by Joe Weinman

With cloud, anything goes, apparently

Apr 15, 2016
Cloud ComputingData Center

Strategies for using—or avoiding—the public cloud, vary by firm. For good reasons.

puzzle cloud
Credit: Thinkstock

Is it better to rideshare, take a taxi, or rent, lease, finance, or outright purchase a car? Should it be a convertible, coupe, or sedan?  The answer, of course, is “it depends”—on a variety of factors, which vary among customers and over time.  Similar variability of deployment models and architectures occurs with the cloud, too.  Here are some examples of what leading companies are doing, and their presumed or stated rationales.

  • Go all in on public cloud—Netflix, with its streaming business, has been the poster child for public cloud adoption, arguably being a critical forcing function in the growth of the reliability and functionality of AWS, the cloud industry in general, and in best practices and tools for pubic cloud use.
  • Do nothing—But there is more to Netflix than streaming: its legacy DVDs-by-mail business is run out of a traditional corporate data center.  Stable businesses don’t necessarily need to exploit the elasticity of public clouds; physically oriented ones don’t necessarily need to exploit geographic dispersion of front-end components for enhanced response time (connected things often do; DVDs may not); and, frankly, it’s not always worth the migration costs.
  • Migrate to the public cloud where possible—Like Netflix, GE is “all in” on cloud, consolidating and closing data centers and migrating applications where possible to the public cloud.  But Chris Drumgoole, COO of Global Operations CoreTech at GE, recognizes that “most of the apps and the systems that build machines [such as turbines] or transport them are not cloud-ready by any stretch.” 
  • Start public and stay there—Online education company Coursera has been 100% AWS since Day 1, storing its static objects such as courseware in S3 and using CloudFront for content delivery to students around the world.
  • Go hybrid—Hybrid has a number of variants.  In one, a single application can be load-balanced and autoscaled across private and public.  Another hybrid approach positions various connected application components in private or public environments.  For example, Netflix’s streaming business uses AWS for media transcoding, personalization, ordering, billing, and payments, but uses Open Connect—Netflix’s dedicated, owned appliances—deployed at colocation/interconnection facilities for content delivery.
  • Get out of the cloud—Some companies exit the public cloud due to flattening or manageable workload and customer demand growth, performance gains from non-shared architectures tuned to the firm’s application(s), and/or cost optimization.  Uber started at AWS but moved to its own data centers to save money; Dropbox largely left AWS, even designing and building its own storage server—called “Diskotech”—to optimize price/performance in its own data centers.
  • Stay away from the cloudEvernote has never utilized a public cloud.  It estimated that running in a public cloud would quadruple its costs, and moreover, wants to maintain ultimate control over ensuring its customers’ data is secure, including appropriately wiping physical disks removed from service.

  • Start public, go private, then return to the public cloud—Social gaming company Zynga famously utilized AWS during periods of heady growth, then built out its own infrastructure once growth flattened, finding a compelling financially compelling reduction in resource requirements by architecting an environment tuned to its application(s).  However, when user demand turned negative, fixed resources became increasingly underutilized, prompting a return to AWS.

  • Start private, go public, then return to private—Instagram began life with a managed services provider, but with its growth exploding right out of the gate, migrated to AWS to exploit public cloud elasticity.  However, after its acquisition by Facebook, its environment was consolidated into Facebook’s data centers, leading to a threefold reduction in resource requirements and a fivefold improvement in photo upload time.

  • Go multicloud—It’s practically a given these days that a company will use multiple SaaS providers, say, for CRM, Zenefits for HR, WebEx for conferencing, and Gmail for email.  What’s interesting is when companies smartly use multiple IaaS providers.  Netflix backs up snapshots of its AWS-resident data to the Google Cloud for more robust data protection, and Apple reportedly allegedly expanded beyond AWS and Microsoft Azure by adding Google to its list of cloud providers enabling iCloud behind the scenes.

  • All of the above—Companies with a variety of businesses, processes, or applications—practically every company, that is—may choose some or all of the above approaches.

Bottom line: smart people at different organizations select different strategies at different times for different reasons.  What’s your cloud strategy?