We all here about “The Cloud” today and Virtual Private Servers. The reality is 10 years ago, virtualization as a technology was still in it’s infancy. While it seemed like a good idea, the reality is, it wasn’t ready for prime time business. It was more of an exploration of technology, the next logical step; the emergence of an infant technology that would work on the desktop, but clearly not on the enterprise.
Then came the players into the market. Xen, Citrix, VMware. Now, after much testing, it’s proven to be a very logical solution. The reality is computers spend quite a bit of their time idling, so why not use those extra cycles to actually do something?
What am I talking about? I’m talking about creating moving to the cloud for a couple of reasons. From a business perspective, the most important is ROI. (Return on Investment). It makes no sense to to run a datacenter full of computers each with it’s own purpose and having to manage backups, redundancy, etc. This translates into REAL expense and it does effect your bottom line.
What if I told you that your IT expenses could easily be reduced by 50%? That’s a realistic number. Interesting, huh?
The reality is a properly set up cloud with the right virtualization technology can save you quite a bit of money.
Let’s start with the Business Benefits. There may be some overlap with the technical, because we’re talking about technology. This section should explain the benefits to you.
Reduction in the number of servers and infrastructure. In some cases, eliminating the infrastructure all-together. Virtualization technology is simply a series of virtual machines that run on more than one server. These servers while they should be powerful have the ability to share / pool their resources. Basically, instead of having a mailserver, a webserver, a database server, application server, etc. You could have this run on 2-3 machines rather than have dedicated machines.
This cuts down dramatically on the number of administrators as well as electricity used. Let’s not forget the cooling and datacenter space costs. The benefits in this case from a business perspective are huge. Assuming 5 machines each drawing AC and power running on 2 machines. You’re saving on 50% of the power-bill right off the bat. Let’s include the other things like office space. At 15-50.00 per sq. ft, this is a huge savings as well.
Need another machine? Just spin one up virtually. The cost? Zero. No additional hardware to buy, just a few clicks and you can have a virtual machine with the operating installed in about 5 minutes. How’s that for a savings?
Now let’s talk about Hardware Failure. This is the one that is hard to calculate, but I can bet you that having a bunch of employees sitting around doing nothing, because your server went down is going to be very costly. Not just to your employees, but to your customers; ultimately you. In a cloud environment, when one server fails, another takes over. If set up correctly, we’re talking seconds and not minutes. This happens automatically and most of the time, you won’t even noticed it happened.
This gives you time to run out and get the server fixed at your convenience. If you need more capacity, just add another server to the cloud and not only do you increase your redundancy, but you include your ability to handle more customers. Need to copy a system? no problem. Cloud servers can be copied live or during maintenance windows with a simple click. We’re talking minutes vs. the hours it would take to set up a completely new server.
That’s just one solution.
Let’s assume you don’t want to build a cloud. There are a few cloud providers out there that will provide you with 99.999+% uptime. That’s less than a minute of downtime a year. Pretty impressive, huh? If you need more capacity, you can also just spin it up. You don’t have to worry about it. The cloud provider handles it for you. They have the resources, they manage it, they expand it when you need it. In other words, there’s nothing to worry about.
You don’t own a piece of equipment. The downside? You need an internet connection that is relatively sizable. In this case, I recommend two internet connections in case one goes down, you still have access. Worse case, send your employees home and have them work from there until your internet is restored.
Regardless of how you look at it, it becomes a major money and time saver. Most importantly, if there’s a physical disaster at your place of work (fire, earthquake, hurricane, etc). You lose no data and your employees and customers will have access to the resources they need.
A cloud from a technical advantage point really speaks for itself. It’s more efficient in utilization of resources. There’s redundancy, adding more capacity adds more redundancy.
It saves money and if you have a fast enough connection and more than one location, you have complete redundancy and availability of data off-site. Now keep in mind this is not an excuse to ignore backups. There’s always the human factor. An overzealous employee that does something wrong, an upgrade gone wrong, data pollution, etc. The difference is if your backup happens to be cloud based (in your cloud), restores are fast and easy.
Faster than anyone can do it with a physical server at least. In a cloud infrastructure, backups can be set up as snapshots of your VPS server every night. Have a problem? Shut down the current one and just start-up the backup. Total time to do the whole thing? About 2-3 minutes. Once again, this involves someone who knows how to set-up and operate a cloud. (Like me).
How about moving offices? Something that happens relatively frequently. If you’re in a commercial cloud, you don’t have to worry about your infrastructure. The server just run and while you’re setting up your new office, key employees work from home.
If you decided to build your own cloud, just set a migration schedule and move the servers over to the new space one at a time. Once a server is in the new space, you can start migrating machines one at a time (virtual machines) to the new office space. The internet or network connection speed will determine how long it takes to move a machine. Here’s another option. Backup the machine image, go over to the new space and restore it there. Total time to do it? About 15 minutes + travel time if you don’t want to move the machines virtually over your network connection.
So now the question comes:
Build or Buy?
Such an interesting question. To everyone, their data is most important, but the reality is, if a virtual machine is secured properly and put behind a firewall (virtual or hardware), buying is the right solution. That’s right. Your cloud can run a virtual firewall as a virtual machine. It’s every bit as safe as a regular firewall.
There is one reason to build and only one. Your data CANNOT under any circumstances leave your control. Remember this though, there is always a trade-off. Redundancy, capacity, and administration are three that come to mind. The fourth, of course is cost.
Every one of my clients buy. Very few build. If you have deep pockets and the need to have complete control, I would suggest you build, but you’ll need an expert to put together a solution that actually works well and you’ll also need more than one person trained to operate the cloud (and available all the time). Including 3am on New Year’s eve.
Not All Cloud Providers are the Same
The reality is every ISP under the sun has jumped on the cloud bandwagon. Half of them are constantly going down, because they didn’t have the finances, infrastructure, or knowledge to do it properly.
Do your research, but I can tell you there are only two cloud providers I trust.
Linode: Google even uses them occasionally.
Amazon: While a tad more expensive on the Virtual Server Side, it’s clearly the most redundant and scalable cloud in the world. Even world governments use them (including the US)
4 thoughts on “The Cloud or Regular Servers, a Technical and business comparison.”
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Afshin, thanks for the prgoram. Is not it ironic that exactly in the week that you talked about cloud computing and wished our computations to be cloudy, we got a thunderstorm on our radio’s site and our site was down? Maybe we should listen to your advice and consider using cloud services for radio’s site. This way the chances of it going down may decrease.Thanks Hadi for your prgoram, I enjoyed it. There was some background noise in your audio though. I suggest you work on making your prgorams shorter in time duration. Also, I suggest not giving away too much of the story of the movies, especially their endings (in the case of Social Network movie), if you want people to watch them and experience the same excitement as you did.
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