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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 Alex G on February 17, 2011 at 2:37am
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Plus, when one of your users decides to download a large file, that will slow down those cloud-hosted apps for the rest of your users.

Another interesting challenge you'll face if you're trying to completely get rid of your servers - Active Directory. Sure, you can run AD on an Amazon EC2 server, but would you really want to. Besides needing a redundant internet connection you will also have to contend with the latency of authenticating over the Internet. Not an insurmountable challenge - your users may be OK with it - but you will have a much nicer experience running something like MS Small Business Server on your local network.

Another one I was told about that some larger businesses have encountered - your web apps, customer facing or not, may need to look up info in your Active Directory. So to make that easier and prevent the web app from having performance issues some businesses are replicating copies of AD into "the cloud." It's just for web apps to use, not for authentications. The end result is that it bumps up the cost.

Yet another interesting thing I was told about Amazon EC2 - you can't reuse your Windows licenses. If you want to take the existing Windows servers on your network and virtualize them to run on the EC2, you will have to buy new Windows licenses. I don't know the details on that, but I was able to find that in the EC2 FAQ after I didn't believe it at first. Again, this will eat at your bottom line...

We should also note that while Amazon EC2 can free you from having to worry about HW maintenance, it certainly doesn't prevent software maintenance. You still have to do your own patching and updates.
There's also the issue with runaway processes that eat CPU cycles and/or create large log files, and that may cause businesses to pay a lot more than was planned (I guess it depends on which pricing model you choose from EC2).

But the one that usually gets most people worried: the f
Comment by Alex G on February 17, 2011 at 2:34am
Sorry, guys, just now catching up. This one caught my eye.

There are a lot of neat things about hosted virtual servers (aka "the cloud"), and it's my opinion that there's hardly any reason not to put your customer facing web sites and web apps in the cloud. It's truly the only way to go if your website must stay up 24/7. Do not rely on the ISP to provide a truly reliable Internet connection - it just won't happen. Amazon, on the other hand, will make sure your servers are always reachable from the Internet.

Cloud providers also make for good backup and DR sites. Email is another good example of an app that's well suited for outsourcing... No sense dealing with the complexity of Exchange, Sendmail or Postfix (pick your poison) when you can have Google or Microsoft do it for you (although we are crossing a little bit into Software as a Service territory when we start talking hosted email solutions).

Unfortunately, there's the other side of the coin, too. Sometimes people can work with web based apps for so long that they become bullish about cloud computing and fail to see the problem that Cloud Computing can create. There are way too many situations where "The Cloud" causes problems you didn't expect and just isn't the right solution. Let's take a look at a few:

Email is one. 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. That's going to eat at your bottom line, so you might not be saving as much. In most cases it will still be better than running your own email server, but always add up the monthly costs ahead of time. Generally speaking, all apps that are critical to internal users will have this problem. You better have redundant internet connections or else your business may suffer. Plus, when one of your users decides to download
Comment by Lou Darnell on February 10, 2011 at 7:33am

@Daniel - I know you well enough to know you are a smart, wise and hard working guy wanting to make a difference in Hawaii and other places. 

About 15 years ago when I was young, a prospect asked me if I sold the best communication system available.  My response was a "too blunt" no.  She asked me how could I possible be in sales if I didn't believe I had the best product on the market.  At the time, my response was clumsy becuase I hadn't thought it through but her question has stuck with me over the years.

Interestingly, the successful West Coast CEO I have mentioned claims he sells the best of breed products.  I told him that I understand the claim from a marketing perspective but he is kidding himself if he believes his product portfolia contains the best of every type IT and Communication application available.

Best of Breeds is like the concept of beauty - it depends. 

I enjoyed our dialogue and would be happy to pursue with all other interested Tech Hui fans.

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 10, 2011 at 12:00am
@Lou - Thank you for sharing. Please don't take my response the wrong way. Its always useful to hear about people's experiences in the field. We aren't religious about any particular vendor. We think Microsoft and Google both make some great products and some not so great products.
Comment by Lou Darnell on February 1, 2011 at 9:54am

@Daniel - my intent was to share our experience and conclusions.  We are not opposed to cloud computing.  We advocate hosted VoIP when it is the best solution.   No concept like cloud computing or hosted VoIP has inherent value.  As you know, value derives from successful application.

 

@Francis - well written comment that makes me want to explore collaborating with you.

