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Here on AskPerf we typically make posts that are very technology-specific or teach customers how to troubleshoot or identify issues. This time I feel the need to discuss something still technology-specific, but not with my direct team.
I am sure everyone has been hearing a lot about the Cloud and cloud computing, but often don’t really understand how it applies to them or how it really works. Well, sit back and prepare to do some learnin’.
Now, the Cloud is not really anything new. Many of you have most likely been using cloud computing for years without actually realizing it. Anybody here use MSN or Live Messenger? How about Hotmail or another web mail client? Yep, all cloud. The definition of cloud computing is really just the concept of moving the workload out of your local environment and accessing it via the Internet.
In the past, this sort of thing really only worked well with content that was relatively low bandwidth. Ten years ago when we were all using 56k modems, or connecting using 128k ISDN lines, the thought of trying to run our LOB apps remotely would be daunting at the least. However, thanks to the wonders of modern technology (and billions of dollars in infrastructure), it is now much more common for even home users to be connecting via broadband.
So, let’s all close our eyes and visualize the basic way in which we work today. We most likely work for a company that for whatever reason needs to use computers in our day to day business. To do this, our company owns myriad client computers and who knows how many servers. Each of these servers of course has a role, whether it be file server, Exchange server, SQL or something custom for our own internal apps. This means that we own a bunch of hardware and infrastructure for said hardware, and of course an entire support structure of IT professionals to run it all.
On top of all this, every 2-4 years we have to spend huge amounts of money on hardware and software upgrades, and of course the continual expense of the manpower required to make it all work. This includes simple things like setup, but also maintenance issues like monthly patching and testing.
I am sure most of you reading this post are in the technology business and take all of this for granted; I know I do. However, what if we were not a tech company? Imagine if you will… I am the owner of a small business that sells shoes. I like shoes, my customers like my shoes, and being a relatively modern guy, I even have an online store to sell my shoes over the web. I pay a web hosting company to host my web site, I paid a web design firm to set up my web site and even have secure online ordering. However, to actually manage my real business requires an internal network infrastructure too. I have servers for accounting, inventory, internal mail and who knows what else. Since I am a shoe guy and not a computer guy, I also have a couple of employees to run my network for me. Being computer guys, they really don’t care a bit about shoes, but they are the necessary cost of doing business.
Now imagine my business gradually gets more successful. Everything has to grow bigger and bigger, but again all I really care about is moving my shoe inventory. However, since computers are an integral part of my business, I have to worry about my infrastructure too, and infrastructure costs money. I’m a shoe guy and I run a shoe company, and I really don’t want to have to worry about my computing infrastructure, but nonetheless I have to.
Those of us in the technology business are used to computers, networks and everything that entails. But keep in mind that most businesses out in the real world are not technology companies, yet they still have to deal with the headaches of having a managed hardware and software infrastructure.
So, how does the Cloud help? Well, in the example above, I as the owner of an online shoe store can simply have my entire infrastructure handled by Microsoft. Microsoft can supply the hardware, infrastructure, support, patching and everything else. All I need are a few client computers and an Internet connection. I don’t have to worry about upgrades or even scaling when it gets busy; I just pay for the bandwidth I use with none of the headaches. In addition, I don’t really need to worry about network-specific concerns either. Since the servers aren’t stored on my site, I don’t need VPN or anything to access them remotely, just a web browser in most cases. You can even use our cloud offerings in a hybrid mode; a combination of cloud services and your traditional infrastructure.
We presently have Cloud offerings that cover SQL, Windows, Exchange, Sharepoint, Office and Dynamics CRM. This allows most customers to easily take advantage of Cloud offerings for most of their business needs. Even consumers or very small businesses can take advantage; things like BPOS or Exchange services are very useful even if you just have 5 or so users. Exchange for instance offers remote secure mail starting at just $5 per user per month.
Cloud services are not just for small businesses either, we already have some very large customers taking advantage of various cloud offerings. I for one am very excited about our future in the Cloud. You can read more about the Cloud and BPOS at the links below.
I understand the whole "technology isn't our business" argument, but I don't understand why it should apply only to IT.
Why not apply that logic to every part of the business that isn't "our primary business" and outsource everything? Using your example, why send out invoices? I'm a shoe guy, not a bookkeeper. Why have a mail room? I'm a shoe guy, not a delivery guy. Why answer my phones? I'm a shoe guy, not a receptionist. Why have office space? I'm a shoe guy not a landlord.
The reason why is that you can't always boil a business down to one single thing and say that is your core business and everything else is a secondary annoyance. There are always going to be other things that aren't core to your business, but are so tightly integrated with it, that they might as well be. There is no reason to single out IT in this regard. For many non-technology businesses, their IT infrastructure is extremely integral to what they do, even though it may not be their core business. Unless your vendors are realizing huge economies of scale, outsourcing every last thing that isn't your "core business" is going to end up costing you far more than doing it yourself and putting you further out of touch with what it takes to actually produce and deliver your product/service.
The whole spend some every month vs. spend lots periodically argument seems silly too. It's like leasing a car vs. buying one. Sure, when you buy you have huge car payments for the first few years, but after that you can go many years paying nothing (discounting maintenance, which you pay for in either case). Take the savings during those years and save it for the next large purchase. In the long run, that is going to be cheaper than paying a little every month forever. If my current infrastructure is adequate for my needs, I can run it for many, many years with just a small maintenance cost, rather than pay every month for upgrades and improvement that may provide no value to me.
If you are the kind of business that always needs or wants the latest and greatest technology, then paying each month is probably the way to go. But like leasing a car, it is a very expensive choice in the long run, and you better be sure it is providing real value to your business. If you don't always need the latest technology, then buying and running it yourself can be far cheaper in the long run since you will save huge amounts of money in the years when you are not purchasing/upgrading.
Not the place for a Microsoft Sales Pitch. MS are already beating us up with Cloud propaganda and this isn't the place to do it!