Cloud computing significantly changes the strategic playing field. Core to this change is both a philosophical and physical change to how infrastructure is managed. One doesn’t have to look far to see similarities in other industries where this transformation has taken place. Paramount among them is the electric industry. In the late 1800’s, companies built their own power generation facilities. By the turn of the century, companies were leveraging central facilities to provide power. This afforded companies several advantages. First, economies of scale provided economic benefit. Companies could acquire power cheaper than they could produce it themselves. Second, it allowed companies flexibility to move their companies further from the power sources themselves. Centralized power generation lead to additional power transmission possibilities. Third, it allowed companies to focus on strategic priorities and avoid becoming masters at power generation. Lastly, the economic model changed for the companies. Instead of making capital investments in power generation, they moved to a pay-as-you-go service based model. This provided further flexibility for the company
Turning back to present day…
In the short term, there are a number of questions that come up when considering cloud computing and specifically IaaS. Many enterprise and SMB companies are already starting to consider pay-per-use services to replace their existing systems. Some estimates peg this number at ~40% of companies use some form of cloud computing service (2009). But this story is not all positive. There are a number of challenges that come with these opportunities. The first challenge is in IT portfolio management. As an organization evaluates their existing (and projected) portfolio offering, consideration needs to be given on which services are strategic to the company. Similar to power generation, is compute/ storage capacity strategic? Or is it simply a requirement? Second, providers need evaluations that consider internal operations. Asking the right questions and probing into sensitive areas will provide confidence in the provider’s ability…and risks. One cannot absolve themselves of risk assessments simply by leveraging a third-party provider.
Similarly, is one provider enough to meet the requirements? As we have already seen, infrastructure providers will have failures too. How do you ensure that you’re protecting the interests of the company through your arrangements?
Is storage in the cloud a failure? I’ll answer that further down…read on.
It started with a story in the Boston Globe on March 21, 2009:
That spawned a series of threads on the failure of Cloud Storage. Carbonite’s CEO, Dave Friend posted a note to their blog:
But isn’t the real issue here how cloud storage is strategically used? Those that have managed storage in data centers know that disk drives are mechanical devices. They fail. Terms like MTBF (mean time between failure) become metrics of interest. But in the end, there are still drive failures.
Knowing that, processes are put in place to mitigate the risks. Logical and/or physical redundancy is a common means of mitigation. Storage vendors have built technologies around this very issue. When building systems in data centers, designs take these risks into account.
When evaluating storage providers (cloud or otherwise), why not ask questions about their systems? What class of services does it provide? Can you use the ‘trust buy verify’ model to validate their claims? If there is concern about their ability to provide the robust service you’re looking for, why not duplicate the data?
In addition to logical redundancy (ie: RAID, etc), physical diversity (ie: geo-diversity) can also play a role. It is possible for the storage vendor to provide geo-diversity. But that locks you into one vendor’s service. What happens if they have a failure? The question should be no different than if you’re talking about your own internal data center’s storage sub-system.
Why is Carbonite taking all the heat? Maybe they did make some poor decisions. I can’t validate that. But as a customer, I’d be asking other questions before I placed all of my eggs into any vendors basket.
So, that gets me to the root issue: Is the right strategy being used when considering cloud storage? I don’t think so. Which then answers the next question: Is storage in the cloud a failure? No. But there is much to consider before proceeding.