Cloud Computing Archive

I hope you had a chance to review my last post related to SaaS.  If not, you might want to take a quick look as today’s post is closely related to the last one. Please click this link to review Part 1 (click here: Part 1).

Now that you understand what SaaS is and how SaaS can benefit your IT career, I’m here to introduce you to IaaS. This is pronounced as “I-AS”.

While SaaS, software as a service, can help you provide speedy solutions on a lot of the traditional IT tasks such as data backup solution, phone services, and email services, IaaS stands for Infrastructure as a Service. What this means is that your entire Infrastructure, anything and everything from firewall, your servers, the network that all the data traverses to and from, and down to your applications can all be provided by one of these IaaS providers. I’m sure many of you have heard of Amazon EC2 or AWS. These are IaaS services provided by Amazon. Basically, any company can sign up for their IaaS service, and in a very short time, set up their own servers along with all the necessary network components such as firewall, network and data connectivity all set up and ready to go. And the beauty of it all is that you only pay for what you use, and services can start as low as $40 a month.

You might think these IaaS providers are more for the big guys with big Cloud applications. Actually, that’s not true at all. Think about it. For $40 a month, you can get a server that has a 99.95 SLA (standard SLA, many IaaS provide even better SLA such as 99.999 or even 100 SLA, but be sure to read their fine print); this is a very inexpensive cost. If you were to go out and buy any decent server with 2 socket quad core and some reasonable amount of space, it could easily cost you $4000 a server. So for $40 a month, you could effectively host a server in the cloud for the same price for 100 months; that’s approximately 8 years. And during those 8 years, not only do you have a server, but a server that does not require maintenance. Yup, that’s right, these IaaS providers will take care of all maintenance in the background for you, from servers to network equipment, so that your environment is always up.

Image courtesy of stuart miles/

Image courtesy of stuart miles/

Take a moment and consider if IaaS can help you with your existing Infrastructure. Why put a server in your office location? Whenever you have a piece of equipment sitting in the office, you have to worry about power, safety and bandwidth. What if you lose power in the office? Then all your employees are down, and you might as well send everybody home for the day. What if your ISP messed up your data circuit, now you have no email. Worse yet, what if somebody comes into your building and steals your server? Now you are in big trouble. Forget about data recovery, you don’t even have a server to recover to! Don’t think that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen. I’ve seen it happen.

With IaaS, you can deploy your critical infrastructure in the Cloud. All you need is some careful planning, and your domain controller, mail server, filer can all be in the Cloud. All you need is to set up a Site-to-Site connection back to your office(s). You are then up and running. If your office building’s power goes out, send everybody home, but not to do nothing; everyone should be able to work from home. IaaS is great if your company has many remote offices. Connecting remote offices to Cloud Infrastructure is a piece of cake, or cookie I should say; each site’s network can simply be a cookie cutter setup and can all have access to the same infrastructure as your headquarter. Of course, how you want to control access is an entirely different topic, but distributing access would be drastically simplified.

Now of course these IaaS providers are targeting big players with big cloud applications as well.  or example, NetFlix is a good example of a big guy with a big cloud application in the cloud. NetFlix uses Amazon for their online subscription based media distribution product. NetFlix is a big enough company. If they think it is a good idea and more cost effective to host their own servers and infrastructure, I’m sure they would do it. But if NetFlix, being such a big company, would choose to use a IaaS provider instead of building their own private cloud, these IaaS providers are certainly adding value to the process.

By now, you might be a bit worried. If SaaS can help with all the traditional IT services such as email, phone, and backups, and now there is Iaas to help with the infrastructure so no one needs to take care of and maintain all the servers, and network equipment, then what else is left for IT to do? Aren’t we just working ourselves out of a job?

Well, my friends, don’t you worry. Be open minded; don’t worry about these low level tasks, and start worrying about the higher level tasks.

There really isn’t much pride in being an expert in knowing how to swap out a couple of bad hard drives or setting up some basic firewall and network rules. These are yesterday’s problems. Now we have to step up a level and think about how to bring resources and services to our end-users and clients quicker than ever before. These IaaS providers give you the Infrastructure, but someone still has to manage the Infrastructure, how this infrastructure is supposed to function, along with all the applications running within it. To state it simply, it is like somebody gave you a super powerful computer, but how you run it and what applications you run on it is completely up to you. The content and results of what you run on this super computer is likely what will make or break your computer, not so much the computer itself. But it is nice to have a computer that you know you’ll never have to maintain or worry about it going down. So what I am saying is don’t worry about the infrastructure, and don’t worry about the basic server and network. But worry very much about your products, your services, your core worth and how you are going to deliver them and delivery them quickly. Quicker and more securely than anyone else on the market. That’s going to be why you are worth what you are worth.

I’ve mentioned Amazon, but don’t think Amazon is the only IaaS provider out there. I’m by no means endorsing any one IaaS provider. There are many, many IaaS providers out there. Again I’m not endorsing anyone, but just to give you an idea, here are a few: Amazon, SoftLayer, RackSpace, Terremark,…etc.

If you do consider moving forward with a IaaS provider, you want to make sure you understand the fee structure. They only charge you for what you use, but they will charge for everything that you use. They will certainly charge you for the use of their servers; for every CPU upgrade or memory upgrade there will be additional fees. Bandwidth will likely be charged as well, and they are frequently calculated as separate upload and download fees. Anyhow, there are a lot of different things that they can and will charge you for. It is best that you make sure you understand all the charges before you sign the contract.

