With Technology growing at such a rapid pace in the last few years, Outsourcing IT services has become more and more popular. In this article I will share my personal experiences and opinions regarding the pros and cons of cloud services.
I recently made a shift from a small non-profit organization to a rather large company (5000+ users). So I can understand what it is like to view the IT world from both perspectives. In my previous position, I was a Network Engineer for a healthcare provider. When I was brought on board, my very first project was to migrate our datacenter to the cloud. Microsoft Azure was the provider selected for this project. This decision was made after a tour of their facility. It was only a few hours from our location and it was reassuring to know where our data lived.
We subscribed to Azure for Virtualization as well as their Infrastructure as A Service (IAAS). The infrastructure was required to connect a tunnel back to the office and to successfully setup Active Directory Federated Services.
The Virtualization project went fairly well. We setup many fresh Windows Server 2012 R2 machines and moved our databases over to them. We had roughly 60 Virtual machines hosted in Azure. They ranged from everything including Application, Database, Development Servers and QA Servers. This was almost 100% completed when we discovered that some of our third party products used for HR and Accounting did not support remote clients (off site). The database connections did not like going through the cloud and connections were very spotty even with dedicated connections. When we reached out to the vendors for support, they were quick to say they did not support cloud solutions simply because they have not tested it themselves and they highly suggest we locally host their application server and databases.
Since this was not immediately an option because we passed the point of no return, I was able to remedy the situation by creating a terminal server in the cloud and allowing the users to remote desktop into a machine in the cloud to use the applications. This worked because the client application was on the same physical network as the application server.
The Azure solution was doing its job and everyone was happy for about 4 months. Then Christmas (2014) came, and you may remember hearing something about Xbox live being shut down due to a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDOS). There was a group who calls themselves “The Lizard Squad”, they had promised the world that they would shut down Xbox Live for the holidays, and well… They kept that promise. I only mention this because Xbox Live is hosted in the Azure Cloud. For a full week before Christmas, we were having dropped connections, failed sessions and breaks in our VPN Tunnel to Azure. I contacted Microsoft support several times during this week and each time we had troubleshooted and tried everything to determine the cause, yet each ticket went unresolved. They never acknowledged or publicly announced they were having issues with Azure. However, Xbox Live did make a public announcement and explained what was happening to their service. I tried to use the Xbox announcement as ammo with Azure support, but they genuinely had no clue. Luckily, the Service Level Agreement (SLA) was never officially breached because we only lost connectivity for a few minutes at a time and over the course of 7 days it only added up to about 50 minutes.
The biggest CON of going to the cloud is that you are placing all of your “eggs in one basket” so-to-speak. When an issue arises, you are helpless. Your fully qualified IT Professionals are now reduced to a normal people who can do nothing more than sit on the phone holding for support. Microsoft Azure Support has a minimum of 4 hour response time and even then, it was an average of 12 hours before a third party non-Microsoft contractor would contact you back.
In summary, the cloud has a lot of hype. The marketing teams of cloud vendors do a lot to ramp up the excitement of using cloud services. But, from a business standpoint you must ask yourself the following questions when considering going to the cloud:
How much would it cost your business if your network went down for an hour? two? three?
Would you have to start sending people home if it lasted longer than that?
Do you like to have control over your assets?
Are you ready to let someone whom you do not know run the critical infrastructure of your business?
As an IT professional, there is nothing worse than having production environment be down and all you can do is make a phone call and twiddle your thumbs.
If you; or someone you know, is thinking of joining the cloud bandwagon, then please consider the pros and cons and evaluate the challenges involved with outsourcing your IT resources.