While cloud computing makes sense for most organizations and countless projects, I have seen customers significantly struggle with cloud adoption challenges. This blog post is not an attempt to provide a generic assessment of cloud adoption; rather it is an account of personal experiences in the field, some of which may or may not apply to your organization.
Cloud First, Burst?
In the rush to cloud adoption some companies have made the decision to redesign their core system with a cloud first approach. However a cloud first approach means that the system may not work anymore on-premises after it has been redesigned, specifically if the system depends on Platform as a Service (PaaS) components (such as Azure Tables). While PaaS makes sense when your company is in a position to adopt the cloud exclusively, it can be difficult to leverage with systems that need to work in different clouds or on-premises. As a result, some companies are starting to rethink their cloud strategy by designing for on-premises first, and modify only the necessary components to burst when needed in the cloud. This generally means that the components need to work equally well in any environment, which requires leveraging Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or additional investments for PaaS applications, or both.
What’s the Problem?
Although most companies can benefit from cloud computing, not all of them can clearly identify a business reason for doing so other than in very generic terms. I heard many companies claim “it’s cheaper”, or “it allows us to scale”, without any specific metric or clear strategy behind the adoption decision. Other companies have a very clear strategy behind cloud adoption and can precisely articulate business benefits, such as “we have a 500% increase in traffic twice a year, so we need to burst in the cloud to avoid doubling our network and server capacity”. Understanding the problem being solved through by adopting cloud computing can significantly help organizations determine the optimum path and timeline to adoption.
Performance or Scalability?
I stopped counting the number of times I heard “the cloud doesn’t scale; our database runs faster on a laptop”. While performance and scalability are related concepts, they are nonetheless different in nature. Performance is a measure of response time under a given load (meaning with a specific number of users), while scalability is the performance curve over various loads. For example one system could see great performance with 100 users, but timeout with 1,000 users, in which case the system wouldn’t scale. However another system could have average performance with 100 users, but display the exact same performance with 1,000,000 users, in which case the system would scale. Understanding that cloud computing does not usually provide high performance, but instead provides the tools necessary to build a scalable system (usually using PaaS services such as queuing and data federation), is fundamental to proper cloud adoption.
Last but not least, you may want to read the Service Level Agreement of your cloud provider in detail if you haven’t done so. If you are expecting 99.99% uptime annually you may be in for a surprise. Depending on the component being used, there may be no associated SLA at all! Other components may be restarted at any time, or services may experience failover conditions weekly ( or more) based on current overall conditions of the cloud service provider, most of which are outside of your control. As a result, for PaaS cloud environments (and to a certain extent some IaaS systems), applications need to assume failure and gracefully retry to be successful in the cloud in order to provide service continuity to end users.
About Herve Roggero
Herve Roggero, Windows Azure MVP, is the founder of Blue Syntax Consulting (http://www.bluesyntax.net). Herve's experience includes software development, architecture, database administration and senior management with both global corporations and startup companies. Herve holds multiple certifications, including an MCDBA, MCSE, MCSD. He also holds a Master's degree in Business Administration from Indiana University. Herve is the co-author of "PRO SQL Azure" and “PRO SQL Server 2012 Practices” from Apress, a PluralSight author, and runs the Azure Florida Association.