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Landing On the Right Cloud For You

By Kyle Gingrich

In the last eight years, the “Clouds” have been rolling in. With the introduction and adoption of virtualized hardware, and with businesses shifting models to offer architecture and computing services, the landscape for professionals in networking, system administration and software development has changed significantly.  This change means that there is enormous potential for professional growth opportunities; but being ready for, or keeping current, in the Cloud frontier requires continually developing skills.

So where to begin?  A large part of deciding what skills are needed starts with understanding what  “the cloud” is and, more importantly, who the cloud providers are and what does their solution offer that fits your organizational needs best?

It is also worth noting that before you even begin looking at vendors, you need to understand what type of cloud solution(s) you’re looking for.

There are three cloud types

#1 Public Cloud – Services and infrastructure are off-site and accessed via the internet. Most efficient cloud to implement using a Platform as a service (PaaS) providers, least secure of the three cloud types

#2 Private Cloud – Services and infrastructure are on a private network. This approach is often chosen when security is the most important factor as a private cloud offers the most control and security.

#3 Hybrid Cloud– A combination of public and private cloud, to take advantages of benefits of both private and public cloud features and costs to address specific business requirements.

Figuring out what Cloud solution is best for your organization is a lot like buying a car, while there are many excellent options, which one you choose will depend on finding the one that best meets your needs.

For many, brand will play a significant role in influencing the decision. With a 44.2% of the market share, industry analyst Gartner recently lists Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the clear leader in the IaaS (Infrastructure as a service) sphere. The next closest, Microsoft with Windows Azure, has a 7.1% share, while the number three spot is a close and undecided race between Google Cloud or Alibaba Cloud – depending on which research is cited.

Others will make their decision based on cost. However, this gets tricky as there are several variables to take into account when factoring the total costs for implementing a Cloud solution. To get an initial sense of baseline platform costs, several vendors have provided online pricing tools where you can input basic information to build a quote.

However, since these engagements are typically at an enterprise level, the likelihood that these online quotes are realistic is pretty low; there are many other factors for assessing the costs for an enterprise solution like add-on modules, tiered pricing and discounting, existing vendor agreements and resourcing to name a few.

Just like shopping for a car, comparing features is part of the process. Stackify has developed a helpful side-by-side, feature-by-feature comparison of AWS, Azure, and Google and I’d recommend taking a look, if even just to see the vast array of services and features each provider offers. You may discover there are features available you weren’t aware of that could enhance your Cloud capability.

Below is a brief overview of some featured highlights from the various cloud providers to add to the notes from Stackify.

Since AWS has the largest market share, we’ll start there.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

AWS has been on the market for over ten years and last year earned a whopping $3 billion in profits. Driving its popularity is the broad range of service offerings. A few to mention:

  • 4 classes of settings – content delivery and storage, compute, networking, and database
  • If you currently rely on legacy applications AWS offers solutions like Container Service, Elastic Beanstalk, Lambda, and Batch to facilitate this.
  • Hybrid clouds (see Cloud Types) are popular with companies not ready to turn everything over to the cloud, and AWS can accommodate and work with you through their hybrid cloud deployments such as Storage Gateway, Direct Connect, and DynamoDB Local. Plus, according to Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s chief financial officer, they are currently investing even further in this area, so watch this space.
  • AWS supports Windows, SQL Server and other technologies that .NET developers use and can facilitate Linux users while also offering several other integrations for open source apps.
  • AWS promises compliance with various regulations, such as the HIPAA, DISA, FIPS, among many others.

AWS has always made it a point to provide customers headache-free licensing.  Simply pay for the licenses that you use with no hidden costs.  On a per feature basis, you will find that most of all features offered on Azure have a corresponding or similar feature on AWS.

Microsoft Windows Azure

Microsoft was launched around 2010 making it a relative newcomer. However perhaps because of its long-standing history with many larger corporations, Microsoft is synonymous with larger enterprise customers and not surprisingly, it is very easy for those currently using Windows Server, SQL Server, Exchange, and other Microsoft technologies to move to the cloud. Azure continues this rapport with enterprise users by making sure that integration with Visual Studio is smooth, as well as the integration with Active Directory.  You can even use your current Active Directory account to sign on the Azure platform and Office 365. A few features to mention:

  • It too offers four classes of settings: data management, compute, networking and performance.
  • It has multiple application deployment options with tools to help deploy and scale and if you do need to use a legacy applications Azure offers options there too.
  • Recently, Microsoft has openly embraced open source technologies and now .NET Framework and the new .NET Core runs on Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Azure, like AWS promise compliance with various regulations, such as the HIPAA, DISA, FIPS, among many others.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

On the other side, Google Cloud Platform’s list of features is smaller, but comes with the basic IaaS and PaaS services. Many users find GCP to be very strong in the area of Big Data, with the service enabling companies to analyze large quantities of data in a relatively short amount of time. Plus the service gives you real-time insights about your data, another bonus is a world where data is produced in ever-growing quantities.

There are other points to consider with GCP, and I’d recommend reading this if you are considering this option.

Storage and Locations

Storage may or may not be a major consideration for some organizations. If it is, the prevailing opinion is that AWS offers the best storage capability, plus they also provide extensive documentation and community support.

Though all providers offer storage capabilities, no matter the provider you select, make sure you understand the costing around both implementation and scaling the solution now or in the future.

Location, location, location…when selecting a Cloud provider you need to consider where the physical equipment is located. For example, if the data center in an area that is prone to natural disasters or in an area where the infrastructure is poor for supporting data transfer across continents, that vendor might not be the right fit for what you need. So while all the major vendors provide worldwide coverage – AWS comes with 42 availability zones, Azure 32 and GCP 33- it is important to know the physical location of such centers.

One thing to note is that providers change these centers quite regularly, therefore be sure to check for the most current information as location could be a make or break factor, depending on the solution you are putting in place.

Choosing the best Cloud solution clearly isn’t as simple as buying a car; but it does require the same approach- know what you need, compare features and costs and evaluate service and support agreements and what you’ll need to do to ensure you have right people trained to land you on the right Cloud for your organization.

Kyle Gingrich is the VP of IT and Certification at Skillsoft.

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