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 1, 2011 at 9:00am

@Lou - I understand what you are saying, and I agree there is a learning curve, but I would argue that a good cloud solution creates actual simplicity, rather than the illusion of simplicity. I base this on our company's use of Googls apps internally, Punahou's experience (ask forward thinking Punahou CTO Wendi Kamiya), and the dozens of customers we've switched over ranging from tech startups to biofuel companies (e.g. CearFuels and Kuehnle AgroSystems.) Dozens of companies, thousands of accounts, zero reversions. The number of times I've had to worry about which server in Google's cloud was providing me with email, docs, video or calendar info in the past year: 0.

Am I saying cloud computing is perfect and that all of your IT problems will disappear overnight? No. But I am saying its vastly superior to on-site solutions if you are are using a quality provider. In my opinion, Microsoft just hasn't gotten its act together in this area. They've overcomplicated things. Google's approach was better - start simple, use web standards, get it working to scale and then add features.

Comment by Francis A. Covington on February 1, 2011 at 8:59am

@Daniel:  I hear what you are saying... Unfortunately the economy has led many organizations to make business decisions based on cost.  There is (however) still a trend to look at making a business decision based on the needs of the business vs. the cost of the solution.  In banking (for example) the key decision maker for Tech decisions is the EVP of Retail Bank. This has led to some key customer driven solutions.  On the opposite end... the Insurance Industry has long been known for keeping technology past its prime Alstate still has a room full of VAX computers. ("If it ain't broke...)

As we move forward, I think that we will see a mixed environment of cloud, and on-site.  The key will be what is the best business decision for the customer (internal or external).  Decision makers will evaluate; performance, cost, user interface, availability, and interoperability (to name a few).  Ford (for example) got it "Quality is Job 1".

Comment by Lou Darnell on February 1, 2011 at 8:38am

Conceptually, I don't disagree with your logic.  Cloud computing is extremely attractive and exciting.  Here are a couple of examples of problems we experienced:

 

When a service became unavailable, we had no idea if the problem was within our network, our Intenet access, the Internet or the vendor's server farm.  This reality creates uncertainty in regard to reliablity and actions to take.

 

We found that different employees at times had different experiences with an application at the same time.  Our conclusion was that each employee could be provided the same service from a different cloud based server.  This also created doubt as to whether the root issue was with a PC, our network, etc. etc.

 

The above didn't happen often but they did happen.  Cloud computing gives the illusion of simplicity but actualy it induces different variables over which the use has less control.

Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 1, 2011 at 8:27am

@Francis re: Microsoft's pricing vs. Google - I agree. @Lou - That is interesting feedback. You are correct in saying there is no golden hammer and that every customer's unique requirements need to be analyzed, but do you think the reversion you described was because of cloud computing in general, or Microsoft's specific offerings?

Of the dozens of companies, schools and non-profits we've seen convert to Google Apps in Hawaii we've never seen a reversion to on-premise solutions and the conversion rates are increasing exponentially. Globally over 3,000 organizations are converting per day. I'd argue that tough times for SMBs in Hawaii should be a catalyst for the move. Its $50/person/year. There is no way to beat that on-site when you account for labor, hardware and lost productivity from outages. I hate to say this in a tough job market, but most SMBs shouldn't have an IT staff. All they need is Google Apps for core IT infrastructure - email, chat (text / voice / video), calendaring, docs, etc. and a good local vendor for questions and occasional support. The larger ones need maybe one tech person on staff. If they have a web app it should be on Amazon EC2 or Google App Engine, not in some dusty server room or hosted with Joe's auto-parts and web hosting. SMBs: As Mika said, Amazon and Google are better at this than you. They are also better at this than Joe (I know he is your friend / neighbor / brother / long time vendor and its sad, but its undeniably true.) Leverage the economies of the cloud.

Of course there are a few exceptions for companies with exotic requirements, but most companies aren't as exotic as they think they are :-)

Disclosure: Our company is a Google partner, but we do a lot of development on the .NET platform, so I'm not an anti-Microsoft kind of guy. Both companies have their strengths and weaknesses. I am, however, very much an anti-on-premise kind of guy, especially for SMBs. Most companies have no business trying to build IT infrastructures because they aren't IT companies. The results are usually poor quality systems that frustrate users and worse, provide poor security.

Comment by Lou Darnell on February 1, 2011 at 7:18am

We used Microsoft's cloud solution for email and other Unified Communication tools (IM, web conferencing, desktop sharing, presence) for over a year and have reverted to on prem servers.  We wanted control, status and the integration with other applications potential not available with the hosted model.

 

Like all things in life, no one approach is ideal and there is always a ditch on both sides of the road.  Also I don't think most businesses without an IT staff have the resources or expertise to investigate new ways of leveraging technology.  Most are focused on surviving today and I doubt many are motivated to break something that works "good enough."

 

I am guessing your intent was to motivate people to question their reliance on and to stimulate thinking on premise based servers.  You got me going.  :)

 

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