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The Cloud Warning Label

By Taylor Rhodes, President, Rackspace

Cloud computing is an ever more powerful business tool, when properly managed. But the unmanaged clouds that most vendors are selling come with a dark side that is seldom disclosed. If they were consumer appliances or prescription drugs, these clouds would be tagged with a list of warnings that would read something like this:

1. YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN. Buying unmanaged cloud computing is like renting an apartment from a landlord who requires that you repair the air conditioner and plumbing whenever they break. Major vendors like Amazon and Google are essentially renting out access to raw infrastructure. It’s up to you to manage not only that hardware and software but also the many complex tools and applications that run on top of it, and are essential to tapping the power of the cloud.

2. HIRE LOTS OF EXPERTS. The big multi-tenant clouds operate on a do-it-all-yourself philosophy. Some say they provide support, but they won’t answer your phone calls or texts. They won’t log into your servers. They won’t help you fix mistakes. The burden of managing the cloud falls on you. So you must hire experts in cloud infrastructure, network security, and DevOps, as well as in such specialties as Chef, Puppet, Salt, Ansible, MongoDB, Hadoop, MySQL, Magento, Drupal, WordPress, and SharePoint. Some of your experts will need to be available 24/7.

3. TOTAL COST = UNIT COSTS + HIRING + OVERPROVISIONING + OPPORTUNITY COST. Big cloud vendors tout their low and falling unit costs, expressed in such terms as “c3.2xlarge on-demand compute instances per hour.” But unit costs are a poor proxy for what you’ll really pay to get your cloud to work. To determine your total cost, you need to add several other big expenses: of hiring experts, often round the clock, to manage and secure your cloud; of pulling your developers and managers away from opportunities in your core business; and of overprovisioning for high-volume workloads on shared infrastructure.

4. BEWARE OF NOISY NEIGHBORS. Those who sell only multi-tenant clouds argue that they’re one size fits all. Smart business customers know better. Many high-volume workloads, including modern databases, achieve higher performance and cost efficiency on single-tenant servers. Businesses that run MongoDB or Hadoop in multi-tenant clouds must compete for resources with I/O-hungry neighbors. To boost performance, they have to overprovision. They get lower and less-consistent performance and higher costs than they would on a custom-fit hybrid cloud that runs each workload where it runs best.

5. ANY DOWN TIME IS YOUR FAULT. Many multi-tenant clouds are built on cheap, unreliable infrastructure. They refuse to guarantee uptime. They say redundancy is the customer’s responsibility. So you must code your application to work across multiple zones and data centers. This engineering work represents another hidden cost when comparing do-it-all-yourself clouds with a Managed Cloud in which the vendor builds redundancy into its infrastructure (through features such as RAID storage and redundant power supplies) and takes responsibility for uptime.

6. DON’T FORGET OPPORTUNITY COSTS. If you use an unmanaged cloud, you will no longer be focused on your core business. You will be deeply engaged in the IT maintenance and planning business and will have to acquire expertise in its many facets. Your developers and management team will be pulled away from the pursuit of new products and customers to deal with issues of cloud infrastructure and application management. As a result, you’ll miss business opportunities.

Today, with three-fourths of all computing still conducted in house or via colocation, and with infrastructure rental costs falling dramatically, a new wave of cloud adoption is building. It is building among a new type of customer very different from the tech enthusiasts who pioneered the technology. These new adopters have the technical capability to manage any workload that they choose. But they also have the discipline and sophistication to focus their scarce developer talent on building their app, and to let a trusted partner manage their cloud.

For the new wave of customers who want all the power of the cloud without the pain; who want to focus on their core business, rather than on complex and ever-changing IT technologies, the answer is Managed Cloud.

We at Rackspace invented the Managed Hosting industry 15 years ago and as our industry has evolved, we’ve been building on that experience to deliver Managed Cloud. Our renowned Fanatical Support now includes specialized expertise not only in cloud infrastructure but also in the many complex applications and tools that run on top of that infrastructure, from DevOps to MongoDB and Magento and Drupal and SharePoint.

Please stay tuned for our keynote at GigaOm Structure on June 19, when we will unveil the latest evolution of our Managed Cloud, which will give businesses a powerful new way to scale high-volume applications. In the meantime, if you’re shopping for cloud services, you might want to keep this consumer’s guide handy.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Taylor Rhodes.

Taylor Rhodes is President and CEO of Rackspace, responsible for all of the company’s operations in the U.S. and abroad. He has excelled in a variety of leadership roles in sales, support, and international operations, and is known for achieving high levels of engagement with customers and Rackers alike.

Before his promotion to President, Taylor served as Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, with global responsibility for Rackspace’s Sales and Fanatical Support® organizations globally. He worked closely with the Product and Marketing teams to develop our differentiated strategy.

Taylor has also served as SVP and Managing Director, International, where he was responsible for developing the company’s strategic priorities and creating business growth across international markets in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Taylor joined Rackspace in 2007 to lead the business unit responsible for delivering Fanatical Support to the company’s largest and most complex customers. He then went on to launch Rackspace Enterprise Services, a business unit that helped Rackspace expand beyond its SMB roots to provide larger customers with enterprise-grade offerings.

Prior to joining Rackspace, Taylor held a series of progressively more challenging leadership roles at EDS, managing end-to-end relationships with large global customers. He is a former US Marine Corps infantry officer and holds a MBA degree from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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