Someone else driving your car doesn’t make it an Uber

Imagine if you had to lease a car in order to use Uber. That’s the logic behind how many infrastructure software vendors sell their “service” in the cloud. These “services” come in a couple of different flavors, but both of them come down to the same thing: infrastructure set aside for your exclusive use – which means you pay for it.

Private Cloud vendors

There are a lot of “XaaS” vendors that will create a dedicated system for you in their cloud, manage it for you, and then charge it to you as a service. It is definitely “Something as a Service,” as the management of it, including OS and application upgrades, hardware upgrades, and reporting, are all handled for you.  The key to this idea is that you get one bill that includes compute, storage, networking, and management costs.

This is definitely an improvement over managing your own system – from a level of effort perspective.  You don’t have to manage anything but the relationship with the vendor. Depending on your circumstances, you can even make the argument that the vendor in question is better at providing service X than you are. This is especially true of “forgotten” apps like data protection that don’t get the attention they deserve.  You could argue that using a private cloud vendor is better for your data protection than doing it yourself.

What you can’t argue is that it’s less expensive.  There are very few economies of scale in this model. Someone is still paying for one or more servers, some storage, some compute, and some personnel to manage them. They are then marking those things up and passing the cost to you.  There is no way this is cheaper than doing it yourself.

In addition, it’s also important to say that vendors who use the private cloud model don’t come with the same security advantages of those using established public cloud vendors. I know of one vendor that sells their services exclusively via a huge network of MSPs, each of which has a completely different level of capabilities, redundancies, and security practices.  Using a private cloud model requires a customer to look very closely at their infrastructure.

Hosted Software Vendors

Suppose you say you want to use the public cloud for economies of scale, an enhanced security model when compared to private cloud vendors, or maybe someone up higher simply said you needed to start using the public cloud. There are a number of infrastructure vendors that will run their software in VMs in the public cloud, and then offer you a service type of agreement for that software.

Now you are paying two bills: the “service” bill to the infrastructure software vendor, and the cloud provider bill for the compute, storage, and networking services required by this infrastructure vendor. Often in this model, the only service is that the vendor is selling you their software as a subscription.  But the moniker “as a Subscription” doesn’t sound as good as “as a Service,” so they still call this a service.

The problem with this model is that you aren’t getting any of the benefits of the cloud. Typical benefits of the cloud include partial utilization, cloud native services, automated provisioning, and paying only for what you use.  But you’re getting none of those in this model.

Infrastructure products – especially data protection products – are designed around using servers 24×7.  A backup server that isn’t performing any backups is still running 24×7, in case any backup clients request a backup.  That means those VMs you’re running the software on in the cloud have to run 24×7 – so much for partial utilization. A 24×7 cloud VM is very expensive indeed.

Such products are also written to use traditional infrastructure services, like filesystems, block devices, and SQL databases. They don’t know how to use services like S3 and NoSQL databases available the cloud.  In the case of backup software, they might know how to archive to S3 or Glacier, but they don’t know how to store the main set of backups there.

Such products also require manual scaling efforts when your capacity needs grow. You have configure more VMs, configure the software to run on those VMs, and adjust your licensing as appropriate. You’re not able to take advantage of the automated scaling the public cloud offers.

Finally, because you have to provision things in advance, you are often paying for infrastructure before you need it. If you know you’re going to run out of compute, you have to configure a new VM before you do. As you start using that VM, a good portion of it is completely unused. The same is true of filesystems and block storage, especially with backup systems. If your backups and metadata are stored on a filesystem or block storage, you have to manually configure additional capacity before you need it.  This means you’re paying for it before you need it. If the product could automatically make compute available only when you needed it, and use S3 for its storage, you would only pay for compute and storage as you consume it.

Don’t lease a car to take an Uber

See what I mean? In both of these models, you are leasing a car so you can take an Uber.  In the private cloud model, the cost of leasing the system is built into the price of the service, but you’re still paying for that infrastructure 24×7, since it is dedicated to you.  In the public cloud model, you’re paying for the service and you’re leasing the infrastructure 24×7 – even though the service isn’t using the infrastructure 24×7.  Examples of infrastructure products that work like this are Hosted Exchange, SAP Cloud and almost every BaaS/DRaaS/DMaaS vendor.

If you’re going to use the public cloud effectively, you need partial utilization, automated provisioning, and pay-only-for-what-you-use pricing. A true cloud-native product, such as Salesforce.com, Office365, G-Suite, or the Druva Cloud Platform, offers all of those things.  Don’t lease a car to take an Uber.

I don’t often directly push my employers products, but it’s World Backup Day tomorrow so I’m making an exception.  Celebrate it by checking out my employer’s announcement of the Druva Cloud Platform, the only cloud-native data management solution.  It can protect data centers, laptops, mobile devices, SaaS apps like Office 365, G-Suite, and Salesforce.com, and workloads running in the cloud – all while you gain all of the benefits of the cloud, including partial utilization, automated provisioning, and full use of cloud-native tools like S3 and DynamoDB.

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Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Architect at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.

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