Picking Cloud Platforms: What Is Right for Your Business?

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2013-03-30

Picking Cloud Platforms: What Is Right for Your Business?

What's the right cloud for your business? Keep it all on premise? Build a hybrid? Take the big leap and put it all on the cloud? Amid all the vendor promises and cloud-based startups, picking the right flavor of cloud for your company is not an easy task.

With that in mind, I spent a recent evening at the "Cloud Seminar: Choosing the Right Cloud for Your Business," held in Cambridge, Mass., and sponsored by the Mass Technology Leadership Council. I walked away with some good advice from executives who have sampled about every cloud flavor imaginable. Here's what I learned.

1. The business

Start with the business. Rushing for the computing cloud because everyone else is doing it, is a sure way to get trampled. Are you in an established business without big spikes in demand? Are you launching new initiatives that will require new computing capacity? What is the size and skill level of your technology staff? These should all be factored in to your decision. "As far as I can tell, the cloud is magic," said Mark Imbriaco, technical operations manager at GitHub and someone whose resume includes operations at AOL, 37signals and Heroku. Imbriaco was only being a little facetious in describing the power of the cloud. He went on to outline how a rush to cloud-based infrastructures is a mistake if you have not taken into account cost, capabilities and the pain of having your Internet performance controlled by an outside service.

2. Cost

You will not necessarily save money by chucking your hardware and moving your technology infrastructure to the cloud. Imbriaco said every cost estimate he developed made the cloud more expensive over on-premise systems—as long as those systems were based on current designs. Andrew Kenney, vice president of platform engineering at Acquia, noted their platform powers a wide range of Drupal Websites and sits on top of Amazon Web Services. "We love Amazon," and the ability to match the speed of new business with the speed of rapidly spinning up new Amazon capacity outweighs other considerations, Kenney said. Again, it comes down to knowing your business and providing the best platform to accomplish your business goals.

3. Staff

Going to the cloud does not mean saying good-bye to your IT staff. Whether on-premise, a hybrid mix or fully in the cloud, you still need a staff to monitor, allocate resources and make sure downtime is minimal. "It goes to core competency. To me, IT is core competency that I want to keep in-house," said Mark Dudman, vice president of engineering at network management technology company Ipswitch. While the need for technology staff remains, the duties of that staff have to shift to acting in a more Web-centric fashion even if your data center remains on-premise.

Picking Cloud Platforms: What Is Right for Your Business

4. Agility

This was one area where all the panelists agreed. The ability to quickly add compute capability that's separate (if you want) from the production environment is a great way to rapidly develop new applications. Eric Golin, CTO with Carbonite, used a new beta program to allow users to synchronize files between devices as an example in which using cloud services allowed the project to be developed and deployed rapidly and without interfering with ongoing operations.

5. Security

This used to be the big stumbling block for using cloud services. No more. The panelists all agreed that the security capabilities with cloud providers have caught up with on-premise solutions.

The bottom line: Cloud computing is not a panacea, but neither is it a technology to avoid. What is required is for technology and business managers to become sufficiently familiar with the cloud capabilities and new cloud-like on-premise and hybrid solutions to make the right choice for their company's business.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC Week) from 1996-2008 authors this blog for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

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