Breaking down the fact and fiction of cloud vs. on-prem

Cloud vs a new on-premises
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Blackboard)

During challenging times, when most businesses just try to survive, the next set of market leaders build for the future. Therefore, during this pandemic, simply supporting remote work is not enough because growing companies are investing in agility and efficiency. While laggards are keeping the lights on, leaders are preparing to capitalize on the next wave of opportunity, using cloud computing.

About the author

Stephen Manley is the Chief Technologist at Druva.

Despite the overwhelming momentum of cloud, IT organisations are still paralyzed by the “cloud” vs. “on-premises” debate. Myths about cost, security, and data protection derail cloud initiatives, while other companies gain competitive advantage from cloud’s flexibility. By understanding the true costs and benefits of the cloud, businesses can make an informed decision and prepare for the future.

Cost Effectiveness

Discussions about cloud costs tend to be both extreme and vague. One side touts superscalar users that save mind-boggling sums of money. The other side points to horrifying cloud bills bursting with “hidden fees.” The middle ground is littered with platitudes like “Cloud works well for ‘dynamic applications’” which many take to mean that only applications using Kubernetes, serverless functions, and object-storage could possibly be cost-effective.

Even without re-architecting applications, companies should be able to save money in the cloud with three different initiatives. First, move to SaaS applications for core services. SaaS providers like Druva create highly optimized cloud applications, so they can pass the savings to the customers. Second, shut down smaller data centers and move their workloads to cloud. 

Even without tuning the applications for cloud, the operational and capital savings of eliminating data centers outstrips any inefficiencies. The third initiative is to migrate applications that are over-provisioned or running on the wrong type of data center infrastructure. Cloud offers a chance to optimize even static applications with a broader menu of compute and cloud storage options than most companies can run in their data centers.

The biggest secret to extracting value from the cloud is to create momentum. Don’t waste time debating the 10% of applications that will be difficult to move. Just as some companies never fully virtualized, some will never fully move to the cloud. Fortunately, as you migrate simple workloads to the cloud, you will save money, free up capacity for on-premises applications, and build a “cloud-first” organisation.

Security and Compliance

The question is not whether the cloud is more secure than on-premises, but how businesses can best use the cloud to improve their security. For over a decade, compliance agencies, cyber criminals, and customers have probed cloud providers for vulnerabilities. The relentless scrutiny has driven cloud and SaaS providers to invest in teams and technology to outpace potential threats. 

In fact, Gartner wrote “the majority of cloud providers invest significantly in security, realizing that their business would be at risk without doing so.” As a result, cloud now has some of the highest levels of security available, backed by broad federal certifications. Conversely, most individual businesses lack the expertise, time, and staff to keep pace with sophisticated and continuously evolving attacks.

The cloud provider ensures the security of the environment, but the customer is still responsible for their data. Thus, customers should encrypt data in movement and at rest, verify that object stores are not exposed to the outside world, and manage their network policies closely. Cloud teams must also protect from internal threats, especially through network monitoring for unusual user activity and access patterns. Finally, since organisations are creating more accounts within the cloud, security checks need to be automated, so they can scale with the cloud environment.

A secure cloud can then improve cyber security for the on-premises environment. When hackers breach a data center, they attack both production and backup environments, so the company has no choice but to pay the ransom. Many IT teams are trying to retrofit air gapped backups onto their existing solution, which is an error-prone and expensive process. With a SaaS data protection provider, the data is automatically isolated and immutable, so customers can be confident their cloud backups will always be safe and rapidly recoverable.

Protecting Your Data

While customers worry too much about cost and security, they worry too little about protecting their data. While cloud providers protect the IT infrastructure, you are responsible for your data. Furthermore, data in the cloud is subject to the same litigation, compliance, and governance requirements as it was on-premises. It is also just as likely to be deleted or corrupted due to user error, application error, or malicious internal users. Many business teams do not consider the risks to their data when they use cloud, but data protection is more important than ever.

While the core protection requirements in the cloud and on-premises are the same, the users’ expectations are not. Self-service and agility are so important in the cloud that teams will not wait for “backup teams” to configure protection or run restores. Instead, protection must be built into the environment, so that new application data can be automatically backed up. 

Then, in the event of an issue, application owners need to be able to run self-service recoveries from their application’s interface. Meanwhile, in the background, the cloud team should centrally manage creating, securing, and retaining the backups. Successful organisations protect both data centers and cloud, but they evolve their legacy technology and processes to meet their cloud teams’ needs.

Business flexibility

Once a customer has shifted to a “cloud-first” environment, they uncover the true competitive advantage - the sheer speed of scaling resources up and down. While it takes months to procure and install on-premises infrastructure, a team can provision cloud capacity in minutes. More importantly, unlike capital expenditures, cloud capacity can also be released in minutes.

Organisations worry about the risk of investing either too early or too late to take advantage of a resurgent economy. If they invest too late, their competitors bypass them. If they invest too early, they can be forced to make deep cuts. Therefore, most companies move cautiously. With the flexibility of the cloud, however, market leaders are preparing to move aggressively.

Once you get past the myths to the truth about the cost, security, and protection of the cloud, you can see the value of its flexibility. Cloud shifts infrastructure from a cost center to a strategic platform that helps companies embrace opportunities in an uncertain future. Those that thrive in a period of change will be agile, secure and able to scale at speeds that out-compete rivals. Done right, scaling with the cloud can help companies become the new market leaders.

Stephen Manley

Stephen Manley is the Chief Technologist at Druva. 

Druva delivers data protection and management for the cloud era. Druva Cloud Platform is built on AWS and offered as-a-Service; customers drive down costs by over 50 percent by freeing themselves from the burden of unnecessary hardware, capacity planning, and software management.