AWS architects expect private cloud to live on, cite security, other risks

AWS architects sound off on the pros and cons of the public cloud.

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Amazon claims public-cloud-only is the best path to business agility, but don't expect hybrid cloud to shrivel up and go away. For now, and the next few years, the hybrid public-private cloud approach provides an insurance policy against public cloud's shortcomings.

The deficiencies of private cloud -- largely cost of infrastructure and maintenance -- are commonly pronounced by Amazon Web Services (AWS) Senior VP Andrew Jassy, most recently in his Amazon Summit 2014 keynote. Quite a few public cloud users disagree, seeing an imbalance between agility and risk in a public-cloud-only approach. Indeed, nearly half of large enterprises will have deployed a hybrid cloud by the end of 2017, according to Gartner Inc.

Even AWS architects who buy into public cloud's advantages don't advise all businesses to throw out their heavy metal. AWS architects explain the trust issues and capabilities shortfalls that make an all-public and also a single-vendor cloud strategy too risky. In this and future installments of this column, enterprise architects sound off on the pros and cons of using AWS.

AWS puts start-ups on the fast track

Software engineer Les Hazlewood credits AWS with helping start-up Stormpath quickly build and release its API-based user management and authentication service for developers. "As a start-up, one of the last things you want to do is purchase and maintain your own hardware and infrastructure," Stormpath CEO and co-founder Hazlewood told me recently.

Jassy made this same point during the March 26 Amazon Summit in San Francisco. "How long does it take to put in a new server? From 10 to 18 weeks! If you're an engineer … God forbid you invent something [quickly]; then how long is it going to take to get the servers to roll it out?"

For speedy development, Stormpath's architects favored AWS' strong, scalable development and deployment tools, compute power and global reach, among other things. "AWS was ahead of the pack as far as offering services targeted at developers and DevOps," Hazlewood said. Every Stormpath application program interface (API) is hosted on AWS and the entire back end for its API service is served from a clustered, multi-zone ElasticCloud2 (EC2) instance. Stormpath also uses many AWS services, such as elastic load balancing, to enhance performance, scalability and stability of its API.

But AWS can't do everything

Some Stormpath customers won't give up their on-premise machines due to data security concerns. Private cloud users tell me they need high quality, always-on security, user identity and user management and identity management. They trust they can get those capabilities from on-premise systems, but can't trust the cloud. Typically, the private cloud appeals to vertical market organizations in healthcare, government agencies, financial and other risk-averse industries.

"We have to build for both environments, both on-premise and Amazon," Hazlewood said. Stormpath can move their offering to on-premises for companies that use private cloud or other on-premise systems.

The hybrid public-private cloud approach provides an insurance policy against public cloud's shortcomings.

Functionality shortfalls and high prices for some capabilities can make businesses stick with on-premise systems or use more than one cloud provider. Dave Laube, StormPath DevOps manager, told me that Amazon offers solid state drives (SSD) only at "extraordinarily expensive" instance prices on its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Stormpath uses a database system called Cassandra, which runs best on storage devices with SSD. Other cloud providers have SSDs in less expensive machines, and larger organizations have legacy SSD devices, so a hybrid approach works well for them. That said, Stormpath is paying the higher price for SSD on AWS.

Not joining the throw-away society

Large companies may have more to gain from public cloud because their investment in data centers have to be substantial. Yet some are not eager to give up their in-house competencies in custom core technologies, according to C2B2 consultant Steve Millidge and Waqar Hasan, CEO of InsightsOne, an Apigee company that builds its big data service on AWS. Big companies cannot get much advantage from the public cloud side and can exploit their situation very well, Hasan said. Millidge noted that many large businesses have invested substantially in virtualization, making private cloud the next natural step for maximizing their investments.

Jassy argues that the cost of failed projects in private cloud is higher than on AWS. Developers can try out new ideas without provisioning and taking up space on on-premise servers. If those projects fail on AWS, they can be turned off and the usage fees quitted.

There's no reason why businesses can't take advantage of development on AWS, turn off unsuccessful projects and deploy successful ones to production in a private cloud. Even that approach, however, could have its down side. Architects say that cloud development encourages developers to spend time on too many ideas that don't come to fruition. Also, developers can waste company money by not turning off dead projects done on public clouds, leaving the meter running, Daniel Dugan, IT manager for Nexon America, told SearchAWS recently.

Weighing the pros and cons of private and public clouds will be a standard procedure over the next five years. For start-ups, the lower investment and faster time to market will remain compelling. Organizations now sticking with on-premise data centers and private cloud may reconsider as their computing infrastructure ages and maintaining a high level of in-house expertise gets harder. That's tomorrow. Today, hybrid cloud approaches still work.

This was first published in May 2014

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