March to the Cloud—Or Not?

Cloud this, cloud that…it seems that the cloud will heal all your woes. But will it really? Some vendors are using the term “cloud” to signify various services, such Software as a Service (SaaS), private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, and more. With so many clouds, how can you be sure that you’re getting the right cloud for you or whether you even need a cloud?

Let’s first step back, determine what you really need, and separate that from the marketing hype. Generally, the appeal of the cloud is that the costs and services are tightly controlled. Someone else is responsible for operating system licensing, hardware, maintenance, backups, and everything else associated with maintaining a data center. Some people think that because all of the behind-the-scenes efforts are consolidated, the cost is significantly less or even free. Not!

There’s no such thing as a free server. Anywhere. Although servers have come down in price significantly due to lower costs associated with physical hardware and virtualization, there are still significant costs that must be borne. Whether incurred as one-time fees, amortized costs, or monthly expenses, computing power costs are significant.

The lure of the cloud may be special start-up offers that are extremely enticing. It’s important to look beyond that special enticement and frame a true picture of exactly how much a specific cloud service will cost your business. Generally, cloud is more expensive than maintaining a data center.

Whether you move one or a few applications to the cloud or your entire business has direct relevance to cost and complexity. Most businesses first consume a bit of the cloud with an accounting application or Microsoft Office 365. In particular, the ease and convenience of full Exchange services including Skype for Business as a monthly rental is hard to beat.

But what next? Move all applications to the cloud as a full hosted service or by renting servers from a provider such as Azure or Amazon Web Services? Again, keeping in mind that there’s no such thing as a free server, it’s important to validate the pros and cons of cloud services vs. data-center servers. Going full speed ahead into the cloud just because it’s in vogue is not a good business decision. Remember, the cloud suffers from many of the same downsides of a data center, such as downtime, network failures, and the like.

Over the years, there have been many marketing pushes to change the way that IT organizations provide services. Marketing hype typically does not equate to reality. Remember some of these?

  • Mainframe Rental: Some youngsters may not remember the days of renting time or resources on a mainframe. After those days, servers came along, and it became more cost-efficient to purchase servers. Déjà vu—cloud is the new computing resource rental service.
  • Application Isolation: When the predecessors to App-V were released, the promise of packaging all your applications and easily maintaining an application library caught attention. The cost and complexity of App-V packaging proved to bring significant challenges with it. While App-V is indeed beneficial in some use cases, employing it for all applications within an enterprise is rare.
  • VDI:  When Citrix and VMware started their VDI war nearly ten years ago, we were all led to believe that we’d be using virtual desktops and that the days of virtualized applications were over. The cost and additional resources required to deliver VDI have hampered acceptance, as has the question of whether full virtual desktops are really needed. There are and will continue to be a significant number of use cases for virtualized applications as compared to virtualized desktops.

Is cloud here to stay? Perhaps, but history has shown that the pendulum tends to shift toward middle ground or that a new technology may become preferable. Cost is often the core determining factor, not tech company marketing pointing to nirvana. Additional factors include network, provider service levels, security, and compliance.

There are some use cases in which hosted cloud is indeed the best solution. For most small businesses comprising fewer than 100 employees, cloud is generally the wise decision, because system complexity is minimal, and acquiring and maintaining resources—hardware, software, and people—is otherwise overwhelming.

But there are also a significant number of use cases in which maintaining data center resources makes sense and will continue to be the best option. Applications have long proven to be the most complex aspect of virtualization. Simply hosting the front end in the cloud doesn’t provide significant benefit, because the maintenance of hosting large, intertwined databases and back-end systems is still an arduous task, and one that now has network latency associated with it.

This leads us to hybrid cloud, which straddles data centers and cloud. It is most commonly used for bursting and disaster recovery to keep costs down and address peaks. Aside from SaaS applications, the hybrid cloud model is the most generally accepted, as it provides the best of both worlds.

Will your servers reside in your data center, in the cloud, or both?


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Jo Harder
Jo Harder has been involved with virtualization for over 18 years, long before virtualization was the norm. After holding several sales and marketing positions, she started down the path of bits and bytes while at AT&T/Lucent Technologies. She then moved onto Citrix in 1999, where she became a Senior Architect. Her 11-year tenure included a combination of Citrix Consulting and Technical Readiness roles. After leaving Citrix, Jo provided consulting services for various clients for the next year. In her current role at a hosting provider, she is focused on cloud-based solutions for financial industry clients. In February 2015, she was awarded Citrix Technology Professional. Jo's diverse background of sales, marketing, management, and architectural/technical expertise brings a unique perspective to Virtualization Practice. She welcomes input from vendors, industry contacts, and end users and can be reached at

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