I’m about to make a cup of tea, discover I’ve run out of milk. Do I make the five minute walk to the village shop to purchase my milk, or do I hop in the car and drive there in under a minute? If it’s raining, the car probably gets the vote, but I still have to find a parking space – not easy where the shop is located. I certainly couldn’t take a bus or train to buy my milk, and chartering a plane to make the journey would be plain ludicrous – the cost would be prohibitive, and I suspect that the shop would be somewhere on the runway anyhow! And I guess I could go online and order some milk and wait for it to be delivered. But I might have to add some other items to make up a minimum order price, and I suspect that my tea would have gone cold, if not grown mould, by the time the delivery was made.
I want to go on holiday somewhere hot and by the sea – plenty of options available. Chances are I won’t be walking to any of them (even if we were having a great UK summer!). I might go on a coach or train, but the journey time to, say, a Greek island, would eat in to my holiday time significantly, and I’d need to make the last bit of the journey via boat. But the cost might be very reasonable. So, flying is the most obvious and sensible option - but I’m not likely to buy a plane and fly myself and my family to Crete. Too expensive by far, and I’d need to learn how to fly the plane. Nope, I’ll go to the local airport and let someone else, a flying specialist, take me there at a price I can afford.
Right now, in the world of work, the data centre and IT professionals, now joined by many other ‘non-technical’ staff, are having to make these kinds of choices when it comes to what technologies, products and services they need to acquire to meet the needs of their businesses. Indeed, thanks to a whole raft of recent technology developments, the choices have never been so many. The downside? Making these choices can be a complex process when it comes to evaluating the respective CAPEX and OPEX of the different options.
The major positive is that, as with the flying example above, the emergence of Cloud and Managed Services provides the very real possibility that previously unaffordable technologies are within reach of almost all businesses. So, many projects that were labelled ‘nice to do but unaffordable’ can now be implemented by hiring in the relevant IT and data centre services for the short space of time required to make the project happen – or even on a longer term basis. After all, acquiring the necessary compute, storage and networking hardware (not to mention the required data centre support infrastructure) for, say a Big Data project, could run into six figures. Hiring in the same resource via a managed service could result in a small, three figure (certainly no more than low four figure) monthly bill. Suddenly, a world of data analytics possibilities has opened up!
On a more mundane level, the availability of colos, Cloud providers and MSPs, also provides a much needed and safe pair of hands to which to turn if your existing, in-house data centre and IT infrastructure is under pressure – whether this pressure be short term, and variable, or longer term and requiring you to make a significant refresh investment. In the short term example, ‘bursting’ is the name given to the possibility of increasing your compute/data centre resource to address a specific period of busier than usual activity. Most commonly cited is the run-up to Christmas, where retailers do the majority of their annual turnover in a few short weeks of intense activity. Whereas previously they would have needed to have to build the infrastructure to cope with such a peak demand, and then watch much of this resource sit idle for well over half the year, companies can simply hire in the extra infrastructure for the time required.
Alternatively, an inadequate data centre and IT infrastructure would have led to major problems – a website crash or an order or logistics backlog – leading to many unhappy (ex) customers.
And it’s not just at Christmas that such business agility offered by colo, Cloud and Managed Services makes sense. No, these options can keep giving throughout the year. How many companies experience a peak in IT-related activity around, say, a major product launch or, in the case of the sports world, imagine the online traffic spikes experienced by the major championship organisers (Wimbledon, The Open etc.) in the immediate run-up, and during, the actual events?
No longer do companies face the stark choice of making a massive investment for a minimal, but vital, usage period, or simply losing prospective and existing customers as websites, email systems and the like crash as the inadequate infrastructure on which they run goes into meltdown.
And then we have the companies that do not yet exist, or are in their infancy. How many business plans have been transformed from fanciful to practical by the simple change in the IT world from the need for CAPEX investment to the option of OPEX spending? I’ve heard more than one presenter describe how he or she purchased the necessary data centre/IT resources via a personal credit card from one or more Cloud or Managed Service provider in order to get the business up and running. Before this brave new world of agility and choice, you’d have needed quite a large limit on your plastic to afford the necessary servers, networking and storage, not to mention the various software licences.
And I’m fairly sure that I’ve read somewhere recently that one of the major Public Cloud providers is now offering ‘per second’ billing. Now you can’t get more granular and flexible than that!
So, the menu of today’s data centre and IT infrastructure options is vast. The trick is in knowing how to create the most cost-effective and optimised environment that makes sense for your business. How to combine, say, your existing in-house resources with some of the third party offerings to create the ultimate hybrid environment.
Just a word of caution. There needs to be a balance struck between flexibility, reliability and customer loyalty if your hybrid strategy is to provide you with the best possible outcomes. All good and well to play ‘fast and lose’ with the providers, moving from service to service, always looking for the cheapest deal, but don’t be surprised if the support you receive is similarly ‘random’. Okay, so working with fewer, less price-driven partners might cost a bit more, but the peace of mind you will have from knowing that these organisations really do value your business and are there to help when things go wrong (as they always will do), could be priceless.