Lastly, please understand I’m not saying that IaaS is the best invention since sliced bread and that it would work for every single company. Every company’s product is unique and its requirements for infrastructure will be different based on many different factors. There are plenty of good reasons to still do private cloud; there is really no one size fits all solution. If after you do some serious homework and calculation, you find that it would be financially or administratively beneficial to do your own private cloud, then that’s what you should do. Or if public cloud is the way to go, then you should embrace it. By the way, there are plenty of companies out there who are doing hybrid cloud, partly private cloud and partly public cloud. You should always go with whatever makes the most sense to you and your company. I’m simply here to encourage you to explore the new world of IT and not be afraid to try them out.

-David H.

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Companies are constantly looking for talented IT folks, but if you think you are a talented IT person who is looking for a good home, and by home I mean a good company where you want to stay and grow your career for awhile, then having just the traditional skill sets are no longer enough.

Say for example, you are a talented IT person working at a really exciting startup company with about 200+ employees. Everyone is fairly technical and have enjoyed using a Linux Sendmail server for all their email needs. But the company is really starting to get big enough where it would benefit from some 21st century email technology such as group calendar, email syncing to mobile devices and better organized email distribution lists. You say, great, no problem, let me build a Microsoft Exchange server for the company. It will satisfy all the email related requirements. It will do group calendar, sync email to everyone’s phone and organize company events and more. And you can build it with multi-site redundancy so the whole thing will never go down, it will cost less then $40k with hardware and software all included, and can be completed, from planning to deployment, in under 2 months time. Wow, that’s pretty great. The fact that you have the knowledge and know how to build something like that is great. But what if I told you I could have the whole thing done in just one day. Actually to be more precise, I could probably have the whole thing done by lunch time and it would also cost less. You might be scratching your head and say “No freaking way, there is no way one person can do all that in one morning”. Well, technically you are right, I can’t do it, but who says I have to.

This is where SaaS comes in. SaaS stands for Software as a Service. To those who are not familiar with it, you really should get familiar with it. Software as a Service targets exactly the scenario I mentioned above. Problems such as corporate email, phone services, and even corporate file shares are yesterday’s problems. There are plenty of SaaS companies out there who have mastered these technologies so you and I can focus our time on bigger problems.

To finish up on the example used earlier, there are plenty of Hosted Exchange Providers out there. These are companies who will manage your corporate email with as little as $4 per mailbox per month. For a company with 200 employees, the cost is merely $800 a month. I know you might cry foul at this point and say “This is only a monthly cost; it will add up and what about security?” Great questions. With approximately $800 a month, a yearly cost would be $9,600, which is still easily 4 times below the $40k estimate; this means this SaaS solution will be well below cost for 4 years compared to your in-house solution.

Moreover, don’t forget to calculate your salary. You are a talented IT person whose salary is well above minimum wage. Let’s just say for ease of calculation, you make $100k per year. Now your Exchange solution has a yearly operational cost of $100k plus the original $40k one time setup fee. Wait, that’s not really a one time $40k setup fee is it?! There is license renewal fee for the Exchange servers, otherwise you’ll be stuck with the current version and can never upgrade. Oh, and what about the server hardware, there is a support cost for that too right? We simply can’t let our Exchange server hardware go without warranty. Shoot, what about hiring a backup for you? You will get sick or go on vacation someday, now the company has to hire another person just to make sure that in your absence somebody can take care of the Exchange server. Speaking of backup, we have to back up the data on Exchange, too. Now we have to invest in the backup strategy just to make sure our in-house Exchange server is well cared for. With all these little details in mind, that $4 per mailbox per month should start to sound really good to you now.

Now $4 a mailbox certainly sounds like a deal, but what about security? We can’t let an outside vendor manage our sensitive information, such as email. Or can we? Well, you will be relieved to know many of these companies take security very, very seriously. Most of these companies comply with SSAE-16 (SAS-70 in the older days), and some of them have additional certification such as PCI, FISMA…etc.  All these certifications will save you a ton of time if the company you work for is a public company or plan on going public. Third party auditors generally accept certifications from your service provider with little to no questions asked. So whatever SaaS services you are using, so long as they are certified, you are good in those areas. Please don’t mistake me as saying all SaaS are safe and secure. You will still need to do your homework and make sure whichever SaaS you choose is the right fit. But if you do your due diligence, you’ll find often times these SaaS providers take their security seriously, probably even more than you would.

Image courtesy of scottchan/

Image courtesy of scottchan/

Still not convinced? Take a look at the some of the wildly successful stories out there, such as SalesForce, Google App, and iCloud. I’m not here to endorse any companies nor any products, but can you imagine how long it would take for any company to deploy an in-house solution that can compare to what SalesForce is offering? It would take a tremendous effort, financial resources and time to deploy a similar product in house, and the biggest question is WHY? This is not even your company’s core product. SaaS providers have mastered their trade. They have looked at every corner of their business and squeezed out every inefficiency so they can complete with other SaaS providers that are in their space. They have already invested tremendous effort, financial resources and time to deliver their refined products to you, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of these SaaS offerings. Save the man hours and the money to spend on projects that really matter to your company’s success.

Lastly, please understand that I’m not here to persuade you to buy any products or services from any SaaS providers nor am I saying that SaaS is a one size fits all solution. A solution that works for one company could be a disaster for another. Picking the right technology to solve a given problem requires diligent study. However, I simply want to persuade you that the old days of IT, where the IT team spent most of their time managing core functions such as email, file shares and phone services, are over. There are ways that we can do IT faster and cheaper now.  

Check out the next part of this series where I talk about how IaaS is changing the IT landscape (click here: Part 2).

-David H.

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