Monthly Archives: August 2011

Breaking up with your cloud provider

Suppose you run an average SMB business and you’re proud of having achieved a fairly low TCO by hosting all your operations on your favorite cloud provider, AcmeCloud, who do an excellent job running your virtual machines flawlessly with a 100% uptime and perfect network latency figures. All is well, you have no IT in house and your computing geeks funnel their resources developing new services and bringing in new customers every day. AcmeCloud does all the chores for you (operating VMs, allocating storage, snapshoting and replicating volumes, maintaining SSL certificates and network load balancing) and charging you only for what you use. Until that day…

It started with a 2-hour outage, attributed to a lightning strike. Then, two months later in the peak of the holiday season, you are notified that you must change your SSL certificates due to an intrusion to AcmeCloud secure server – and inform your customers, all 2000 of them, to do the same. And a few weeks later, due to a mishap during a network upgrade, your data volumes suddenly become unresponsive for a whole day causing data loss and forcing a rollback to 2-day old snapshots. Time to find a new home for your data services.

As easy as it is to start using cloud services, that’s how difficult it becomes to change to a new cloud provider. Downloading VM images and uploading them to another provider over the Internet is expensive – you have to utilize high bandwidth for a long time. Exporting data sets from an SaaS data repository and importing them to another is even more difficult, since you may have to adjust data schemas and types. Hoping that all will go smooth and you will be done in a few days is equally possible to finding a pink elephant grazing in your back yard.

In the traditional, old-fashioned IT world we all love to hate, where you have your servers in your little computer room backing them up to tapes and NFS volumes, the story described above is equal to a disaster recovery event. Something breaks beyond repair and you have to rush to find new servers and Internet uplink, then restore everything – well, everything that’s possible – to the new systems and restore services. This has happened once or twice to IT veterans and it’s quite painful to recall.

One could argue that a disaster recovery site and a BC plan would be the solution to this, but, how many average SMBs do you know that can afford a second datacenter? Very few. But, what would be the analogy of a disaster recovery site in the cloudified enterprise? Simply, a second cloud provider. Let’s take some time and weigh the pros and cons of moving your SMB to the clouds, using two cloud providers from day one.

The bad stuff first:

  • Costs will double: You pay two providers. That’s straightforward (really?)
  • Complexity will also double. Each provider has their own interfaces and APIs, which you have to familiarize with.
  • You have to maintain data consistency from one provider to the other. If you go for an active-passive scheme, you have to transfer data from one provider to the other on a frequent schedule
  • You have to control your DNS domain so that you can update your domain entries when you have to switch from one provider to the other

 

The good stuff:

  • Costs will not necessarily double! By utilizing both providers at the same time, you can split services among both. When either fails, utilizing their elastic cloud infrastructure you can instantly fire up dormant Vms on the other.
  • You have the luxury to make tactical decisions at your own time, not under time pressure. For example, you can tune your online services at your own pace by balancing them across both or preferring one of them that offers better network latency, while keeping data services on the other that offers cheaper storage.
  • You can plan a cloud strategy, by eliminating one of two providers and migrating to a third without losing deployed services.
  • By being forced to move data back and forth from one provider to the other, your IT skills in data governance and transformation will be enriched, mandating your organization to retain control over your data lifecycle and not delegate this function to the cloud provider.

 

Planning a cloud strategy with two cloud providers instead of one is the same pattern that cloud providers themselves utilize: Reliable services built on unreliable resources. You cannot trust 100% any cloud provider, but you can trust a service model that is built on redundant service blocks.

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