So You Thought You’d Build Your Own – Competing with the Online Data Center

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Cloud computing is all the rage and CIOs are shifting their data and applications over to it in truckloads. Scalable, resilient and cost-efficient, the cloud makes an offer that many organizations just cannot refuse. There are however just a couple of drawbacks. To start with, guarantees of data confidentiality are not always available and not always reliable. The other drawback is that cloud services that please you may not be available for specific software/hardware combinations you run on site, or for legacy applications that you couldn’t move even if you wanted to.
Measuring Up to the Public Cloud
You may be fated – for the time being – to stick with on-premises computing. In that case, can you still get the advantages that online data centers offer, like flexibility, scalability, resilience and lower costs, and have better security thrown in for good measure? Here are some dimensions to explore.

  • Cost-efficiency. Yes, the cloud is more than a budget solution, but squeezing value out of every last cent has become critically important for many companies. Servers you run in-house may be woefully inefficient, while still costing you big bucks to buy and maintain. Virtualization doubled efficiency for many, but still left too much server capacity unused. To really rival online data centers, you need to fight them on their own ground. Put cloud-like technology into your own servers to take efficiency from the low tens of percent to the high tens.
  • Scalability. With cloud-like technology in your own servers, you can have scalability too. Users can order up their compute capacity and your systems can react quasi-immediately to supply it. Smart use of Open Source technology can help you to automatically monitor and reclaim unused resources. Yes, you are still playing the cloud’s game, but larger IT vendors also now sell ‘in a box’ private cloud solutions that work ‘right out of the box’.
  • Resilience. This is where competing with online data centers becomes more challenging. Up in the cloud, providers have enough distributed resources to move replicated data around virtually as they like. If your own operations are confined to one physical site, resilience in the wake of a local disaster may be difficult. If you have in-house IT resources at several, geographically distinct sites, resilience becomes more achievable. Some companies are moving toward a setup in which data is continually replicated between their sites with possibility of moving all virtual machines from one site to another in a few seconds.
  • Security. This may be what stopped you from going online with a public cloud in the first place. But before you feel all smug about having your data firmly under lock and key on your site, consider the following security aspects too. Online data centers (for reputable providers) have comprehensive physical and logical security systems. Cameras and secure entrances keep human intruders out. Firewalls keep cyber intruders out too and regular system software updates reduce vulnerability too. What providers cannot guarantee is that they won’t buckle under pressure from powerful entities to hand over copies of your data. But for the rest of the security matters, they put many on-premises data centers to shame.
  • Legacy systems. This is the elephant in the room. Nobody discusses it, but it’s a huge issue for many. This often concerns systems with vital business logic built in, but source code that has been mislaid or specific hardware for which spare parts must be salvaged from brokers and second hand dealers. Fragile, un-scalable and cost-inefficient in terms of IT maintenance effort, they are unlikely to get as far as an online data center in any case. However, there may now be a cloud application doing what your legacy app does, but better, faster and more cheaply.

The Conclusion?
With planning and private cloud solutions, you may be able to do as well with an on-premises solution as with an online data center service. Some companies even claim to do better. You are unlikely to improve on the resilience of online providers however. And security is a mixed bag, because on-premises and online solutions have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. The legacy system question still has to be resolved, but as time goes on and current legacy systems fade away, expect to move more to the online data centers and the cloud, which will in turn become your new legacy system…