Data Centres vs the Cloud: What You Need to Know
Cloud Computing and Data Centres have long been the subject of an “either/or” debate.
The Cloud is thought by some to be the future of all IT, by others to be a useful tool in a range of options, and by a few people it is still thought to be a short term fad.
Data Centres, whether in-house or co-location, are similarly treated with mixed opinions depending on who you speak to. To some, their Data Centre is the heart of their IT systems and sometimes their business. They have a strong team built around building and maintaining their facilities, and do so with pride and enthusiasm. They simply couldn’t imagine releasing control of any aspect to someone else, let alone at such a fundamental level. Others, begrudgingly accept they need a Data Centre, only out of necessity, but really would rather not have to deal with the capital planning involved, the ongoing maintenance, or the ownership of the risk.
To suggest however, that there is one right solution – that one fits best for everyone and will do forever – is a disservice to both. Ultimately, “The Cloud” is still in a Data Centre, somewhere, it is just a different way of accessing and fulfilling the underlying goals.
To explain further, we’ll briefly explore the features of each, and the benefits that Data Centres and Cloud offerings can provide to different types of enterprises.
Data Centres Explained
Both on-site and off-site Data Centres are physical locations which house a range of IT systems and services, and provide the required level of connectivity, power and cooling, along with the required back-up systems, resilience provisions and redundancy to meet the level of uptime and service level which is required.
Physical Data Centres may be in-house, fully owned and operated by the user. They may be small but critical areas of a typical office, or may be very large, purpose-built facilities.
In some cases, an organisation may co-locate within another Data Centre sharing space with other users in a similar position, so they can own and operate their own IT racks, but another organisation can take care of providing the space, power and cooling for them. And can do so to a guaranteed, contractual level of service.
In other cases, an organisation may have requirements which exceed that which can be accommodated by rack level co-location, but still do not want the responsibility of owning and operating the less IT elements of the Data Centre – the building, UPS systems, generators and cooling systems etc. In this case they may again work with another provider who will own and operate all those elements, again to a contractual service level, while the user can own and operate their own IT systems themselves.
The common factor is that in all cases the end user owns, operates and maintains the IT systems themselves. They may have a reliance on another party for power and cooling, but the servers and switches are theirs.
Cloud Computing Explained
Cloud Computing can be thought of as co-location at a much more fundamental level; sharing IT hardware with others. It is a product of increased connectivity – allowing users to access resources which may be hundred if not thousands of miles away with little issue – and virtualisation – allowing powerful IT hardware to be split into smaller consumable chunks.
To package this into a service, platforms exist which allow for the rapid reconfiguration of systems and services between users, in-line with demand, and tailored to a user’s exact requirements, at that point in time.
Cloud services are not simply an offering of virtual servers but a plethora of systems and services which allow for seamless integration and scalable growth.
There are opportunities for redundancy where data storage and processing is split between systems or regions, and can, if needed, be moved from one region to another.
There are opportunities for accommodating short term peaks in demand, or rapid growth automatically – only paying for the services which are used, and the time for which they are used.
There are opportunities for global content delivery optimisation – spreading the load between facilities all over the world, as they demand it.
The possibilities are vast, and the scalability, responsiveness, and reliability are on par with that which could previously only be obtained by hyperscale operators but without the need for the user to own, operate, or maintain any buildings, power or cooling systems, or IT hardware.
But what about my Data and Security?
In a time where hacks and data leaks often make headlines, data security is vital for every business and even the mere concept of Cloud Computing can make some users squirm.
Regardless of the contractual agreements and responsibilities, each individual business has a duty of care to protect its own data, and that of its users. On this basis, allowing a path to the outside world to exist, no matter how secure it is, is often an unnerving proposition.
Data Centres always have the potential to be a safer and more secure option than using a Cloud service, due to the level of control which is able to be retained. However, a badly configured, managed and secured in-house Data Centre may instead actually present a greater risk than a well implemented cloud solution. This is however a slightly unfair comparison.
Cloud Computing providers offer and maintain the highest levels of physical security for their facilities, and very strict levels of cyber security to protect against the risk of any unauthorised access. Unfortunately, however there is a level of trust required in others, ultimately, the use of the Cloud requires putting the safety of your data in the hands of a third party provider and trusting them to have the latest security measures in places. No matter how capable, competent and reputable the provider is, relying on someone else will often never provide the same level of comfort as knowing you have done it yourself.
