Tribal Group Blog

Tribal Group Blog

To Cloud or not to Cloud, that is the question!

Posted by Nick Stanley on May 25, 2016

Nick Stanley, Cloud Pioneer, Startup advocate, and Tribal Campus co-founder explores some of the myths, moors and misconceptions of “the Cloud”.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

That is the general sentiment that the novice has when it comes to “the Cloud”…the reality is that it’s actually not something to be scared of and is actually pretty easy to get your head around once you get past the TLAs and the JARGON!

As we forge a path into this exciting and sometimes mystifying new world, pretty much all new platforms are being built on the cloud or are designed at the very least to be compliant with the cloud, and so it’s becoming increasingly more important to better understand what it’s all about.

This blog is designed as a bit of a cheat sheet for the uninitiated and for those looking for a simple reference that hopefully helps to clarify some of the concepts and also dispel some of the myths!

Before we get going though, it might be useful to first form a working knowledge of what the cloud is.  As ever, first stop is Google!

The cloud is a network of servers, and each server has a different function. Some servers use computing power to run applications or "deliver a service." For example, Adobe recently moved its creative services to the cloud.

Source: mashable.com/2013/08/26/what-is-the-cloud/

Whilst this is essentially true, this could also be used to describe a bunch of servers sitting in a room.  The cloud, or the public cloud, could be further described as a distributed network of servers that are connected, in real-time, and allow instantaneous, distributed computing power via the World Wide Web.

So, now having formed the basis for what we are terming “the cloud” in here, let’s get on to some of the basics.

Getting started then on this little journey of understanding; first cab off the rank, let’s look at some of the hyperbole and some of the misconceptions...

1. Cloud does not mean SAAS

For many, the concept of cloud seems to have a direct correlation with the delivery model of an application.  Whilst this is sometimes the case, it’s not always the case and does not necessarily have a direct correlation in this way.  A cloud-based application does not immediately imply “Software As A Service” (SAAS).  SAAS is a way of delivering software BUT also of licensing that software and SAAS could also apply where the cloud is used to deliver or not to deliver the software.  Moreover, licensing the software is independent of the delivery model and so SAAS and cloud are not intertwined / the same thing at all.

2. Cloud doesn't always mean cheaper

It seems that there is a promise!  The cloud will set you free, the cloud will be cheaper, the cloud will be better…it can, and it can’t.  At the end of the day, the cloud is just a method and an approach and so it’s important you plan for it, use it properly and use it accordingly.  It’s also a good idea to understand what you are doing with it, because if you don’t, it could actually cost you more.  That said, it will only cost you more if you don’t know what you are doing or do the wrong thing (or both!).

3. Cloud does not always mean scalable

Elasticity, flexibility and scalability are all catch-cries of the cloud.  Advocates love these as the go-to reasons why the cloud is so good, and the reality is that they are all true BUT ONLY if you plan for them as part of your application and infrastructure and only as long as your platform can make the most of the native components of the cloud.

4. Cloud does not mean insecure

Using the cloud can result in as secure an architecture, and in some instances more secure, than more traditional “on premise” (i.e. installed at your location) and / or hosted.  It’s just a matter of making the most of the sophisticated tool-sets that are now available and ready to support this.  As an added bonus you generally also have superior fault tolerance, redundancy and general disaster recovery coverage than you would with any other architecture.

5. Cloud may not always be cloud…

And the last, but potentially most important aspect, covers the situation where you have more traditional “client-server” applications that are then just hosted inside virtual servers in the cloud.  This is not to say that it’s wrong or inappropriate, quite the contrary actually (as I’ll discuss later), but it’s important to understand if the platform you are looking at is a true native cloud solution or if it is in fact a solution that has been designed for a client-server environment and is then just being replicated in the cloud.  This is fine and in some circumstance a good solution, it’s just important to understand this as not all of the benefits of the cloud will be available to these platforms.  The ideal scenario is a platform vendor who can ultimately offer both.

There are a bunch more of these that I could go on with but in the interests of keeping this compact, I’ll move on now to consider some of the benefits that are inherent in cloud-based platforms.

