Learning guide

Advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing

Cloud computing provides numerous advantages and disadvantages. The potential for scalability is chief among cloud advantages. However, cloud reliability -- especially amid issues

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such as cloud outages -- remains a concern.

In this guide, experts discuss the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing. “Cloud provides opportunities to ramp up processors, memory or resources to meet increased operating conditions,” said John Walker from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association’s London Chapter. “This is hard to replicate in-house.”

An IT team can balance the data centre infrastructure between in-house and cloud resources to keep IT performance reliable and consistent, experts advised.

Although hardware systems need replacing every five years, maintaining reliability in-house is within the IT team’s control -- unlike in a cloud contract. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of cloud computing: Incidents such as cloud outages that affect reliable service are beyond your control.

WTB Group, a company that supplies building materials, decided to move its IT infrastructure to the cloud. As the business grew, we opted for cloud services for scalability, said Tim Brice, its IT infrastructure manager.

Having a scalable data centre in-house is not easy unless you’re prepared to make a substantial investment in a private cloud with a full complement of automation and support tools. “If you think your business is heading to become a large enterprise, you may want to consider scalability that service providers offer,” said Tim Anker, the founder of Colocation Exchange, a consultancy for data centre or colocation space services.

It’s up to IT to make sure the company’s data centre is not just capable of handling today’s storage and bandwidth demands, but that it can also address the potential demands of computing, networking and storage into the future.

Publisher Guardian Media Group (GMG) has moved its IT to the cloud to take advantage of flexibility and scalability it offers. Andy Beale, technology director of Guardian News and Media at GMG said at a recent CW500 Club event in London that sometimes, cloud services can be more expensive than an in-house arrangement. To save costs, his team developed the manageability capabilities in-house. 

The publisher currently uses Google Apps, Salesforce.com, Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine. Beale’s IT team estimates that the website will move 100% to the cloud in the next three to five years. “But it could all be hype,” he added explaining that a combination of cloud technologies and other approaches will be a more sustainable option.

Advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing

“Cloud service providers can make additions to their facilities more economically and more rapidly than an individual enterprise would be able to,” said Jazz Lal, the UK technical manager of CommScope, the telecommunications company. “Hosted data centres are designed to be extremely scalable.”

For example, modern hosted data centres will support 10 GbE, but they will also have an upgrade path prepared for the rapid migration to 40 G/100 G, as customers demand these faster speeds.

Having custom-built facilities and set procedures in place means that data centres can execute such upgrades extremely rapidly, minimising or entirely negating any downtime for enterprises. But some experts also warn of the additional expenditure in customising the outsourced data centre.

As an example, organisations with bandwidth-intensive applications and services may benefit from purchasing their own dedicated data pipe, but this is not cheap. Large enterprises such as global banks or online retailers such as Amazon would need this kind of setup and could readily justify the operating expenses. Other businesses are not so fortunate.

“Moving to the cloud and paying for what you use is particularly useful for businesses that experience sporadic peaks in traffic,” said IT expert, James Carnie, director of eLINIA, a UK-based managed service provider. “Online retailers, which experience seasonal spikes in orders during key periods, can really benefit from having access to flexible bandwidth.” 

Demonstrating this advantage, Martin Taylor, head of service delivery and infrastructure at Mitchells and Butlers, the company that owns pub chains in the UK, said cloud provides it the flexibility to use more resources during busy times such as Christmas and New Year.

M&B uses private cloud services. “We don’t see that much maturity in the public cloud platforms,” said Taylor at the CW500 Club event, explaining why M&B opted for private cloud.

Meanwhile, Oxfam, a charity organisation in the UK, decided to move its IT to the cloud after its in-house capabilities failed to cope with huge demands. “Soon after the Haiti disaster, we had many people looking to make donations online and it brought the whole system down,” said Peter Ransom, CIO of Oxfam who was at the event too. “After experiencing lost opportunity and lost income, we decided to move to the cloud.”

And there are other cloud tradeoffs to consider:

  • Moving IT to cloud works when maintaining the status quo – eg your network is up and running and requires minimal changes.
  •  But when you do need changes, you may have lost your “expert” in helping you make decisions on your requirements because you outsourced the job.
  •  The customer and the service provider must have service-level agreements (SLAs) in place to decide what to do when things change, otherwise you end up spending even more money when the whole point of moving to the cloud was to cut costs.
  •  The customer should employ an expert-level consultant who understands the customer’s needs and the technology required to achieve its goals. 

One drawback of moving to the cloud is that service providers may not offer expert consultancy to a customer. Customers will need a consultant to bridge the gap and make sure the right specification of products and services are available at the right time.

It also has advantages such as flexibility and scalability, Carnie said. “Importantly, there’s a backside to kick if things go wrong, with strict SLAs and commercial consequences for the supplier if these are not met,” he added.

But having someone to blame doesn’t make it any more reliable, experts warned while explaining the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing.

Additional reading in this section:

Moving to third-party hosting services
How a company decided to move away from an in-house IT arrangement to third-part hosting services to benefit from cloud computing advantages such as scalability.

Data centre outsourcing best practices and pitfalls to avoid
If IT pros want to reap benefits of outsourced data centres, they must make sure they clearly define the SLAs, have their eyes set firmly on the business goals and collaborate with the right service provider. This article will guide you to a successful outsourcing experience. 

Managing data centres: People and hardware don't mix
At a time when data centres have become the core of overall IT infrastructure, managing data centres is crucial for its smooth performance. In this article, expert Clive Longbottom, a service director at UK analyst Quocirca, advises on the approach IT pros should take to manage data centres. 

Data centre management and the future
Meanwhile, this article maps out how data centre management has changed in 2011 and offers examples of how enterprises can manage their data centres in this era. 

How to outsource your data centre and reduce emissions
The Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme came into force in April 2010. Learn how you can reduce your carbon emissions with your data centre arrangement.

Cloud computing contracts and cloud outages
This learning guide offers tips on how to navigate your way through cloud computing contracts and lets you know your rights in cloud outages.

Archana Venkatraman is the site editor for SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK. Please contact her at avenkatraman@techtarget.com.


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This was first published in November 2011

 

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