  Outages, bankruptcy, vague Service Level Agreements (SLA's) and questionable security hindered adoption.  

Imagine a law firm storing its confidential client files with a cloud provider who suddenly goes out of business. 

A good System Admin knows better than to put all their eggs in one basket but the question of who owned the data in the cloud still remained.  Could they trust that the data would be returned or destroyed if the unlucky provider went under? 

Around the same time Software as a Service(SAS) vendors came along promising universal access to business applications via the cloud.  Data protection showed up via something called software escrow.  Software Escrow promised your data would be safe with a third party should something go wrong.  

Salesforce and Google docs were the first examples but because of the vagaries of their SLA's most businesses decided to stick with their local office suites from vendors like Microsoft. 

Speaking of Microsoft...

Seeing an opportunity to appease the bean counters in the face of resistance to  their ever increasing software licensing costs they came up with Office 365 and Windows Azure.  Moving responsibility for messaging and data to Microsoft's cloud not only reduced infrastructure costs but in some cases headcount.  Why have a legion of IT professionals when any problem could be solved with a phone call?

There's nothing wrong with the logic but sometimes the execution can leave something to be desiredSalesforce seems to have an outage at least once a year  and Microsoft Office 365 users have found themselves relying on smartphone messaging when hosted exchange servers go MIA.  Lest we forget the troubles with Google's cloud services

The hidden costs of cloud services have to come into play at some point.  Nothing's free as many a surprised supervisor has found when faced with a bill for his users going over their mailbox limit.  The purported cost savings in the server room can quickly be offset by the subscription model employed by cloud providers.

Just because I.T. services have moved out of the office and into the datacenter doesn't mean you don't have to pay for them. 

Cloud providers usually have tiered SLA offerings which means how fast they deal with an issue is directly related to how much you're paying.  If it's a system wide issue the SLA goes out the window.

Of course nothing's perfect and highlighting the flaws is no condemnation.  For the most part cloud services have lived up to their claims.  Like anything else the wise IT Pro knows not to rely on anything  exclusively.   Google docs offline? Work with a local copy.   Hosted Exchange services down?  Chances are you have more than one email account available to you elsewhere.

At this point the bloom is off the rose.  Virtualization is approaching the ubiquitous and there's no turning back.  Chances are at least some of the applications you work with every day have at least some portion living in the cloud.

That's not a bad thing just know that it's not the only thing.  As the old saying goes don't put all your eggs in one basket.  
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