It’s not necessarily a radical opinion to claim that society is becoming more and more complicated as time goes by, and that computing fads seem to come and go as fast as the TikTok videos about them.For a new technology to be worthwhile, rather than just being the “latest upgrade”, it needs to help you get to where you want to be as a company. This article will try to help you evaluate whether cloud computing can be part of that journey.
What are the advantages?
The main service providers, including Amazon, Microsoft and Google, will argue that cloud computing has distinct and original advantages in several ways. Amazon name 6 key benefits:
- Trade fixed expense for variable expense
- Benefit from massive economies of scale
- Stop guessing capacity
- Increase speed and agility
- Stop spending money running and maintaining data centres
- Go global in minutes
I’ll explain these points in some more detail below, as well as a couple of other benefits:
- Enhanced security and reliability
Trade fixed expense for variable expense
One of the definitive motivations for transitioning to the cloud is to take advantage of the pay-as-you-go pricing model. If you’re launching a new service, or experience large variations in demand, you can make enormous savings from this core aspect of the cloud model, and don’t even have to worry too much about estimating how much capacity you’ll need.
Stop guessing capacity
Indeed, another distinct advantage of scalable services is that you can access as much or as little capacity as you need, and expand and contract as required almost instantly. This means you can dedicate more time to designing a great application, safe in the knowledge that it won’t fail simply because it goes viral and melts your servers.
Benefit from massive economies of scale
Another benefit related to the size of operation is the improved service and pricing you can get by virtue of the fact that millions of people are part of the same programme. AWS and other companies can achieve much higher economies of scale than those available to even a large company with a room full of traditional servers, which translates into lower pay as-you-go prices for everyone.
Increase speed and agility
As well as faster technical responsiveness, elastic capacity can also be liberating in business terms and speed the pace of innovation. New compute resources can be available in minutes, and this can result in a dramatic increase in agility for the organization, since the cost and time it takes to experiment and develop is significantly lower.
Stop spending money running and maintaining data centres
The act of buying, storing, powering and maintaining servers is a business activity in itself that requires dedicated staff, and it can distract you from other, more productive things like drinking coffee, eating doughnuts and building nice applications that make money.
Go global in minutes
Just as much as it’s good to know that sudden success won’t bring things to a halt, it’s a genuinely good thing that your application can be deployed effortlessly to multiple regions around the world, and then perform as well (or better than) a local one. Lower latency means a better user experience for all of your customers, at minimal cost and minimal delay.
Major providers take advantage of their size in being fully aware of all relevant compliance issues. AWS supports more security standards and compliance certifications than any other offering, including PCI-DSS, HIPAA/HITECH, FedRAMP, GDPR, FIPS 140-2, and NIST 800-171.
Enhanced security and reliability
Cloud providers can also boast ultramodern security protocols. Distributed storage and the existence of multiple backups also means you won’t lose your only copy of something if your server room sets on fire or you have a prolonged power failure.
Okay, so what are the disadvantages?
It’s all very well to hear about how some new technology is the best thing since sliced bread, but anyone who’s struggled to plug a USB stick into a socket at the back will know that there are always downsides and occasions where the tech just doesn’t fit. Cloud computing is no exception:
- Server downtime & connectivity issues. The most obvious potential disadvantage of cloud computing is that the system is inherently dependent on the connection between you and the cloud services. No provider can guarantee that there won’t be downtime, and an unreliable internet connection might result in your staff sitting idle and your production line coming to a halt.
- Security and Privacy. Whilst one potential bonus of moving to a cloud service like AWS is that your data will be protected by cutting-edge practices and engineers, it also means that a lot of things are out of your hands. The risk of hacking is also never completely absent, and high-profile commercial systems like Amazon, Microsoft and Google are often the focus of sophisticated and continuous attacks from a wide range of sources.
- Learning curve. All innovative technologies require a period of learning and adaptation, but cloud computing is more complex and intimidating than others, often involving concepts and approaches that are quite original themselves. As a result, any cost savings will be offset and postponed by the delay and disruption caused to the business as it tries to adapt to new ways of working, as well as to the purely technical aspects.
- Talent availability. One natural solution to the steep learning curve might be to hire fresh staff who already have the right skills, but this can be difficult and expensive in the early days where the demand for suitable engineers exceeds the supply. A sudden influx of new people can also be difficult to integrate, and even create workforce divisions between the old and the new if not managed properly.
- Cost dangers. If the major headline selling points of cloud computing are the potential cost savings of the pay-as-you-go model, we should also mention the potential of a massive bill at the end of the payment cycle caused by either an unexpected surge in demand or by an unchecked flaw in the coding with unintended consequences. The major cloud providers have features available to help prevent overspends from happening, but even these are tools that must be correctly understood and implemented, and might test your mettle (and your relationship with the finance director) the first time you switch things on.
- Vendor lock-in. An often-touted negative aspect of migrating to the cloud is the fear that committing to a particular vendor will mean that you’ll be stuck with them, and at the mercy of their pricing model or the sudden withdrawal of a key service. Whilst this is certainly true of some services over others, such as those where a big shift in working practices is unavoidable, the level of lock-in is no greater than for any other aspect of technology and no decisive business choice is without risks.
Where do we go from here?
At this point, you should have a better idea of the main advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing. The cloud can offer significant savings through economies of scale and by the simple fact that you only pay for what you use, but you also have to be aware of when that cost model might not be the best fit.
Are you still feeling bit overwhelmed by the possibilities or intimidated by the risks? Radical new technologies like the cloud can definitely involve a steep learning curve, but there are a number of things you can do in preparation:
- Know thyself
The best way you can be sure that cloud computing will be good for your business is to become more familiar with what you already have and what you might need in the future as your business grows. A thorough review of your business goals and technical architecture can reveal many useful insights and help find any weak spots or scope for improvement.
- Be prepared to change your approach
As discussed above, some aspects of the cloud have been created in direct analogy with traditional ways of working and therefore require little to no adaptation on your part. However, to make the most of the new possibilities you’ll have to start doing some things in a new way and be ready to let go of some outdated practices.
- Seek expert advice
The final and most reliable way to enjoy a more successful evolution of your business into the cloud universe is to get help from the experts. Obviously, we don’t mind admitting that that means us here at Miracle Mill, but the internet is also full of great resources and almost limitless advice from people who have made the journey already.
Do you want to find out more about the cloud and how it can be part of the future of your business? Maybe you have an application you want to develop, to have it available on various devices, and not to worry about availability and scalability? Contact us today and find out how we can turn your idea into reality!