When considering a move to the cloud, perhaps the most important question isn’t what vendor to use, but which apps will run best in the cloud. The answer will probably turn out to be some, but not all. Here are a few things to consider when thinking of clouding your applications.
First, there’s always the question of what sort of cloud you’re going to use—infrastructure, software, or platform? If your planned cloud platform is infrastructure/hardware as a service, then it’s a no-brainer. A pure IaaS vendor (Amazon’s close, as would one of the Hyper-V hosting offerings) only offers virtual machines and doesn’t give a hoot what software you run on it, so in that case software support is pretty much exactly the same as it was, pre-cloud—your current IT folks handle the support in essentially the same way that they currently do. You will neither incur extra costs nor cost savings on the support end, save for the ones I’ve enumerated in past articles (i.e., extra bandwidth and the like).
Next, is the cloud you’re contemplating one that’s built around a particular vendor’s applications, like Salesforce.com’s, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) sort of cloud? Well, now, that could be a winner or, at least in theory should be a winner. The whole underlying reason why anyone would even think of moving the lifeblood of their company—their organizational data—offsite is, as always in the cloud world, cost savings.
But is expecting that a cloud vendor can support an application more cheaply than our IT folks can a reasonable expectation? In certain circumstances it might be, for two reasons: returns to scale and better knowledge of the application. While it’s not always true that scaling up an economic operation lowers its per-unit costs (there are numerous examples of industries with constant or even decreasing returns to scale), the majority of IT-related enterprises should scale well. (In other words, setting up and maintaining one exchange server for one organization is expensive in terms of learning curve and/or salaries of Exchange experts, but once you’ve invested in putting in that first Exchange server, it shouldn’t usually cost anywhere near fifty times that amount to set up and maintain forty-nine more Exchange servers.) And by “better knowledge,” I’d hypothesize that if I did want to run those fifty servers and went shopping for a couple of Exchange administrators then I’d hope I’d get fairly good productivity if I could choose folks who actually worked for the Exchange team at Microsoft, or who had excellent access to that team.
If you want to see a cloud-based application support example where “bigger is cheaper and often better,” just look to what I’ve always considered the earliest set of cloud vendors: web hosting firms. The vast majority of websites are simple and the idea of an non-technical organization (or individual) spending the time and money to acquire a routable IP address, server class machine, web software, etc. to host its own website is clearly a mite nutty, and if we’re considering the range of applicability of cloud-based application support, web hosting for most website owners sits over on the “great match” side of things as a case of centralized expertise and economy of scale.