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What’s the perfect time to start using public clouds

The majority of people would answer ‘Now’ and skip the rest of this article. Sometimes they are right but there are cases when public clouds bring risks and issues.

As usual, by public clouds I mean AWS, MS Azure, GCP and Alibaba, but the list is not limited to only those names; the rest of the article is related to other smaller players as well.

I’ll be talking about companies with R&D departments which develop some software products for their customers. If you are not in this category, I suggest you consider working with MSPs or use SaaS products for CRM, ticket management, VoIP, etc.

If you are just starting a company

If you are just starting a company, you should always consider public clouds for your workloads. Think about bare metal or private clouds only if you know how to deal with them from configuration, licensing and TCO perspective or you develop a specific product that requires some hardware.

Very often I deal with arguments that ‘We have previous experience with bare metal servers, we know how to procure and support them’. That’s fine and it makes sense to start with something you are familiar with, but there are some issues public clouds solve for you that bare metal and private clouds don’t.

First of all, you don’t need to think about hardware maintenance and upgrades. That means that you can also save on some sysadmin positions at your company.

Secondly, bare metal or private clouds don’t give you flexibility and elasticity. If you need to scale or serve customers in other regions, this is the case where public clouds are a significantly better option.

Thirdly, private clouds and physical machines are hard to backup and restore. If you want to have a disaster recovery solution, you need to have some spare resources being available at any time for a failover. With public clouds you can just pay for the DR software and run a failover taking more instances in a public cloud.

And, finally, public clouds are pure OPEX-based while bare metal and private clouds require capital expenditures which take out your cash and bring more financial risk.

If you are a small or medium-sized company

If you are a small or medium-sized company and use private clouds or bare metal — you should start using clouds at least to simplify your R&D process and make it more agile. There is a bias that public clouds are less secure and bring a risk of ransomware or breach, but the recent researches show that the root cause is not if it’s a private or public cloud but significantly depends on internal processes.

Being in a public cloud means that your engineers don’t need to wait for resources for weeks or months and they don’t need to over-provision to prevent being blocked by lack of resources. There are several case studies published by public clouds with numbers saying that companies accelerated their R&D tasks a few times starting using AWS, Azure or GCP. And I tend to believe that.

The most common way when companies make a conscious decision to move a significant part of their workloads from public to private clouds or just not to use public clouds at all is when their consumption is very high – and that’s when a private cloud and its TCO becomes more efficient. We speak about companies spending at least $10 million per month on a public cloud and it makes sense to mix it with bare metal or a private cloud. Dropbox is one of the examples when companies moved their storage out of AWS because of cost. Another example of a company that uses primarily bare metal is Facebook – they do have some public cloud consumption however 99% of their data runs on bare metal.

If you are an SMB company or an enterprise, public clouds will help you, especially for your R&D processes to make them fast and agile. If your monthly consumption exceeds few million dollars it makes sense to think about private clouds or bare metal machines. But the first thing you need to think about is whether you use public clouds efficiently and whether there is a way to save on cloud costs.

Please, feel free to read my recent article ‘Cloud migration to MS Azure in five steps‘.

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