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The Reason Why Cloud Computing Is So Important Isn't What You Think

A question: Why is the tech world continuing to move to Cloud Computing?

Is it:

a)  Cost reduction
b)  Fast time to market
c)  Problems of scale
d)  All of the above

You would think it would be (d), right? Who hasn’t gone for “All of the above” when it’s available on a test? However, read on to see why “All of the above” might not be the best answer when it comes to cloud computing.

Note: This is an update from the 2013 article written by Mark Eisenberg, “A Hammer is to Nails as Cloud Computing is to…?”

Why is the tech world continuing to move to Cloud Computing?

If you’ve been researching cloud computing for your business, you might initially think the correct answer is (a). The question you have to ask when considering whether the cloud will reduce your costs is “compared to what?” Human resources and processes are more fundamental to the cost of IT operations than are the infrastructure itself.

Even if the analysis yields a result that indicates that moving to a hosted solution makes sense, it may still be the case that traditional outsourcing solutions are more cost-effective.

Similarly, while there is much talk about how quickly infrastructure can be provisioned in the cloud, that part of the application development and deployment process is, in reality, minor. The real challenge most organizations face is the sheer burden of their own processes. And as with the cost discussion, there are many traditional outsourcing providers that allow infrastructure to be provisioned rapidly.

Cloud computing does not uniquely solve problems of cost or agility. And if a technology is not bringing something new to the table, why discuss it? Let’s talk about the unique value cloud computing brings to the conversation. Mainly answer (c), as cloud computing is to problems of scale.


Problems of Scale, First and Foremost

What is meant by “problems of scale”? Until the rise of the World Wide Web, enterprise applications were defined large scale. It’s almost quaint to think of how those were ever considered big problems by today’s standards. Customers were measured in thousands and transactions in millions. Compare that to the task Google set for itself of examining and indexing every word on every page on the internet. This introduced the concept of “web-scale”. Netflix is another example of a web-scale application. But scaled in a different direction. Rather than Google’s massive number of small data points that are collected and searched in seconds, Netflix stores a relatively modest number of video files, but those files are very large and need to be streamed on-demand to a large number of users over a large geography. Google’s scale is about storage and computing.  Netflix is about storage and geography with tight latency requirements.

In addition to the scale of the resources themselves, the cloud also helps address another variable: time. Time as in the application requires different amounts of resources at different points in time. And how predictable is that need? Most large enterprises struggle with what is referred to as “capacity and characterization”. In other words, how much do we need and when do we need it? Imagine the complexity of that problem at a web scale. There are cases where the resource requirement is understood, but it is periodic. We need it for five hours five days a week. We need it for two hundred hours once a quarter. Traditionally, this meant having a tremendous amount of idle infrastructure to support these workloads. The cloud enables the sharing of resources.

The Risk of Lacking Predictability

Other applications suffer from a lack of predictability by their very nature. Ecommerce companies know that at certain times of the year there will be a significant increase in demand. While experience tells them something about the when it tells them very little about the how much. Other applications like the delivery of weather forecast data or news information suffer from both a lack of predictability in time and scope. This leads to an even higher level of inefficient utilization or a failure to properly deliver the expected user experience. All of these outward-facing scenarios represent a significant economic risk to an organization as disappointed consumers are poor candidates for return engagements.

Cloud computing provides an economically viable solution to these large-scale problems. Just as the PC enabled many workloads that were simply impractical when computing horsepower was being doled out in units labeled ‘mainframe’ and ‘mini-computer’ with price tags measured in millions and tens of thousands, we now have the opportunity for organizations of all sizes to practically tackle these problems. It is no coincidence that two of the most significant internet age companies, Google and Amazon, are also leading cloud computing providers. Those companies would not exist without the technology that is cloud computing.

Interested in how to properly leverage cloud? Need to know how best to migrate to it? Check out case studies from the Tech in Motion community below.