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Lack of transparency obscures public cloud costs

IT administrators admit they are not making the most of their cloud storage and computing resources. Costs can escalate quickly if virtual machines are not managed properly

The average organisation is using only 37% of its cloud-based servers, according to a new study from Quocirca for hyper-converged infrastructure company Nutanix.

The study, The future for hybrid cloud, said the notion of cloud usage becoming ubiquitous is more hype than reality, and there remains work to be done to win over doubters.

Based on a survey of 400 IT directors and strategists across the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, the study found that while most organisations are now using some form of cloud computing, significant concerns remain over key factors such as integration, total cost of ownership and security.

Along with low server utilisation, the organisations that took part in the survey admitted using only 34% of their available storage.

Quocirca founder Clive Longbottom said many IT administrators are unaware of server or storage utilisation in the cloud. This can lead to catastrophic results if the business asks them to run a new resource-heavy application, but they have underestimated actual utilisation.

“We are still at the early stages of cloud, and organisations are finding that not all workloads are cloud-ready, and that their own staff are not quite as cloud-savvy as they had hoped,” said Longbottom. “But our research shows the thirst for cloud is there, and suggests that those moving towards a well-architected mixture of private and public cloud are the ones gaining the best overall competitive advantages.”

The report data also suggests that hybrid cloud is not being deployed as quickly as some proponents suggest because of persistent obstacles.

Of respondents who said they had moved to cloud to enable faster delivery of new or incremental functionality to their businesses, just 39% said this expectation had been fully met, and 8% said it had not been met at all.

The University of Reading is one of the organisations that is taking a hybrid approach to its cloud strategy. The university is in the final stages of migrating academic support workloads from a mixed collection of legacy platforms to an all-new Reading Research Cloud built on a single cluster of Dell EMC XC Series appliances running the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Platform.

Ryan Kennedy, academic computing team manager at the university, said: “One option was to move everything into the cloud, but that would have been prohibitively expensive.”

Read more about hybrid clouds

  • While hybrid cloud continues to offer significant benefits to the enterprise, it also demands a cohesive security strategy that bridges on-premise and cloud-based systems.
  • As more services move to the cloud and become more mobile, if the network is invisible and performs well, IT pros are doing their jobs in users’ eyes. But IT doesn’t get much more complex than hybrid cloud networking.

Kennedy admitted that although the management team at Reading wanted to use the public cloud, when it was piloted, one academic accidentally spent £50,000 running an empty virtual machine (VM) on Microsoft Azure. This can easily happen, said Kennedy, because in his experience, Microsoft’s cloud administration tools make it hard to determine actual VM usage.

Another issue academia can face is that certain file types used in research – such as the medical imaging format Dicom – are made of thousands of tiny files, said Kennedy. These can look like a massive denial of service attack on storage infrastructure.

The University of Reading chose Nutanix as a way to consolidate its infrastructure and gain the benefits of the public cloud without the costs. Kennedy said the ability to automate management processes and make compute, storage and network resources available directly to users via the Nutanix Self Service Portal was also key to the decision.

“Once academics have secured funding for a project, we simply allocate resources on the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Platform, leaving users free to configure and manage their virtual machines, storage and network connections as they wish using the Nutanix Self Service Portal,” he said. “This frees up staff to support academic users with the design, running and support of those workloads, rather than spending all their time keeping the infrastructure lights on.”

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An interesting aspect of the Cloud is the distinction between renting virtual machines and using the Cloud as a platform. There is a major difference between the two.  Underutilisation tends to be a function of renting VMs. 

We have had great success through our payroll application (www.shireburn.com/indigo) which is a multi-tenanted solution designed specifically to use the Microsoft Azure Cloud as a platform. This is designed to support automatic vertical and horizontal scaling to accommodate varying loads. Of course the application needs to be designed for this.  We use MS-SQL as a platform and Application Services including the web server as a Platform.  

This removes the under-utilisation issues (although a base load is required).  
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