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Hawaii Businesses: Get Rid of Your Servers!

Last year most of the organizations we work with moved to EC2 or Heroku for their web applications and 100% of those people are happier than they were with their dusty old server room. People always think hosting on-site will be cheaper and safer, but its almost always neither when you take into account labor, hardware failures and stress. Google and Amazon are better at this than you :-) There is no substitute for being able to instantly duplicate a developer environment to create a QA and production environment. As a sys admin, I love that flexibility. Setting up all those environments for every project used to be a pain in the butt.

In 2011 Hawaii's companies should look at every computer in their office and ask, "How can we get rid of that?" Make getting rid of all the servers in your office your New Year's resolution. Use Google Apps for your email, calendaring and document collaboration. Need an online store? Use Shopify. Its great. Unless you have really unusual requirements there is no reason for Hawaii companies to have servers on-location. If you do, chances are you are throwing away money, wasting time and causing needless stress. Use the cloud, enjoy good karma :-)

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Comment by Lou Darnell on February 22, 2011 at 9:40am

@Brian  You have to understand how the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) works to know why no one like MS or Google can integrate your local telephone service with their cloud based servers.  It isn't a technical challenge.  I think it has more to do with economics.  Bringing switched services with IP is done all the time at the telco level but delivering it to the premise is not here yet.  Perhaps when we get to having SIP trunks available, the playing field will change.  I don't know of anyone in Hawaii who can integrate their IP PBX wiht cloud based services.

 

Most people could care less but from my experience employing inteligent presence, seeing that someone was on a phone call, made a big difference in deciding how to best communicate when they were on that call.

Comment by Brian on February 21, 2011 at 6:43am

As far as privacy goes, if your data is that critical - use strong encryption and controls. This applies regardless of where the infrastructure is hosted, so to me that's almost irrelevant.

 

In terms of things like PBX integration.. that's almost more reason to get rid of on-premise facilities. I'm puzzled at this point why many companies even retain things like on-site telco infrastructure. Outsource the telephony/email/collab and hand everyone a smartphone.

 

Skeptical that many such things are really needed anymore and the reason we have them is simply because we've always had them.. so we still have them. That and of course many of the alternatives are fairly new.

 

Interested to hear from anyone that's looked into this seriously and what roadblocks they've encountered or what features they simply could not find.

Comment by Lou Darnell on February 17, 2011 at 9:02pm

@Westley  I think your interesting comment on mine was taken out of context from my origional post.  I gues that is the danger of long threads.  In any case, the example I gave of why we reverted back to a premise based Exchange server was, as you say, a pretty minor reason for abandoning the cloud based service.

 

One of the greatest reasons is that we intgrate our IP PBX with our Exchange server and Lync Server which dramatically increases the value of the intelligent presence we provide our employees.  Can't do that with a hosted or cloud based Exchange service.

Comment by Brian on February 17, 2011 at 2:09pm

externalized cost -> externalized risk

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 17, 2011 at 10:39am

@Lou - Sorry, I wasn't being very concise. My assertion is that for the stated goal of having reliable access to common office apps such as email and calendaring Google's SaaS offerings are, in the common case, far more reliable than on-site alternatives. I based this on the referenced study, my personal observation of dozens of companies that have switched and conversations with peers. In a more general sense, if you have reliable and sufficiently fast connectivity cloud economies dictate that most applications are cheaper and more reliable than on-site alternatives for all the same reasons that traditional utilities are more efficient.

Lou Darnell: I listened to a very interesting presentation the other day called Collaborative Consumption and it actually supports the cloud model.  Basically the concept is people don't need to own a car or a computer, their real need is to get somewhere or they need the computer's product.  Web sites are springing up to enalbe people to share their physical assets to reduce the world's consumption of "stuff."

Very true!

Comment by Lou Darnell on February 17, 2011 at 10:21am

@Daniel  We are into philosophy and probably entwined in some semantics here. 

You would agrue that electric power has value regardless of its application?  How about if it is used to execute people or to kill fish or burn homes down?

