“Lets Move to The Cloud!”

We often hear people talk about moving their business or their data center or their software to “The Cloud“.  For many, this concept seems confusing and vague.

That’s because The Cloud does not exist!

There is no “The Cloud”. In reality, there are many clouds. And therefore we can’t  just decide to move to “The Cloud”.

Instead, there are many clouds with services being offered by many vendors. A cloud at its core is a collection of hardware and software combined by a vendor into a service offering that provides some level of computing service for their customers.  Depending on our risk tolerance,  bandwidth requirements, data custody and security requirements, level of technical expertise, and business model, one or more of these levels may make sense for our organization.  These levels are known as Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service. The table below describes these levels in more detail. The technical reader will recognize that these levels are fuzzy and that the things that are included in each level and the things that we control in each level can vary from vendor to vendor but this table gives us a sense of each level.

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A source of confusion when thinking of the cloud is that it is often thought of as an external organization abstracting away the underlying technical details of our computing environment. For example, PAAS (Platform as a service) offerings abstract away everything from the physical hardware up through the operating system, leaving us to have to manage only the software frameworks we are using, which may be database management systems like Oracle, or software development platforms like Visual Studio. But in reality, it is the abstraction that is the essence of a cloud, not the fact that it is an external party providing it. Therefore we can have on-premises clouds hosted at our own data center, and private clouds managed by our own team but that are hosted at external data centers. It is a stack of software that provides the abstraction that makes it a cloud, not the vendor. The foundation of this stack is mostly virtualization and automation related software.

Journey into the Clouds

Jumping right into the clouds is difficult and scary. We can’t see things clearly with all these clouds around. We don’t know what and who we can trust.

The good news is that we can take advantage of some of the huge benefits of cloud computing without some of the riskier aspects.  When we run a private cloud or on-premises cloud, we still benefit from the virtualization and automation when provisioning servers, databases, etc, while minimizing the risk that may be introduced by using shared services or relying on external vendors. Additionally,  if we transition our software to use our own private cloud services, they will be much further along when it comes time to move to public cloud services in the future.

There are other options to make the journey less scary as well: Some vendors are providing ways to simplify the process of taking meaningful steps toward the public cloud while staying on premises. Oracle offers the Oracle Cloud Machine, a machine that can live in our own data center, offer IAAS and PAAS capabilities, and is installed and managed by Oracle, behind our own firewalls. When we are comfortable moving to the public cloud, the entire environment can be picked up and moved to Oracle’s public cloud.  And Microsoft has just announced the Azure Stack. This will enable us to use the same software stack that is running in the Microsoft Public Azure cloud, but we can run it in our own data centers, on our own hardware.  Again, after transitioning our software to use cloud services, a future shift to the Azure public cloud will be greatly simplified.

Clouds are not one size fits all

So when we think about how to transition to cloud based technology, we should stop thinking about moving to “The Cloud” because that is too simplistic. We need instead to look at each component of our IT services and think about what level of computing resources we would like abstracted away for that component, and then choose from the available clouds that provide that level of service.

For example, we may decide that for our Customer Relationship Management System, SAAS is the proper level because we are comfortable with the cloud vendor providing all of the IT administration, Disaster Recovery, and Security services, but for our Chemical Inventory Management system that holds highly sensitive formula information, we may choose to go with a PAAS solution or even an IAAS solution because we want to have more control over network and data security. And for a Financial Trading System we may insist on a private cloud IAAS solution so we have full control over all aspects of redundancy,  connectivity,  and security.

Get your head out of “The Cloud”

We are all thinking about the Cloud these days. I heard a talk by the great physicist and author Michio Kaku recently who predicts that through Artificial Intelligence and technology that can read and write our memories, we will all essentially think in “The Cloud” some day.

But for our businesses today, we have to think about the individual clouds so that we don’t get lost. For each service being provided to our employees, partners, customers, regulators, etc, we must think about the appropriate level of service and abstraction (IAAS, PAAS, SAAS), and then evaluate offerings of the cloud vendors at that level.

So when we think about “The Cloud”, we must think instead of  “The Clouds”. And we may see things a bit more clearly.

If you would like to discuss more about your Journey into The Clouds please give us a call at (888) 809-4803 x 700 and if you have further thoughts on the topic, please add comments!

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