Ken Boyd, CIO & SVP Services, NETSCOUT
The IT landscape is always evolving: new technologies, new applications, assimilating mergers and acquisitions (or the mergers, acquisitions of your vendors). Sheer growth and volume alone could force change or new application needs within an organization. When this happens, there’s often a pre-disposed mindset: a “Cloud First” camp and an “On-Prem Only” camp.
“By staying focused on the analysis and keeping an open mind for each new situation, IT departments can gain their best advantage, while keeping costs down and usability high”
Each camp believes their implementation is best. The Pro-Cloud camp seeks the shared access and cost savings of the Cloud. Cloud applications allow for fewer IT resources and lower development costs and don’t require the large capital investment to purchase additional hardware.
The Pro On-Prem camp seeks more control and perhaps worries about security, support and / or compliance issues. Knowing they will need to support the usability applications, the On-Prem supporters feel the performance, flexibility and control outweigh the cost or perceived high availability benefits of the Cloud.
So which camp is right? Therein lays the problem. Pro-Cloud or Pro On- Prem viewpoints has led to polarization within IT departments, as each side insists their approach is best, based on their respective strengths. But the right answer may be different, depending on the particular use case, application and the analysis. The goal of this discussion is to review when Pro-Cloud might make the most sense, and when On-Prem is the better choice.
First, the primary focus should be on the analysis. It’s important to drop Cloud First or On-Prem Only biases when reviewing changes or deploying new applications. Keep an open mind.
Second, determine which applications are best suited for the Cloud. Advantages to moving applications to the Cloud might include:
♦ Lower entry cost, lower overall costs
♦ High availability to users globally
♦ Vendor provided testing and validation cycles; lower QA costs
♦ Fewer IT resources needed to manage upgrades
Applications best suited to Cloud are those that require minimal interaction between the Cloud and On-Prem data sources. This means both that the data sources and associated business processes should be localized within the Cloud application. The business processes include everything from initiating the transaction, to completing the transaction, inclusive of response time back to the end user. The primary reason all database interaction and business systems should be localized is because roundtrip time between the Cloud and On-Prem applications is very expensive, the end user performance will degrade. High availability is imperative, but not at the expense of poor user experience. Cloud / On-Prem iterations significantly increase latency. It’s important therefore to make sure the application approach is thoughtful and well-architected to include all linkages. For example, Cloud hosting an Intranet site seems like a safe bet; however, detailed analysis often indicates that intranets are a series of linked websites and content, much of which must reside On-Prem. It’s critical to do the analysis before deploying, the implications are staggering.
CRM applications such as SalesForce. com are great examples of success in the Cloud. The majority of the business process (lead management, forecasting, quoting, etc.) is resident in the Cloud and performance and availability is a demonstrated reality. Unfortunately, the order taking system is separate and is generally On-Prem. Before a quote can become a committed sales order, interaction with an associated ERP system is necessary. The only caution here is to understand the transaction volume and rationalize whether or not the throughput meets business expectations.
So what are some of the advantages of On-Prem? It’s already clear that accessing multiple data sources and business systems which are not localized within a Cloud app make it a candidate for On-Prem. But if your company’s business process itself is a market differentiator or competitive advantage, then it may be well worth keeping the control. The customization and flexibility may well justify the in-house hardware investment, development, testing, maintenance and IT costs.
While some may think security is an issue with the Cloud, this is not an issue in the evaluation between the two, most corporate breaches have occurred with On-Prem systems not in the Cloud. Security is a top factor, whether it is Cloud or On- Prem. All approaches must keep information assets secure. So for our purposes, security is not being considered as a positive or negative for either camp—it is an essential requirement.
Advantages for On-Prem include:
♦ Control over all systems and data
♦ Initial investment is high, but pays off over time
♦ Virtualization significantly reduces the required capital investment
Per the last point, many see virtualization as growing competition for Cloud services. Virtualization allows economies of scale which can reduce or eliminate the need for additional hardware or server expenditures. The positive attributes of virtualization is making the decision to Cloud host less compelling; this must be considered in the final analysis.
In summary, if you can localize an application and minimize interaction with On-Prem data sources or systems, it’s probably a good candidate for the Cloud. Customized applications with multiple business systems or databases are generally more suited for On-Prem. It is my opinion that hybrid models should be avoided if possible. It’s okay to go Cloud or On-Prem, but once you mix the two, the performance degradation and costs tend to go south very quickly. So whether you like coffee, or tea—it doesn’t matter—you just probably don’t want to mix the two.
By staying focused on the analysis and keeping an open mind for each new situation, IT departments can gain their best advantage, while keeping costs down and usability high. This will help prevent single-minded Pro-Cloud or Pro On-Prem Camps from polarizing IT efforts.