Hey You, Get Off Of That Cloud

The allure of the cloud is irresistible. Businesses are drawn to the cloud for the promise of flexible compute and storage resources, little or no up-front capital expenses, and the far-from-certain idea that using the cloud costs less than on-premise IT.

However, there is also a large segment of the business market for which the cloud is not the final answer to their IT requirements. And for those looking to get off the cloud and back down to earth, they have as allies their local solution providers who can help find the right balance of cloud and non-cloud technology.

There is no doubt businesses are moving part or all of their IT workloads to some sort of cloud.

[Related: Getting On The Cloud: 12 Cloud Storage Gateways]

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Forrester Research, for instance, this spring projected that the public cloud market will reach $191 billion by 2020, up significantly from $58 billion in 2013. Cloud applications will lead the growth, reaching a value of $133 billion in 2020. It will be followed by $44 million in cloud platforms and $14 billion in cloud business services by then, Forrester predicts.

While solution providers are actively helping customers take advantage of cloud computing, many of them say the cloud is not right for everyone, even those who have already moved part or all of their infrastructure to the cloud.

For some, the move to the cloud was one of convenience at first, but not necessarily one meant to be permanent, said Don James, CEO of Bear Data Solutions, a San Francisco-based solution provider.

San Francisco and the nearby Silicon Valley see a lot of companies start their business in a public cloud as a way to control costs while getting the business up and running as quickly as possible, James told CRN.

"But when many of these companies reach a certain size, they want more security and control of their data," he said. "So they might move to a private cloud, or to an on-premise infrastructure. The migration is not a lot of work if they have built a fairly light environment. Sometimes they already have the servers and storage in their offices."

James said Bear Data has had a couple of customers who experienced hacking and other security issues in the cloud and later wanted to move to private environments.

"The move can be as quick as 30 to 45 days," he said. "Much of that time is for testing to make sure the environment is stable."

Getting The Benefits Of The Cloud

One of the attractions of the cloud is, when a business moves into a new market, it is easier to do so with the cloud rather than investing in its own IT, said Michael Tanenhaus, principal at Mavenspire, an Annapolis, Md.-based solution provider.

"But a couple of years later, it might look cheaper to go with their own IT if they can get it managed at the right cost," Tanenhaus told CRN. "Customers want their IT managed. They want the benefits, but not the cost, of the cloud."

Virtually every business is already in the public cloud, making that the new mainstream play to the point where there's no competitive advantage to being in the cloud, said Dave Unger, director of sales engineering at Blue Chip Tek, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based solution provider.

A more compelling competitive advantage comes from private clouds with self-service capabilities such as those provided by OpenStack or some flavors of VMware, Unger told CRN.

Blue Chip has a number of active engagements going with customers looking to move out of the cloud, Unger said. "The vast majority cite cost containment as the main driver," he said.

Saving money is the worst reason to consider trying to get out of the cloud because of the difficulty in changing the status quo and the fact that it is easier for businesses to shift budgets around and find more money than to find spare manpower to assign to a cloud migration project, Unger said.

Reasons To Be On, Off The Cloud

Unger said there are only two good reasons to consider exiting the cloud: get pushed out because of compliance or key customer requirements, or to gain some other competitive advantage.

Most cloud customers who are motivated by cost containment don't actually need to get out of the cloud, Unger said.

"They just need to present their cloud provider with a compelling threat in order to negotiate enough of a discount to bring the run-rate spending down to a level they can live with," he said. "Or they can put more processes or other speed bumps in the way to slow down consumption of cloud resources. Either way, the goal of reducing spending is always achievable without actually exiting the cloud. That's playing out in over 80 percent of companies that tell me they want to get out of the cloud."

For customers looking for quick innovation, however, private clouds are the place to start, Unger said.

"Once companies start providing self-service access to private cloud environments, the dynamic flips," he said. "Consumption is suddenly encouraged for the first time. That fuels a new wave of innovation. Sometimes the effects are subtle. A developer is a lot more likely to start a high-risk, high-reward skunkworks project in a private cloud where the cost has already been paid in advance than in a public cloud where he might have to explain why he wasted money on a failed project."

Customers are concerned with the uncontrolled nature in which some of them have used cloud resources, said Dave Butler, president of Enterprise Computing Solutions, a Mission Viejo, Calif.-based solution provider.
Such customers have let their employees use company credit cards to buy low-cost cloud-based servers and storage as an alternative to buying the resources, Butler told CRN.

"This was very convenient," he said. "However, they did not monitor or control this so today the cloud-based resources have grown without control or oversight. Questions as to what's out there and justifying the monthly expenses is key for my client. It's funny that most companies have very defined IT processes for their internal IT resources; when they go to cloud they seem to forget or not worry about the same stuff."

This is not necessarily a scenario that will lead the client to leave the cloud, Butler said. "Instead, I think the issue is how do you manage and control what's in the cloud which will drive processes, controls, and new internal guidelines for the cloud in most customers," he said.

This article originally appeared as an exclusive on the CRN Tech News App for iOS and Windows 8.