7 Questions about the Cloud

7 Questions about the Cloud

1. What is the “cloud”?
The most basic definition is that it’s making use of someone else’s computer resources. Essentially, users place their data and applications on compute and data storage hardware managed by a third party, which makes this information available to authorized users over the Internet.

2. Why use the cloud?
One reason businesses use the cloud is the amount of flexibility the cloud offers. Here are a few scenarios:
A private cloud on your own hardware, hosted in your own data center. Virtualization technology reduces the risk of downtime by using servers configured in a cluster. Hypervisors like VMware, Hyper-V and KVM enable applications to run on multiple servers so if one physical machine fails, applications smoothly migrate to other hosts without interruption.
Leveraging a third-party cloud provider. Putting your work-load in the cloud avoids the costly capital expenditures for building and running your own datacenter, along with all of the hardware, software, support and maintenance for your infrastructure. Cloud providers simply allow you to purchase what you need, when you need it, which shifts your IT expenditures to an operational cost that’s easier to budget.
An on-demand model. Business needs can change quickly, which can lead to the need for additional compute, network or storage resources…even if only for a short-term project. Instead of purchasing more expensive hardware, outsourcing to a cloud provider that provides on-demand resources with utility billing is a great way to get scalable resources without over-paying for equipment that you don’t need.
An efficient form of data protection. Many organizations would like to have a secondary data center to protect them from all forms of disasters that could take their primary site off line – think power outages or weather events like tornadoes or snow storms. But a physical, secondary back-up site requires a significant capital investment as well as on-going maintenance. By leveraging the infrastructure of a cloud provider, companies can have all the benefits of a failover site for a low monthly cost and no up-front investment.

3. What is the difference between a colocation and the cloud?
Colocation refers to renting facilities from a provider, while maintaining ownership of the hardware, software and systems. Most colo providers offer power, space, cooling and network connectivity services within their secure datacenter facility. The customer then provides all of the servers, storage and software for running their IT systems.
Some businesses build their own private cloud on their own hardware in a colocation facility.
Many cloud providers use third-party colocation facilities to house their infrastructure.
Other cloud providers however operate their own data center, and have more control over the physical environment that protects customers’ assets and data.
All reliable providers will have power back-up systems, robust environmental systems and redundant Internet connectivity.

If you are considering whether you should be using colocation or cloud, you have many choices including:
Use colocation to build your own private cloud. A colocation facility can provide the basic requirements for high availability. You could use multiple colocation facilities if your business requires geographic diversity. If you want to control your hardware choices and features, your virtualization platform, and your operating environment, this might be the right choice for you.
Consider an IaaS engagement for your own private cloud. IaaS stands for “Infrastructure as a Service” which is a form of cloud computing. The IaaS provider is responsible for all of the server, network and storage hardware. Depending upon the engagement, you may also purchase the virtualization platform licensing from the provider as well. You avoid any capital expense for the data center or for the IT hardware. You may have a choice in the type of hardware and/or virtualization tools used, as well as the option to manage it yourself or have the provider take that responsibility as well.
Use a public cloud provider. There are public cloud providers who will provide you with access to their cloud platform in increments as small as an hour. You essentially pay for the time you use their assets which can include processing time, various types of software, storage and network access. In most cases, you use whatever hardware the provider uses with little or no choice. And in most cases you’ll be using shared resources with other customers of all shapes, types and sizes.

4. Is colocation a better option than the cloud?
Colocation and the cloud are not mutually exclusive.
The key decision factors are the amount of investment and control that a business wants to exercise over its hardware and infrastructure, how comfortable the IT staff is with cloud computing, and how well suited the business is for a cloud environment.
Some businesses that are using the cloud as a colocation user are very particular about the hardware platforms that they use and have IT staffs that are well versed in server virtualization, network storage, and cloud environments. They want total control over the hardware being used since they have an affinity to certain hardware vendors or are comfortable with the feature set the vendor provides.
Other businesses are more comfortable running hardware servers instead of a cloud solution. Perhaps the applications being used are not easily migrated or maybe they are using hardware and systems that cannot be virtualized. While these colocation users are more traditional in their approach, they can always introduce a cloud solution for a portion of their environment.
Businesses looking solely at cloud providers may be trying to avoid upfront hardware costs by simply paying as they go through monthly fees, and are comfortable relinquishing the hardware and operating system choices to the provider.

5. Is the cloud replacing the colocation industry?
The short answer is no. Although cloud services have taken business from colocation providers, there is nothing to indicate that the colocation industry is dying out. Cloud services and platforms require physical infrastructure to serve as their backbone. Even as more businesses move to the cloud, there will still need to be physical infrastructure, and the most efficient place to house it is almost always a colocation facility.
That said, the colocation industry does need to change if providers don’t wish to begin suffering significant losses. As noted by Data Center Knowledge’s Keao Caindec, providers need to start offering easy direct connect, online ordering, commitment-free contracts, and better customer service.

6. How does security compare for colocation versus cloud services?
Strictly speaking, it doesn’t. Cloud computing necessitates a greater focus on protecting data in-transit, controlling access, and providing a means of secure connectivity. At the same time, these are all security considerations that are likely to come up if you collocate as well – especially if your business employs remote workers or outsources its labor.
In addition, while colocation requires servers to be physically secured, this is almost always handled by the provider. The client very rarely has to participate in protecting their physical servers.

7. Don’t I give up control by going to the cloud?
It can be argued that the opposite is actually true. Because the cloud is much more flexible than a static, on premise server, organizations can decide how much compute and storage resources they need to use and when. Cloud administrators with the appropriate access level have full control over their systems, while also dictating how much resources they use and the ability to scale up and scale down on demand.