04 May 2012

Cloud lessons learned

It’s an interesting time in the cloud services world. Many early adopters are coming out of their initial three-year contracts and they’re looking to renew. With the benefit of experience, some have developed strong opinions about what they’re going to pursue in a solution this time around, and what they’re going to avoid. Multi-tenancy blues One noticeable trend is a lack of enthusiasm for multi-tenanted services. These are services in which you share the same application (an online CRM for example) as other businesses, even though it appears (to you) that you don’t. Your data remains partitioned and protected from other users, but you share an application environment. It’s a subtle difference to the alternative, which is single-tenancy or ‘dedicated’ services, where you’re provided with your own virtual application and operating system, and where your business is the only user in that environment. For a simple recap, here are the three main ways to serve an application:
  • On your own hardware in your own office (the traditional or ‘old school’ way).
  • Via a shared application, with your own partitioned data (multi-tenancy).
  • Via a dedicated application and operating system, hosted in a virtualised environment (single tenancy).
Some cloud providers prefer multi-tenancy because it reduces their overheads and allows them to make the most efficient use of their resources, while simplifying their management tasks. However, some early adopters are now trying to avoid these types of solutions. They have many, at times subtle, reasons for doing so: Data Some multi-tenancy users still have concerns about the potential co-mingling of data. While providers are careful to deploy the latest security patches and the like, on multi-tenant solutions businesses do share with other unknown customers – a situation that many prefer to avoid. Limits Multi-tenanted solutions make per-user customisation a step more difficult. Thus, while they may be less expensive to run, they are harder to tailor. Integration trouble is also a complaint. Users of multi-tenanted Microsoft Exchange services, for example, have found it hard to integrate their exchange and PABX systems.

Migration

Multi-tenancy can also add additional levels of difficulty to migration processes, which some cloud users looking to transition are now complaining that they’re discovering.

Dedicated services

The solution that some early adopters have now decided to insist on is a dedicated approach, where they are the only user on their virtual instance – separating both their data and their application. When considering a cloud service, always ask your provider whether you’ll receive a single or multi-tenanted solution. Where appropriate, ask whether your environment will include your own file system and Active Directory, and evaluate your current and future needs. It can still be a case of horses for courses, but a dedicated service will always offer higher levels of flexibility, customisation and security.

Licencing update

While talking about a move to the cloud, it’s also worthwhile mentioning that a while ago Microsoft changed its licencing rules. It used to be that those transitioning to the cloud could not take their software licences with them. Now, those with enterprise agreements can port them directly into new cloud options. It’s an important change for businesses that have been holding off on cloud projects in order to get the most from their current agreements. Your cloud provider should be able to discuss your licencing options in detail. Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT. (This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on May 03 2012)
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