By Marcelo Oliveira, Vice-President of New Commercial Products
Browsing through my LinkedIn feed this morning, I came across a post with a picture of a sticker that said “There is no cloud. It’s just someone else’s computer.”
As with most things on social media, there were loads of opinions within the comments section.
Quite a few commenters said, “I’ve been saying this for years!”, with many others indicating they could build their own “cloud.” Several blamed “marketing*” (with a negative connotation). Many “laughed out loud,” and a handful even asked where they could get a sticker! As expected, there were also a string of comments related to security.
So, I too pose the question, “Is the cloud really just someone else’s computer?” Can an industry that is growing as fast as the cloud be the result of some ad gimmick? Amazon Web Services (AWS) reported results on April 25 showing that their sales grew to $7.7 billion compared to $5.44 billion in the same period last year. If AWS maintains this incredible growth over subsequent quarters, they could add $9.04 billion in revenue during a one-year period. The incremental revenue from AWS alone would be greater than the revenue that enabled Adobe to claim the #339 spot on the Fortune 500 list in 2019.
Here is what I think:
- First, the cloud is certainly not a panacea, as not everything is going to move to the cloud.
- Second, if you are only using the cloud as someone else’s computer, to do the exact same things you do on your own, you are completely missing the point. Simply put: if you merely “lift and shift” your IT infrastructure to the cloud and don’t take advantage of the unique business models, the power of elasticity, the automation capabilities, or data localization on the edge, you are likely just moving spend from one bucket to another. You can potentially save a few bucks by squeezing the last drops of juice from your seven-year old boxes and call it a victory, yet on the other hand you may actually increase your expenses using this approach.
Where to Invest? The Answer Depends On Your Business Model
The cloud has opened a Pandora’s box of innovation. If you are a startup company, where would you rather invest your precious few dollars? In servers / storage / networking / security gear + colocation or on your products / marketing / sales to bring in revenue? With the cloud, you can start as small as you can afford and grow as large as you may possibly manage, almost instantaneously, and this is due to its elasticity.
The Case for Elasticity
A few years ago, one of my clients, the owner of a private university, was having trouble with his IT operations. According to him, his team invested over and over in IT equipment, but there was never enough computing capacity for a very defined and critical time period: student registration. Twice a year, for three weeks, the university lacked the computing capacity needed to meet demand, causing extreme dissatisfaction by the crowds of students who had to jump online at 5 a.m. to register for classes. Imagine the stress this caused the incoming students not knowing if they would be able to get the classes they wanted.
When offered a different approach – the ability to add computing power on the spot without having to pay for unnecessary capacity that would sit idle the remainder of the year – the owner of the school jumped at the chance. During their first registration period post-migration “to the cloud,” their computing infrastructure scaled to three times their baseline capacity, which eliminated the registration headaches for students who knew all too well what the previous year’s 5 a.m. wake up calls were like. Comments on social media confirmed the success: “WOW… never seen registrations this fast before,” and “Now I can’t complain about the registration disaster anymore, what’s left for me to complain about?”
Saving Time, Improving Accuracy with Automation
One of the advantages of moving to the cloud is the timesaving resulting from automation. Think of Infrastructure as a code, and about running an automation template that takes a few minutes to create a certain number of virtual machines, or containers, for an application. Automatically, software components are loaded into the container clusters, storage and a database are connected. Immediately, a virtual network is configured, load balancers are created, and workloads started so users can perform their required tasks and jobs without hesitation.
With the cloud, the activities outlined above are performed moments before they are required at locations where overall costs are minimal at that time.
If this picture were painted for you 10 years ago, you would say it sounds like magic. You can certainly do this using your servers, as long as you had the requisite gear on hand and were comfortable with it sitting idly and depreciating for most of the time.
On the other hand, if you try to do all of this manually and only intermittently, the likelihood of mistakes across all the technology platforms is very high. Automation drives industrialization of IT processes almost always fraught with human error. Industrialization drives efficiency, reduces costs, minimizes errors, and allows you to focus on creating business value for your organization.
The Value of Data Localization in Driving Performance
In the initial stages of a cloud deployment, secondary applications, email, and office documents are quickly moved to the cloud. As more and more core applications move to a cloud first model and generate exabytes of data, we are reminded that geographic distances and physics still matter. There are limitations to the movement of data, starting with the fact that it cannot travel faster than the speed of light.
The Bottom Line
Much more than someone else’s computer, the cloud has created an enormous amount of opportunity for IT to truly become a strategic source of innovation and competitive advantage. The challenges brought by the centralization of data can be balanced out by organizations such as Frontier Communications, which owns and operates more than 3,500 dispersed datacenters interconnected via 180,000 miles of fiber and is uniquely positioned to distribute content and computing power to the edge of the cloud, reduce latency, and deliver the best cloud experience.
*By the way, if the cloud was a marketing initiative, it was a brilliant marketing play. Finding an unmet need, creating a product that delivers exactly what a market segment desires but doesn’t even know it exists…that is exactly what marketing excellence represents.