2 September 2012

So, what is the Cloud? It’s a great question because, actually, Cloud means so many different things to different people.

The Cloud has become a convenient and cool word for the internet, but it is also a buzz word for virtualisation technology. Now, whilst these two elements often meet, they both work independently of each other too. I watched a video today on cloud from one of the market leaders’ perspectives; they talk about cloud as if it’s the answer to everything. Whilst Cloud maybe everywhere, it’s most certainly not for everything or everyone.

So, when is Cloud right for your business?

Well, if you are using an iPhone and you download an app from the Cloud, this means you are downloading from the internet. Whilst the supplier maybe using virtualisation, its actually unlikely. Most apps are hosted on dedicated servers in a data centre, managed by hosting providers like Peer1, Melbourne or UKFast.

There are some elements of your business that I’d definitely NOT recommend moving to the Cloud. When speed is a key factor in the success of your operation, shared Cloud technology falls short and cannot compete with dedicated environments. So, if you are hosting an e-commerce website where speed directly affects conversion, it’s false economy to sacrifice the performance of your site under the guise of flexibility and cost.

If something is £100 per month cheaper, yet it costs you £10,000 in sales or leads, it isn’t a great business choice. Too many businesses are falling foul of technology updates that downgrade customer experience. We get an alarming number of businesses who move to UKFast after experiencing horror stories where they have been sold the dream that cloud will revolutionise your business for a fraction of the cost. Actually, their sites collapsed, leads dried up, they dropped in rankings and within months their businesses had suffered serious side affects. The only person who profits is the business that encouraged you to move from a dedicated environment to a shared one, because that’s essentially what you have done.

Another area to watch out for appears if you use Google to market your business with PPC (Pay Per Click). Google recognise speed as such an important factor in the running of your website that they give advertisers using faster technology preference with a higher Quality Score. (Quality Score is the number out of 10 that Google marks your keyword on relevance and performance.)

People are being mis-sold Cloud by thousands of new start-ups and, by saying the word Cloud, businesses and consumers alike are supposed to assume that everyone’s online infrastructure is equal. This is a massive misconception and actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

So, when is Cloud and virtualisation right for your business?

Firstly, I think you have to break down the term Cloud. There are many types and they need explaining.

Public Cloud – A shared virtualisation environment where people can spin up a VM (dedicated hosting area) usually at a fraction of the cost, but these areas are restrictive as you are one of thousands of businesses sharing the resources.

Hybrid Cloud – A Cloud environment that utilises shared infrastructure but that allows dedicated systems to work along side them.

Dedicated Cloud – An environment where you own and control all elements of your cloud. Like Amazon and UKFast. These don’t have to be as large as the ones above; however, a dedicated Cloud doesn’t share resources with other users or businesses so, in theory, they should be more powerful and safer. I use the phrase ‘in theory’ because, again, all things aren’t equal.

So, when do I use a Public Cloud?

Well, it’s cheap so there’s the first most obvious benefit. Often, you can spin up and down environments and even choose your billing on usage and time. These are all great factors if you are hosting the family album, although these days Facebook does a great job of this.  But I’d err on the side of caution before I’d  host anything mission critical. All of the big providers; Amazon and ourselves UKFast, have all suffered outages on our shared platforms. We had one recently where, whilst the system intelligently fixed itself, the VM’s were powered down. Whilst everything worked perfectly, the other volumes meant that our clients had to wait for each one to restart. While some clients were fortunate and it was only a few hours, others were not so fortunate.

At the end of the day, when you strip away all the hype associated with the Cloud, it’s shared hosting. Has the hosting industry stepped back a decade, putting profit before user experience?

When is a Hybrid Cloud right for my business?

This is a great question because the term hybrid refers to the allowance of other dedicated technologies plugging into shared infrastructure. This makes hybrid environments very hard to compare like for like. At UKFast, we go to huge lengths to use only the best technology and create a fair, balanced environment where the only shared part of the hybrid is the SAN and switch. By limiting numbers, we limit the risk of neighbouring sites damaging your performance; a common problem in my opinion on public and hybrid Clouds. That being said, built correctly by a company who provides full management from a team with all the necessary competencies, the hybrid Cloud can be a very powerful business tool. 9 times out of 10, done correctly, it will be more expensive than a powerful dedicated server.

So, when do I use a dedicated Cloud?

Ok, this is easy! When you have a big budget and an appetite for using the latest technologies, a dedicated cloud with your own SAN and switches is the ultimate in hosting, yet most people compromise on the SAN because it’s the most important part of the environment, on the basis that by its very nature is built for safety. WRONG! A SAN is complex and when they go wrong, complex things take time to fix. If you have a dedicated environment, do not have a single point of failure on your SAN. You will get found out.

So, when do you use a managed or dedicated server?

I’ll be honest, I may be doing myself out of huge amounts of new business; however, I cant encourage clients to jump on a band wagon just because we profit from a gold rush. And so there can be no doubt, we do sell Public Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, and Dedicated Clouds at UKFast, and yes, the Public Cloud with its economies of scales is significantly more profitable that all our other products. However, promoting this service under the banner of “Cloud” as the be all and end all, is wrong. Is it safe to say there is a link between the huge profit margins of Cloud technologies and the massive push hosting providers are making to encourage you to adopt their products?

When you are leading a market or regarded as driving innovation for more than a decade, you are in a privileged and trusted position, and people look to us for business and technology advice. If we blindly promote the most profitable service to get a quick win to suit shareholders or our bottom line, at the expense of our clients businesses, is this ethical? Not in my opinion.

Yet this is happening, and ignorance is bliss if you put profit before your clients’ needs.

So, next time you consider moving to the Cloud, and you compare 3 providers who all look identical on paper, yet one charges £150 and another £40 and another £261.36, who do you choose?

Question your needs and the needs of your clients before jumping in head first. Is speed important to what you are trying to do?

My advice is: if you can afford it, go dedicated, and if you can’t, you have to question how much money you might be losing with bouncing customers and bottlenecks.

Good luck. It’s a jungle out there.

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