Experiments, Lessons Learned, Best Practices & Tutorials
Amazon has changed the face of the world of startups with its cloud services. Now it’s possible for two men in a garage to set up large computer clusters for zero capital cost.
[Tweet “Amazon has its sights set on enterprise, which they will conquer slowly but surely. “]
At Flux7 Labs, one of our specialties is cloud migration for enterprise clients, and we’ve received considerable feedback about both their concerns and delights. In this post I’ll explain why I strongly believe large enterprises should consider moving to the cloud.
Agility and Responsiveness
Let’s face it, if a startup is a speedboat, then a large enterprise is the Titanic. While startups can pivot any time there’s danger and large enterprises turn more slowly, there are icebergs that can sink either. Disasters happen to everyone, but a large enterprise has significantly more skin in the game, and the old model of waiting a month before buying a new rack just doesn’t cut it anymore. By shifting to the cloud, large enterprises can bring up new servers in minutes, which means shorter downtimes, rapid experimentation, more innovation, increased global reach, improved demand-surge handling and more successful short-lived-but-resource-intensive projects.
Business is a cutthroat world in which we must always strive to out-innovate our competitors. This article is about the cloud in general, but I want to explain why it’s also Amazon focused. Amazon has been blazing the cloud-computing trail longer than anyone, which is reflected by its 80% market share, and is clearly ahead of its competitors. For example, check out Gartner’s analysis of different cloud providers in the chart below and you’ll see Amazon in a corner of their own. In fact, Amazon so dominated the competition that Gartner had to artificially lower the scale. Amazon is innovating at such a rapid pace in providing new services and broadening its customer base that competitors are struggling to keep pace.
The effect of this innovation is obvious to developers. Do you want to provide Active Directory integration with Amazon? You can do that. Do you want to save on data costs by using the Bittorrent protocol for content distribution? You can do that. Do you want to put heavy compute behind your mobile games? You can do that. Do you want to ramp up your clients quickly with remote workstations? You can do that, too. With Amazon Web Services you can do all of that and more. I’m a certified AWS instructor, yet I learn something new about AWS every day as Amazon constantly releases new features. The advantage of moving your business to the cloud is that you can let your developers focus on your company’s area of expertise while leaving the boilerplate to Amazon.
A Data Center That Hosts A Top Website
One thing we mustn’t forget is what the AWS cloud really is—a product of years of innovation by one of the largest e-commerce websites in the world. Its data centers are distributed globally in numerous parts of the world, with multiple, independently-operating data centers in each region that provide different failure domains while being close enough together to provide cheap communication. And that’s just the compute side of the equation. Amazon also shares its global content distribution network, its DNS servers. it compiles traffic data from across the globe to find the best route for your network traffic. There are only a handful of companies today with that kind of global reach, and they, too, are developing cloud capabilities. But unless you’re in that elite club, you won’t be able to create a data center that can compete with AWS. So by using a cloud solution, rather than an in-house solution, you’ll clearly benefit in terms of better performance, better fault tolerance, and better disaster recovery.
Security is the biggest concern about cloud computing for most enterprises, but Amazon holds many of the most important certifications, including PCI, HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and ISO. Since it has so much at stake, it maintains separation of logical and physical access to data in order to limit the impact of disgruntled employees. While I certainly understand someone hesitating to entrust one’s most valuable information with a third party, it’s certainly debatable whether on-premise storage is more secure than cloud storage.
In-house Expertise Not Required
Anyone that’s had to hire people knows that good employees are worth their weight in platinum. Moving to the cloud allows you to offload much of your data-center maintenance onto Amazon. Let it do what it’s best at while you focus on what you’re best at.
As we know, you often have to pay dearly to hire someone outside of your area of expertise. For example, say you’re a director of IT at a company like Schlumberger. Your company is great at what it does and has strong brand value in its area of expertise. Do you think you can possibly poach someone like James Hamilton for your company? No, you can’t. With core expertise in data centers, Amazon will likely offer a more intriguing challenge and a deeper sense of mission to the kind of people you’ll want to hire for your team. And we all know that employee engagement is not about the money, but rather about being involved in a greater mission.
While I’m convinced that moving to the cloud will lower your costs, I acknowledge that getting there requires a lot of expertise and hard work. Additionally you may very easily find yourself comparing apples and oranges. Yet cloud solutions are cheaper than on-premise solutions when played right. First, when you pay for a machine on AWS you’re also paying for Amazon’s years of expertise in setting up resilient data centers, something that’s not true for in-house departments lacking core IT expertise. Second, there’s great potential for saving money by scaling to your variable demand needs instead of designing for max capacity. That’s why Netflix, even though it comprises one-third of the Internet in terms of data volume, has gone “all in” on AWS, or they’d have to provision enough machines to handle 9PM Friday traffic. Alternatively you can have an expected area of needing high demand, as say for a chip company close to tapeout, a movie studio needing to render for a year (http://gigaom.com/2014/03/02/the-oscars-how-american-hustles-fx-team-made-2013-boston-look-like-1980s-new-york/), or a game company handling launch day demand (http://www.respawn.com/news/lets-talk-about-the-xbox-live-cloud/).
If you’re a large enterprise and on the fence about whether or not to move to the cloud, we highly recommend trying it out. Try it on a contained project, rather than one that’s on a critical path, something that fits well within the cloud’s capabilities. After implementation, do a post-mortem and analyze the results in terms of cost and time-to-market. What is the expectation as you build in-house expertise. The results may well surprise you.
Flux 7 Labs has helped Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies move successfully to AWS. We’d love to hear any questions, comments or concerns you may have, so feel free to contact us anytime during weekly office hours to discuss your specific needs or situation. We offer this service free of charge with no obligation or strings attached.