In today’s digital world, many organisations are looking at their in-house IT systems and wondering whether to get another organisation to manage them for them or to turn to an IT hosting provider and put them in the ‘cloud’. However, not everybody is IT savvy and understands enough about the terminology to make an informed decision.

Millennia Computer Services Ltd. was recently asked by the Ticketing Institute to put a series of three articles together for their newsletter on the subject of IT hosting to help organisations make a more informed decision.

We thought it a good idea to publish these articles as blogs on our web site.

The series started with a basic glossary of common terms used in discussions on hosting/cloud technology. Article 2 introduced hosting/cloud and listed some pros and cons. Lastly, we provided an explanation of what to look for when moving to or changing a hosting provider.

Hosting and the ‘cloud’

Business are under pressure to do more with less and maximise return on investments. Businesses, therefore, look at all departments including IT to establish if there are alternative ways of doing things that may save money and be more efficient. Running an in-house IT department however small, may be vital to the business but can add both extra capital and operating costs which could be released for new projects that can grow the business. An annual assessment of options is always a good idea to ensure that decisions made are still valid. The basic differences between public and private clouds were discussed in the glossary in Article 1 of the series.  Further details of both public cloud and hosting companies with shared and/or private clouds are shown below followed by the advantages and disadvantages of opting for a hosted/cloud environment.

Summary of Public Cloud (e.g. AWS)

  • Shared pools of resource charged at usage
  • Good for peak and unpredictable workloads – ramp up and down
  • Agile, on-demand execution
  • Little or no control over data locality (i.e. which servers/storage it runs on)
  • Relieves the user of the management burden of the IT but at expense of control
  • Data centres may be located outside of the UK (e.g. AWS data centres are currently based in Dublin and Germany) which could prevent service being used for customers who have security constraints that mean that the data must be held in the UK
  • Input/output performance can be poor and unpredictable (noisy neighbour)
  • Prioritisation of problems and their resolution difficult (many other users of platform)
  • Difficulty in diagnosing problems (many internal users and wide variety of vendors)
  • Less flexible – fixed virtual machine builds that may not match requirements
  • Not all storage ‘persistent’ – instances can be destroyed when shut down unless dedicated to persistent storage
  • Difficult to predict eventual running costs – can inflate over original estimations
  • Little understanding of customer businesses and priorities
  • Risk of third-party access to sensitive data
  • Legal ramifications of any security breaches
  • Lower availability guarantees, poorer compensation: e.g. AWS maximum 99.95% availability guarantee, 10% service credit down to 99% and 30% thereafter

 

Summary of Hosting Companies providing Shared and/or Private Clouds (e.g. Millennia)

  • Known, declared data centres in the UK
  • Many offer 99.99% service availability
  • Known costs, increase only when significant expansion required – fixed contracts
  • Capacity to run all expected workloads with contingency for unexpected workloads
  • Control over data – where it lives, how it is transferred and who has access
  • Input/output performance can be tuned to workload, not affected by other tenants as with a shared platform of a public cloud
  • Relieves the user of the management burden of the IT but user can still have overall control
  • Good for existing applications where workload and scale growth is known
  • Agile, on-demand execution
  • Flexible – virtual machines built to exact resource requirements and not fixed
  • Custom designed to user requirements (including user standards, applications, users and processes)
  • Problems prioritised based on understanding of user needs
  • Private clouds offer organisations the ability to transition their existing data into a more scalable, user-friendly model while maintaining control over private data
  • Private clouds have dedicated resources charged as a total resource pool – RAM, CPU and storage not shared with any other tenant

Advantages of hosting

One of the main advantages of opting for a managed hosting or cloud service is that you will no longer have to support the IT infrastructure or have the knowledge necessary to develop and maintain the infrastructure environments. The IT burden is lifted from businesses allowing them to focus on the core business. Listed below are many other advantages:

Cost Savings: moving to an IT hosting provider allows customers to utilise the IT providers’ infrastructure on a contractual basis. This means that customers no longer have to buy the IT equipment up front themselves as a capital expense. The extra costs associated with increasing memory, hard drive space and processing power are all abolished. Sometimes companies can more easily budget against operating expenditure (OPEX) rather than capital expenditure (CAPEX). When additional equipment is required and there is little or no capital budget available, then companies find it easier to use an IT hosting provider as all expenses will be from the operating budget. Using operating budgets also means that it is easier for the accountant as depreciation of capital assets will not be required. A monthly operating expense is easier for business planning calculations.

