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Not All Clouds are Equal

This section was inspired by an article we read in an IT publication (that shall remain nameless) concerning cloud computing. It was typical of the kind of mis-information that the UP site is designed to help clear up. It was desperately trying to square several circles:

“Cloud product A has feature X but product B doesn’t yet but it does have feature Y and customer M is concerned about issue Z whereas customer N has different challenges.”

The implication of the article was that this was a bad thing, that all cloud solutions should be able to deliver the same capabilities. We don’t agree, even a little bit, and we reached two conclusions: firstly, that not all clouds are equal; and secondly, there are certain dynamics that are mutually exclusive.

There will always be conflict between certain desirable cloud service traits, depending on who you are and what you want to achieve. We believe there are six common areas of tension:

Scalability v Stability

There are cloud platforms out there that boast “unlimited scalability”. It’s not true:  if all their customers increased their virtual machine presence by a hundredfold at the same time, the platform would likely collapse, but that’s not the point. Some suppliers seek to balance high levels of scalability with enterprise-grade stability meaning that their cloud platform must work, all the time, so they must manage their capacity growth accordingly.

Elasticity v Predictability

Along similar lines, many are attracted by the elasticity of cloud. It can expand and contract with the amount you pay varying accordingly. Others platforms, are still highly elastic but are also predictable in terms of performance, utilisation and price.

Self-service v Service-level

Some cloud providers make a virtue of self-service – you can do what you want, when you want it. Others demand a more robust level of service. Some provide a 99.99% or 100% SLA to their customers but this is tricky to do with unlimited self-service in case another customer “breaks” the platform or compromises their own deployment.

Anywhere v Somewhere

Certain large cloud platforms are located in unknown datacentres all over the world. Others are housed in purpose-built UK datacentres that customers can visit at any time. For some customers, location doesn’t matter; for others, it is paramount for compliance or preferential reasons.

Public v Private

The most well-known cloud platforms are public: any individual or company can go online with a credit card and spin up as many machines as they like. These are often more cost friendly, but the compromise is security. Other customers insist on being private – utilising dedicated hardware - or virtual private – employing machines on a multi-tenant platform ring-fenced with firewalls and load-balancing on a highly secure network.

Unmanaged v Managed

Consumers do not need a managed service, neither do “test and dev” guys experimenting with code nor companies with huge IT departments to manage large public cloud footprints. Others need a managed service with the provider delivering robust services to stringent SLAs aligned to business objectives for mission-critical complex application and web hosting.

The pattern here is very clear: for each of the 6 pairs, the first one is either incompatible with the second or there needs to be a fine balance struck for most enterprise customers. We don’t believe this is a problem. There are customers out there who need both, and both are 100% valid options. No company can deliver all of the above.

As far as we’re concerned, in the B2B market, it’s not just about compute and storage; the real needs are around application migration, service levels, ongoing support, etc. When information security and compliance is paramount, customers don’t want their data on a platform that anybody in the world could break, hack or upon which they could unleash a virus. They realise that they can’t have a 100% SLA if they want unlimited scalability and elasticity. They can still increase capacity and cope with peaks and troughs, but it is carefully planned – it’s a managed service – to ensure that mission-critical systems responsible for running the firms keep operating.

This page is almost an encapsulation of the whole UP site. You can’t be all things too all men, not all clouds are equal, suppliers shouldn’t shoe-horn their products into all customer sectors and customers must understand the options (and the upsides/downsides) before they can make an informed decision. Sales and marketing blurb presenting a perfect world with a perfect cloud that’s right for everybody is dangerous, unhelpful, and the over-hyping must stop. It helps nobody.

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