Whether you are researching the cloud or believe the cloud may be a good alternative to traditional computing, it’s a good idea to know the pros and cons of the cloud. If you’re unsure what the cloud really is, read our blog about what it means to go to the cloud.
Now, let’s dive into some pros and cons of the cloud vs on-premises computing. This will help you decide which option is best for your business.
The primary advantage of having cloud-hosted applications is the ability to access your information on any device with an internet connection. An example of cloud storage is a Google Docs file. The cloud is what allows you to make document edits on your home computer, and pick up where you left off when you get to the office. Colleagues can even collaborate on the same document simultaneously.
Meanwhile, services like Google Photos, Apple iCloud, or Amazon Cloud Drive let you store and view your entire photo collection, without fear of maxing out your laptop or smartphone’s internal storage. An additional benefit of something like this is the ability to access your photos from any internet-capable device including:
- Desktop computers
Another benefit of the cloud is dynamic scalability. Traditionally, when building server infrastructure, you must build for your busiest and most intensive processing times (think Christmas and the retail sector). In order to have enough resources to handle your highest demand times, you end up over-resourced the rest of the year.
With cloud-hosted capability, you can add and remove processing power as you need it. Additionally, you only pay for the additional resources while you use them. Scale-up for the busy times, scale back down for normal times. Cloud-hosted resources are available almost instantaneously. This allows you to create servers, VPNs, additional storage just by ordering it through the portal. Compare that to lead times of 6 weeks or more when ordering a new physical server.
As with anything, the cloud has its limitations, too. Cloud based resources are only successfully accessed with a good internet connection. If your internet connection goes down, you are locked out of accessing your data and cloud-based programs. If you wish to embrace the cloud for most of your computing needs, you are well-advised to acquire a fully redundant ISP service to the cloud (e.g., ATT and Comcast). Yes, this drives up your monthly computing-related costs, but it goes a long way to reducing any chance of having downtime.
One frequently mentioned con is the risk of a breach. All cloud companies and services have security measures in place to protect your data from hackers. But they, like anything, are not foolproof. It’s always a good idea to review the sensitivity of your information before deciding to store it in the cloud or on-premises.
Cost is the final consideration of cloud versus on-premises computing, and this is often an involved calculation.
For on-premises computing, you must allocate a server room with special air handling, fire suppression, UPS and battery backup, and then cabinets, servers, storage, and networking equipment. For some organizations, their computer infrastructure is their single most expensive cost center.
However, once that capital has been spent, the monthly ongoing costs are usually just utilities and upgrades. Each of those pieces of physical hardware has a predicted lifespan of about 5 years. So you will be spending all that money again at least once every 5 or so years.
Contrasted to this is a cloud-based computing infrastructure model. There is no large initial financial outlay for servers, storage, and networking equipment. Nor is there the need for environmentally controlled server rooms, fire suppression systems or UPS and battery banks. If your business operates in a tight real-estate market, freeing up a whole computer can save your company thousands in office leasing.
For all these savings there is a sizable monthly recurring expense. However, well-established techniques for managing that recurring expense, exist.
Only Pay for What You Use
In the cloud model, you only pay for what you use. Therefore, you don’t pay for computing when your computers are offline. For example, you would leave your production servers and services running around the clock, however, you may take down your development and test servers after hours. Similarly, you might be able to operate on smaller virtual servers for most of your time, scaling up only when extra power is needed.
One classic use case for cloud computing is a Proof-of-Concept (POC) project. Say you’re interested in exploring some new technology, but do not want to go through the steps to budget and allocate funds for a physical server. You can allocate cloud-based resources in minutes and start your POC investigation. Once the POC project is over, you simply deallocate your cloud setup and stop paying.
Finally, you can take advantage of automated OS patching and relieve your server engineers from this endless, unrewarded task, freeing them up for more creative and value-added tasks for your organization.
Summary of the Pros and Cons of the Cloud
In summary, there are numerous great reasons to go to the cloud. While the cloud is not necessarily cheaper, it can be cost-effective in certain circumstances. With the cloud, you can set up robust computing infrastructures in a fraction of the time required by physical infrastructures. Additionally, the cloud is a great solution for quick projects when there is no other available capacity in your physical environment.
The scalability allows for quick additions and removals. However, the cloud does require internet redundancy and active resource management. While the cloud avoids large on-time capital outlays, it can come with a significant monthly cost. However, the cloud coexists seamlessly with a physical environment, giving you, in some cases, a best of both worlds’ scenario.