IT Maintenance Savings: the use of hosting/cloud infrastructure reduces the software costs. It removes the need for buying expensive software and paying for their licensing costs. There are additional operating cost savings with regard to power and cooling and ensuring that systems are kept up to date (in terms of software updates etc.).

Centralisation of Data and increased Collaboration: cloud computing allows for data to be centralised. Branch information can all be stored within the data centre and accessed remotely via remote desktops, tablets, netbooks and mobile phones. Data centralisation allows greater data sharing within any organisation and remote access increases efficiency and can enhance the services. Data is basically available wherever the end user is located with internet access and accommodates users in different time zones and geographic locations. Collaboration is enhanced as sharing documents and files is easy. For many businesses, moving to the cloud increases opportunities for collaboration between employees. Colleagues can sync and work on documents with ease, often simultaneously, receiving updates in real time.

Availability: service uptime is in most cases guaranteed, providing continuous availability of resources. Multiple servers provide maximum redundancy. In case of system failure, alternative instances are automatically spawned on other machines.

Integration:  a cloud environment enables a more integrated approach. Single common environments or IT platforms can be used to unify key services. Systems can be up and running in a very short period, making quick deployment a key benefit. New users can be added instantaneously thus avoiding waiting periods. Users can customise and integrate applications with little effort.

Scalability and Performance: the use of cloud infrastructure helps organisations cope with peaks and troughs in demand. Where a new short term project or seasonal fluctuation requires additional IT resources, then cloud instances are deployed automatically by the hosting provider on a short term basis allowing organisations to ramp up and down as needs arise. The ability to scale ensures that organisations no longer need to over provision in terms of equipment to meet the peak demands. Hosting providers tend to operate on distributed platforms using the latest of technology.  Performance is improved.

Increased Storage Capacity: access to almost unlimited storage capacity ensures that businesses no longer worry about running out space.

Security: highest secure data centers for your information. Moreover, for sensitive information in the cloud there are proper auditing, passwords, and encryptions.

Data Recovery:  automatic data backup of the cloud system ensures ease of recovery of data thus protecting business from interruption to services. The process of backing up and recovering data is simplified since these now reside on the cloud and not on a physical device. The various cloud providers offer reliable and flexible backup/recovery solutions. In some cases, the cloud itself is used solely as a backup repository of the data located in local computers.

Resiliency and Redundancy: robust architecture provides resiliency and redundancy to its users. Automatic failover between hardware platforms and disaster recovery services are often included

Environmentally Friendly: managed hosting/cloud computing decreases a business’ carbon footprint by reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions by more than 30 percent.

Disadvantages of hosting

 

Internet connectivity: cloud and hosted environments rely on a consistent internet connection so if your provider loses connectivity then you will not be able to access your business until the internet connection returns. The likelihood of this occurring is small but risk mitigation should be considered before commitment is made – disaster recovery planning is a common risk mitigation.

Ongoing costs: sometimes the costs of using a cloud/hosted service can be more expensive over time. It is important to consider whole life costs of systems before making a decision as to which method is most cost effective

Security: placing business data in a cloud environment may not suit everyone – data can be highly sensitive and its storage must meet stringent compliance regulations. Trust in the cloud / hosting provider is paramount. A balance is required between local IT staff being security savvy vs a hosting provider keeping the data secure. In some instances, a mix of private cloud and in-house may be an option. Protection of data from unauthorised access is critical to its security – data loss and password leakage seem to occur both within in-house organisations and the cloud environments.  What is important is that the Chief Information Officer understands fully the security risks and policies for their mitigation.

Dependency and vendor lock-in: adoption of cloud computing or a hosting environment means that the customer becomes dependent on the provider. It may be difficult to migrate from one provider to another. The transfer of large volumes of data may be not be easy.

Technical Difficulties and Downtime: all systems might face an outage from time to time. Even the best hosting and cloud providers can have outage and downtime, and the end user can do nothing but wait for the service to be recovered (although in reality this is still very much like a failure in local IT as far as the end user is concerned).