I listened to a very interesting presentation the other day called Collaborative Consumption and it actually supports the cloud model.  Basically the concept is people don't need to own a car or a computer, their real need is to get somewhere or they need the computer's product.  Web sites are springing up to enalbe people to share their physical assets to reduce the world's consumption of "stuff."

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 17, 2011 at 9:48am
@Lou I would argue that utility computing does have inherent value in the same way utility power has inherent value. Cloud economies (basically economies of scale) provide efficiencies that aren't acheivable with on site solutions. That is why every company doesn't generate its own power despite the fact a single generator is simpler than a power grid. On-site email is not as reliable as Google Apps. Its not even close and the disparity is growing.
Comment by Lou Darnell on February 17, 2011 at 9:24am

Kind of a minor point but when we used MS SaaS for our Exchange services, a couple of people in our office complained their email wasn't working right but others had no complaint at the same time.  The only logical explanation we could imagine was that different people were being served from different MS servers in the same server farm.

Can you imagine me calling MS and asking the question?  The earth would revolve around teh sun many times before I might possible get a response.  This is the sort of thing I alluded to when I said I wanted more control over my email server.  I want to be able to diagnose a problem and fix it.  When the email server is down, I know it is down and I implement alternative means of communication.

What we were experiencing was similar to me cruising down the road at 80 MPH and not knowing that the bridge ahead was down.

If MS had a way of letting me know that three of my peoples' email was down, I could compensate.  I am guessing though, that when MS discovers it has a problem, their systems are so complex that diagnoses takes time and making the decision to inform users has some interesting aspects to consider.

I will finish what I thought was going to be a quick, short comment with no technology has inherent value.

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 17, 2011 at 9:05am

Alex Georgiev: If email is critical to your business and must always be available during your business hours, then you're going to have to consider buying a 2nd internet connection from a different ISP. If you have an Oceanic RR line, go to Hawaiian Tel, and vice versa.

This is a really good point. Our infrastructure in Hawaii is bad, and Manoa in particular is terrible. In addition to internet outages Manoa has lost power a dozen times in the last couple of years. Sometimes its for half a day so even a UPS doesn't help. We have partners in developing countries with more reliable infrastructure :-) Even so, our access to email is more reliable than anyone I know with email on-site.

Alex Georgiev: But the one that usually gets most people worried: the fact that YOUR data resides on storage and servers controlled by Amazon. Realistically the chances of someone stealing your data through the cloud are next to zero. But the problem is actually the human involvement - the Amazon employees.

Thats true. CEOs and CIOs often worry about this, but I don't know any company in Hawaii that has the types of physical security, network security, data security and background checks on employees that Amazon has. They also do independent SAS 70 type II audits of their processes. Unless your company does the same or better you are actually reducing risk.

Thank you for your detailed responses. You are certainly correct that some things such as apps that move a lot of large files around are best done on site. As bandwidth increases the number of apps that require this will decrease.

Comment by Alex G on February 17, 2011 at 2:38am
[final piece]
But the one that usually gets most people worried: the fact that YOUR data resides on storage and servers controlled by Amazon. Realistically the chances of someone stealing your data through the cloud are next to zero. But the problem is actually the human involvement - the Amazon employees. We are sort of entrusting the Amazon employees with our data and counting on their good behavior. Yeah, I know, not very likely, but the possibility is there and many CIOs and CEOs can not be convinced that the risk is non-existent. In fact, if I was a foreign government I will have my agents attempting to get close to Amazon employees and bribe them large sums of money for access to the data stored in the EC2 cloud. Think about how much proprietary information must be sitting in the EC2's Elastic Block Storage.

So anyway, to sum it up - critical inward facing apps are not great candidates for the cloud. At the very least, they require the business to have redundant internet connections. Even then, their performance can be affected by bandwidth hogs, like large file downloads in the middle of the day. In other cases there may be the need to spend more money on licensing and/or extra instances. And you won't be saving any money on software maintenance - you still need to do that part. Plus, if your data is critical and you can't afford to have it leave your company - well, don't put it in the cloud! Finally, the common wisdom right now says not to put your Active Directory in the cloud, so for now you won't be able to get rid of that part of your infrastructure.

Hope that helps!

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