Flexibility and Scalability

The cloud is elastic.  This means that it responds according to load and can be flexed up and down.  I like to use the analogy of the pick-up truck (or lorry!) to help explain this dimension.  If you are shopping for a truck and you expect to occasionally cart 5 tonnes but more regularly cart a box of tools, you will still have to buy the 5 tonne truck even though you only need it occasionally.  Same goes for on-premise servers BUT NOT for the cloud, as you can flex your needs on demand.  Also, the cloud can then help you to flex up when you have to carry that 10 tonne load you’d not even factored in!

Costs

As a natural extension of the flexibility and scalability, we then have the cost benefit.  Because your service can flex according to your needs in real-time, the cost can also adjust accordingly and so you only pay for what you need.  In addition, cost models are usually more piecemeal without the higher upfront costs, and you will especially see reductions in capital costs as you don’t need to buy boxes, provision environments with costly up-front licenses, etc.

Disaster Recovery and automation

Disaster recover is one of those things that seems like a really, really good idea five seconds after you needed it (and maybe forgot to enact your fire drill!).  The cloud offers natural redundancy because of the distributed nature of the environment and allows mirroring, balancing, parallel environments, etc, with ease (and in most cases even dispenses with some of these notions because of the mechanics of the cloud).  In addition, automation is a natural capability of the cloud as it supports and allows the availability of environments to be updated in real-time and as needed.  Extending on that, it also allows the automation of other processes and a native habitat for integration.

Big Data and Predictive Analytics

This is an interesting one and probably not something you’ll see if you Google this.  However, as a vendor of large scale enterprise systems, I can say this is front and center for a business like Tribal.  How we serve our customers better is by providing more value from their solutions for less.  The cloud allows us, as a vendor, to normalise information and to then assess trends and to allow customers to then understand what this might mean for their own environments, and to act accordingly, in real-time.  The cloud allows us to do this in real-time with up to the minute information, which is then good for our customers by serving up data models, predictive analytics on customer behaviour, etc (e.g. student at risk because they have missed x-classes).

IOT: Internet of Things

The internet of things is something more intrinsic to the cloud and which the public cloud has made possible.  The IOT is a network connection of everyday things from toasters, fridges, doors and air-conditioners, to cars, TVs and even wearables (i.e. connected clothing!)  The internet of things can then provide valuable information on trends and real-time impacts (such as a threat on a University campus) and allow large organisations to be more informed on their business and also connect with the corners and infrastructure of that business in real-time (e.g. real-time data logging of motor vehicles to track mileage).

Again, and as with the myths, I could go on and speak more on the many benefits of the cloud including accessibility, user access, competitiveness and collaboration, but I think you are getting the picture!

The cloud definitely offers many benefits and exists for a really good reason.  It’s also why nearly all big enterprises are moving.

As of today, nearly every fortune 500 company in America uses the cloud for one or more of it’s enterprise services.

When the cloud first came about, many became nervous as to the security model and the dependability…we sometimes grow suspicious of that which we cannot see.  The reality now though is that the things we feared in the early days of the cloud are actually now counted amongst it’s benefits and the truth is that you are less secure and more open to risk when not using the cloud (all other things being equal).

As with any new concept or technology though, it’s still horses for courses.  Some organisations have invested big money in on-premise solutions; so don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water!

There may also be reasons why the cloud will just not work for you and so it’s important that vendors can offers solutions and pathways that support both on-premise AND cloud-based solutions and ideally also allow customers to migrate from one to the other over the journey.

So, go forth into this brave new world of the cloud, hopefully armed with a little bit more information, or at the very least, just a different view on something you already new a lot more about than me.

Oh, BTW (By The Way) and in case you were wondering, TLA stands for Three Letter Acronym…an old school term still being used now in a new school context!

Topics: Higher Education

Picture of Nick Stanley

Written by Nick Stanley

Nick Stanley, is a Cloud Pioneer, Startup advocate, and co-founder of Tribal Campus, a cloud-based student management solution designed for education enterprises, and now part of the Tribal Group of companies.