Another security issue posed by using a Cloud service rather than a Data Centre is the number of entry and exit points. As Cloud services can often be accessed from any location, the security of data could be compromised during transmission at any number of these points.
There are some documented cases of users exploiting security holes to access information in other areas of the Cloud which they should not have access to; the potential for risk is clear.
There is also the fundamental issue that if you are using a Data Centre in a different country, you may be exposed to geo-political risks which you otherwise would not encounter.
For the most secure applications, Cloud solutions will often not meet the requirements but for most users, a well implemented Cloud solution does not introduce any risks beyond that which may be present for an in-house facility. In some areas the risk will be lower.
Ultimately, any use of Cloud should be considered with a full risk assessment and strategy to minimise the risk.
Business Benefits for Data Centres and The Cloud
One of the most important differences between Data Centres and Cloud Computing is the various business benefits they can both offer. After all, you want to make sure that you are choosing the infrastructure that will serve your company’s needs the best.
On one hand, Cloud Computing is an agile option that is easily scalable, expanding and contracting as you need it to. Offering potentially unlimited capacity, it’s easy to see its appeal, but there are costs and considerations for users to consider before establishing it is the right choice for any single use case.
Where requirements for demand are unclear or subject to rapid changes, a Cloud offering has a significant advantage, however where there is a steady, consistent or predictable level of demand then a user is unlikely to take advantage of this ability.
Where requirements require resilience, redundancy or physical diversity which are beyond the abilities of a user’s own estate then again Cloud services can provide these, however if a user already has a presence in the require geographic regions, or is able to meet the requirements for redundancy and resiliency themselves with their own facilities then again a Cloud service may not add value.
Where requirements depend upon high performance integration with local services, with low latency and high bandwidth, then again, a Cloud service is likely not going to be able to offer the performance that a local facility can do.
For some users it will not be a substantial concern but, unlike a dedicated on-site Data Centre, using a Cloud service does not allow full control of the underlying IT systems, instead a level of control and responsibility is handed over to a third party and for some users this is not going to be acceptable.
Data Centres, on the other hand, will be specified to meet individual organisational requirements and allows full control – and responsibility – over the physical equipment and how the data is managed and stored. Using a physical Data Centre means you are able to provision your own computing power, electrical capacity and cooling. This can be a significant advantage for some applications but can also be the biggest downside. Although a modern facility will often be somewhat scalable or modular, it is unlikely that capacity can be increased significantly in any less than a number of weeks or even months. Owning and operating Data Centres requires good capacity management, forecasting and planning; if an organisation is able to deliver these elements well then a physical Data Centre will often be the best choice for the known demand. Cloud options really do come into their own with applications or users which cannot plan their demand effectively – not necessarily due to a lack of trying but often due to the large swings in peak demand which may result from the services they offer.
Cost of Data Centres and Cloud Computing Options
Data Centre facilities, and Cloud Computing options can both be costly investments
At a small scale, such as individuals and small businesses, using a Cloud system will often be a well-suited option, due to its scalability and cost-effective nature. With no need for building and maintenance, using a Cloud provider allows small business to keep their outgoings minimal while still providing the computing power they need.
However, as a business grows, and the use of the Cloud grows, there will be a break-even point where – all other things being equal – it would be cheaper and more effective to own and operate their own IT hardware, and ultimately to own and operate their own Data Centre.
This break-even point will vary from user to user, affected by the ratio of ‘Peak to Baseline’ demand, computational and storage needs, connectivity usage and content delivery approach. There is no one-size fits all.
For a known load profile – the break-even point will be fairly easy to calculate and for any substantial load, the Cloud will often be the more expensive option however it is the ability to deal with the unknown where Cloud services excel, and this is what the pricing will often reflect.
For most users, the Cloud is a useful option for delivering services to end users, and for accommodating peak demands but it is not as well suited to meeting baseline demand of relatively local systems. The most effective use of Cloud is within and as part of a greater IT ecosystem – with some services provided centrally, within perhaps an in-house Data Centre, others provided closer to the point of use, and others provided by a Cloud component.
Unfortunately, for some users, the Cloud simply will never provide the level of control and security which is required for their use, and some users will never grow to the point where they need anything more than the cloud can offer, so for these two groups, Data Centres and Cloud Services are for the foreseeable future going to remain the best and only choice for them, but for the vast majority in the middle, Cloud services meet a need but should not replace a physical Data Centre.
For more information about our award winning Data Centres, contact Sudlows today.