Cloud-First Strategy and Its Benefits for Business
A cloud-first strategy can feel like a big jump from traditional setups. One of the benefits of a hybrid or on-premises strategy is you feel like you’re in control. You and your team know where your critical servers live. You can touch them. Your team understands your security processes, and you can easily verify security personnel follow them. Those are all significant benefits.
However, a growing number of software teams are choosing to move to cloud-first strategies. Cloud-first strategies carry several business benefits, and many benefits for Operations teams. Should your team adopt a cloud-first strategy? Let’s examine the benefits and find out if it’s right for you.
What Is a Cloud-First Strategy?
Cloud-first strategies are operations strategies where teams move all or most of their infrastructure to cloud-computing platforms like AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure. Instead of using physical resources like server clusters, they house resources—even mission-critical and secure resources—in the cloud. To teams used to co-located hardware, this might seem radical. However, the opposite is also true. Developers who adopt a cloud-first mentality find the idea of tying your servers to a physical location unthinkable. Cloud-first teams don’t think of their servers as discrete pieces of hardware or even virtual servers. Instead, they think of them as software to fulfill a business function. That the software eventually runs on some physical CPU is a secondary concern.
Why Choose a Cloud-First Strategy?
There’s a cornucopia of reasons businesses choose cloud-first strategies. We won’t be able to touch on all of them here. But we can touch on the highlights. The balance of importance will vary by company. Some companies love the low cost of cloud-first practices, while others love the scalability. Whether those benefits matter to your company will be a question for you and your team to discuss. It’s vital to understand the variety of benefits, so you can make an informed decision.
Perhaps the most publicized benefit of cloud computing, auto-scaling allows a cloud provider to automatically scale the resources dedicated to an application. If the cloud provider detects your application’s CPU or memory usage is too high for too long, it bumps you to the next resource tier. When configured correctly, the cloud provider does this without involving a human being. If your website experiences a big traffic spike, they’ll upgrade your server hardware on the fly, so you don’t let customers down. Of course, you’ll pay more for the privilege. But often, the increased customer traffic is more than worth the increased server costs.
One benefit to cloud computing providers is the APIs they expose. You’re probably familiar with the age-old struggle of trying to get a new service online. You need to ask an IT team, which needs to get a sign-off from a manager to provision a new server. Before that happens, your ticket might sit in a queue, or you’ll need to negotiate with a vendor. Bringing a database online can feel like a punishment usually reserved for ancient Greek mythology.
Cloud-first strategies do away with all of that. Because you don’t control the hardware, getting new services online only requires approval for the capital spend. Many teams take this a step further and define their entire infrastructure right within their code. A cloud-first strategy allows your team to determine what they need for their software and let a build pipeline handle the tedious parts for them.
Most teams servicing dedicated hardware have an entire test environment they set up and maintain. As we noted before, hardware changes can be a real bear to push through in these kinds of environments. That goes double when you have a test environment to think of. What’s worse is these environments are stateful. When developing new software features, the team spends time thinking about how to apply these patches. Teams spend countless hours for each release ensuring they can patch from the current version to the new one. When this doesn’t work correctly, the company incurs significant costs.
With a cloud-first strategy, this isn’t a concern. Because resources are quick and easy to provision, developers don’t need to worry about patching from version A to version B. Instead, they can spin up an entirely new environment running version B when version B is ready. Once this new environment starts serving customers, the cloud provider retires version A. The most aggressive teams move toward having two production environments running at the same time. That’s simple if you’re living in the cloud.
Any business, whether in the cloud or on-prem, is looking to make money. In fact, cost can be a mental blocker toward adopting a cloud-first strategy, but it shouldn’t be. For most companies, cloud computing is a cost-effective means of hosting infrastructure. Pricing is transparent, and major cloud providers provide cost calculators. If your business is located outside a major city, there are additional benefits to cloud computing. For instance, all cloud computing centers are located on or near internet backbones. If you’re located in a small town, there’s no amount you can pay for the kind of connectivity at your office.
Once you add up the costs of renting physical space, connectivity, power, and cooling, cloud computing is often cost-effective for all but the largest computer users.
No reliability engineer likes getting a page at 2 a.m. They especially don’t like to learn a disk drive on a critical server is failing or the power went out. Yet, these are the realities of living with physical hardware. Someone has to service the hardware. Service outages happen at inopportune times. Cloud-first strategies dispense all of this. Instead, the maintenance belongs to the cloud computing provider. They’re the ones who maintain hardware and make sure there are uninterruptible power supplies connected. Even if an entire data center goes offline, these providers configure automatic failover to backup data centers. When application availability is critical to your business, a cloud-first strategy beats dedicated hardware every time.
Your team needs to know what your application is doing. When you’re running dedicated hardware, dozens of different application and device log sources are connected. While it’s doable, it’s a lot of work. On the cloud, it’s not nearly so complicated. Software tools like SolarWinds® Loggly® integrate natively with cloud providers. Instead of trying to plug together disparate applications, software combines logs into a single dashboard. Your team knows how your application is performing all the time, at a glance. This gives you more insight into your software and keeps you in the loop when you’re experiencing problems.
Is a Cloud-First Strategy Right for You?
In the end, it’s up to your business to decide if a cloud-first strategy is the right fit. Nobody can make the decision for you. But, it’s worth understanding there are several great reasons businesses adopt cloud computing. Like we noted, the relative value will change depending on your team. It could be that none of the benefits suit your team. Cloud computing isn’t the right choice for every business, and it might not be for yours. The good news is every cloud computing platform makes it easy to start on their service. Often, minor tiers of service are completely free and take a few minutes to set up. If you’re thinking about moving your business to the cloud, there’s never been a better time to start, and it’s easy to try things out.
This post was written by Eric Boersma. Eric is a software developer and development manager who’s done everything from IT security in pharmaceuticals to writing intelligence software for the US government to building international development teams for non-profits. He loves to talk about the things he’s learned along the way, and he enjoys listening to and learning from others as well.
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