Taking first steps away from a local server environment and looking skyward to the “limitless” power of cloud computing is a daunting task. Companies want to access what they perceive as the on-demand, Operating Expense (OpEx) only benefits of the cloud, but many aren’t sure how to start. Virtualization often looks like a great first step, but is this really the way upward, or merely a lateral move?
The Server Whisperer
According to a recent Wired article, the term “cloud” has become muddled with so much hype it’s often difficult to separate fact from fiction – even for experienced IT admins. The result is a jumbling together of all things non-local; from virtualization to private clouds to full-on public options. But is there a best starting point, a fast-track to agility and lower costs?
It’s not uncommon to see providers tout virtualization as form of cloud-lite, but this is misleading at best and damaging at worst. Trouble comes because the cloud and virtualization both fulfill a similar, basic function: moving data off of local servers and PCs. Virtualization allows the creation of virtual “instances”, which run personalized desktops, applications and can be patched or updated in a single pass, rather than individually. Clouds, meanwhile, focus on the use of multiple servers storing similar data to provide substantial gains in redundancy. Public clouds especially leverage the idea of many tenants in a large, resource-rich house, allowing companies to access compute power as needed without worrying about physical hardware limitations.
Although the end results of a virtual or cloud deployment look similar, their underlying mechanics are very different. Many enterprise-level businesses, for example, invest heavily in private servers and create their own virtual environment, complete with strict infrastructure and security requirements. These requirements are easily handled by tailor-made server technology but won’t play nicely with in a public cloud; the cost to move for companies already well down the path to virtualization can be astronomical, and may not offer best results. An on-premise, private cloud environment might be the better step forward, but isn’t a direct line from virtualization.
Making the Choice
Virtualized environments offer huge benefits from local servers, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re a low-altitude form of the cloud. What’s best for a company depends on not only what kind of flexibility they need but where they are in the continuum of OpEx versus CapEx – substantial investment in server technology, for example, likely warrants a move to private cloud technology and home-grown IT support. For companies just starting to climb the cloud staircase, it’s important to know that virtualization represents a similar, effective, but wholly alternative path.