Is the Cloud Ready?

The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference is taking place this week in Toronto (week of 7/18/16), and the cloud is unquestionably its key topic. Many CIOs and CTOs have caught the cloud bug and have openly stated that their infrastructures are moving to the cloud. But what exactly is “the cloud,” and is it really ready for prime time?

Definition of “the Cloud”

Of course, from the Microsoft perspective, “the cloud” equates to Azure, its proprietary offering. This discussion will focus on the public cloud, such as Microsoft Azure. The term “the cloud” has a definition that varies with the people using it, even when the term is modified by adjectives. For example, if you ask a group of technical people to define “public cloud,” “private cloud,” and “hybrid cloud,” the answers may be significantly different.

To add complication, while Software as a Service (SaaS) and service provider offerings are often referred to as cloud, in fact they predate the term: they are well-defined and revenue-producing, mature products. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the first generation of these services were called application service providers (ASPs). Unfortunately, this initiative largely failed because the market wasn’t ready from a business or even a cultural standpoint. Those early vendors also tried to be all things to all people. History sometimes repeats itself.

If you ask business people to define the cloud sans adjectives, the immediate response is that it’s an efficient, cost-saving architecture that enables businesses to offload data center infrastructure. The resounding undertone from both technical and business leaders is that the cloud is the perfect solution for IT and that everyone needs it—now!

However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a free server: you pay for it in some way, shape, or form. Of course, it sounds like a great idea to offload your IT infrastructure to a behemoth that will address networking, storage, failover, maintenance, licensing, and the myriad other items that comprise a data center, based on a per-minute fee. And if you turn off the servers that are not needed, you can save a huge amount of money, because you only pay for what you need. Perfection, right? Well, not quite. Cloud services don’t have 100% uptime, they are expensive, they are not easy to use, and sometimes you can ping a server but it really is dead. Sounds a lot like a data center…

Job advertisements abound for IT professionals with extensive experience using Azure, Amazon Web Services, and similar services. These positions are largely going unfilled, because the cloud is still elusive in terms of its exact capabilities. Not only is the definition unclear, but the desired goal of these positions lack clarity. “Deploy all IT infrastructure in the cloud” is extremely difficult due to the state of the technologies.

Is the Cloud Really Ready?

Is the cloud really ready for prime time? Unlike many who promulgate only the benefits of the cloud, I’ve spent some time dabbling in it recently, and I have to say there have been far more hours of disappointment than elation.

This week, I caught up with fellow CTP (Citrix Technology Professional) Benny Tritsch, who is also a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), for an engaging discussion about exactly this. We opined about the good, the bad, and the ugly as related to public cloud. One of Benny’s comments summed it up perfectly: “In a nutshell, Azure is still in its infancy. It’s a big child, but behaves like a three-year-old: sometimes it doesn’t get it or is unpredictable.”

In particular, administrative ease of use, monitoring/diagnostics, and latency must be improved before widespread adoption can be achieved. For example, as someone who is accustomed to receiving detailed feedback in seconds from on-premises servers, I find that the minutes it takes to report server state and lackluster diagnostics are frustrating.

When Benny explained the Nano Server functionality in Azure, as well as the integration with Windows Server 2016, the Microsoft vision started to become clear. “Look at the Nano Servers as the ‘cloud OS’ as it abstracts away the underlying hardware. With the upcoming Windows Server 2016 and its Nano Server SKU, you can build your own Azure-like data center—and this is what Microsoft wants. They also figured that customers will not move to the cloud fast enough, so they need a ‘compatible’ on-prem solution.”

So, is the public cloud ready for prime time for most enterprises today? No, not really. Lab setups and perhaps failover/bursting may be appropriate at this stage. However, especially in conjunction with the release of Windows Server 2016, watch this space!

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