#azure

Understanding the Cloud

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In 2019 you would think the business community would have a good understanding of cloud computing. Reality is much different.  As I speak with business owners, management, and users, the “cloud” is still a nebulous concept more than a solution.  It’s certainly not understood well enough to know how to maximize the value of the cloud based on specific business use cases.  This knowledge gap is a source of business risk as well as lost potential business value.

I’ve written many blogs on cloud computing the past 5 + years and “hosted servers and software”, the stepping stone to the cloud, prior to that.  We have learned a great deal during that time, but one constant remains – there is always more to learn because the technology changes so rapidly.

At Fluid, we have a “cloud first” philosophy where any solutions kept on premise in the office requires a valid business case; a 180 degree change in philosophy from 7 to 8 years ago.  Today, it’s not just about determining if the cloud is a good fit, it’s about selecting the best type of cloud solution with the most optimal deployment.  This requires a deep technical understanding of cloud solutions, well beyond the glossy sales brochures.  Just keeping up with current technology is a full-time job, add the need to understand new disruptive technologies and how they impact the value proposition and you quickly realize it takes a disciplined commitment and process involving many people with varying skill sets.

The barrage of marketing buzzwords around cloud attempting to clarify things actually add to the confusion – public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, cloud disaster recovery; the list goes on.

To simplify things, let’s look at a few types.  These definitions and descriptions can be scrutinized and argued among vendors, experts and engineers, but that is not the audience.  The ones needing the most help in understanding the cloud are the business buyers and users.

Public Cloud

These are the big ‘logo’ guys: Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, etc.  These companies, as you would expect, have behemoth cloud infrastructures and solutions that literally span the globe.  These are typically shared environments that are highly complex requiring senior engineers and architects to properly design and deploy.  Their sheer size can provide benefits in cost and deployment with geographical flexibility.  Each have their own rules to abide by.

Private Cloud

These are typically smaller players that have their own cloud infrastructure in smaller geographical areas.  The advantage of private clouds is greater flexibility and control.  Because they aren’t aligned to the major public cloud companies, which are also ‘product’ companies, they have the ability to host solutions that may not be a good fit for the public cloud.  In addition, some companies prefer the private aspect of knowing more about where their information is stored, how it’s managed and, in many cases, more secure.

Hybrid Cloud

The hybrid cloud is just that, a hybrid that utilize more than one solution.  This can include hosting components in the public cloud and others in the private cloud.  It can also be a mix of hosting some solutions onsite with others in the public or private cloud.  Hybrid cloud solutions are typically very ‘business use case’ specific.  For example, an engineering company with very high processing requirements for CAD drawings may use solutions on premise and back up the data to a private or public cloud.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) should also be mentioned because a vast majority of companies use SaaS solutions alongside others.  For example, if using Dropbox for file sharing and hosting accounting systems in Microsoft Azure is using SaaS for Dropbox and public cloud for the accounting system.

Licensing is a beast!

Invariably, when companies evaluate cloud solutions they focus primarily on the core of the solutions: what will run in the cloud, how much processing power do we need, how much storage is required, how can remote users access it easily from anywhere.  What is often glossed over is the software licensing requirements.  Abusing software licensing rules even unintentionally is not something to take trivially.  The volumes of rules, requirements, and options is literally a wormhole requiring multiple jobs in itself. 

Be wary the sales rep that says licensing is ‘all included’ or ‘nothing to worry about’.  The costs associated with licensing can double the cost of a cloud solution and more if not done properly.  Every software solution has licensing rules and regulations, many of which are specific to usage not just in the cloud but the type of cloud. 

We have a half dozen different licensing programs and certifications just to cover Microsoft licensing in the cloud.  Just multiply that by the number of software providers and it’s a book no one wants to read.  But someone must read it and understand how to weave all the various licensing options into the blanket that best covers your business.  Make sure your provider understands licensing and make sure you understand licensing enough to be comfortable your business is properly covered.  It’s too good to be true is a cautionary motto to follow.

As I was writing this blog, I received an email from a cloud customer, who is the business owner of a food manufacturing business.  In his email, he forwarded dialog with his ‘local tech provider’ questioning every aspect of the cloud setup, software licensing, etc.  It was clear the customer provided the invoice detail to the tech to be a second set of eyes to confirm he had a good solution, which is never a problem.  Transparency with customers should always be the standard protocol.  Interestingly, every line item the tech questioned and provided feedback on was incorrect.  If the end customer followed this advice they would be woefully non-compliant and given dangerously bad information.  This exchange of information proves the entire point of this blog.  Even technical people providing advice don’t understand the cloud technologies with dire consequences. 

Choosing the wrong provider and partner can be disastrous to the business.

The challenges businesses face today is not if a cloud solution will be a good fit but finding the expertise to determine the best solutions available to the business and, more importantly, the ability to execute and implement the solutions.  There are hundreds if not thousands of IT companies, managed service providers (MSPs), etc. happy to sell cloud solutions without the in-house knowledge required to design, implement and support the services properly. 

The problem is exacerbated because the typical business ‘buyer’ does not have the knowledge to ask the right questions to confirm the ‘seller’ has the skills required to meet business needs.  Migrating to the cloud is not an easy task, regardless of what the sales pitch says.  A vendor skilled in doing migrations will have a defined, disciplined migration process and experience to make the migration as painless as possible.  Every flawless plan has unexpected issues to be addressed.  This is where your vendor earns their keep.  If the vendor doesn’t have migration experience and skills, the wheels can shoot off well beyond frustration and become a major disruption to the business with outages and downtime.

Public cloud is… well, public.  So what?

Microsoft Azure publishes its cloud pricing to the public, as well as a “pricing calculator” to use to estimate potential cloud costs.  Easy right?!  Think again.  You must know this stuff at so many deep technical levels and layers it will make the most tech savvy run for the hills.  As a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) we have dozens of “portals” we must navigate just to manage our customers Azure and Office365 accounts and environments, and we are the experts.  This scenario plays out for the other 800 pound gorillas as well.

Proceed with caution… it’s one thing to sell, quite another to advise, implement and support

What is the real implication?  The cloud has come a long way and continues to improve with better tools, automation, and solutions.  But notice I did not say support.  One major lagging necessity is good (not even great) support from cloud providers.  Every cloud provider will require you purchase support, even if it’s buried in the pricing.  What they don’t tell you is the quality of the support.  It’s only when you make that initial call for support that you realize it’s going to be very long day.  Again, this stems from a lack of skills and experience to deliver on both the technical side of the house and customer service.

It is very disheartening to witness how these powerful technologies can improve and enable business only to be poorly understood by those who position themselves as experts to support it.

No one becomes a cloud expert overnight.

We have invested over 10 years of countless hours, millions of dollars, and hundreds of deployments in the cloud.  It wasn’t and isn’t easy to do. It requires a different level of commitment I’m sorry to see many in our business not obligate themselves to.  We owe it to all those we serve not only to understand the technologies, but educate in business terms the value, the many options, and ultimately find the right solution for the situation.  There is an entire segment of business soured on the idea of the cloud because of poor advice, execution, and support.  I only hope with the right partner they can find their way back to today’s possibilities.  Cloud is definitely not a fit for everyone and never will be, but it shouldn’t be swept off the table because we didn’t do our jobs.