Scattering Clouds: Price Surprises and Technical Labyrinths Have an Impact

February 12, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Yep, the cloud. A third-party time sharing services with some 21st-century add ons. I am not too keen on the cloud even though I am forced to use it for certain specific tasks. Others, however, think nothing of using the cloud like an invisible and infinite USB stick. “2023 Could Be the Year of Public Cloud Repatriation” strikes me as a “real” news story reporting that others are taking a look at the sky, spotting threatening clouds, and heading to a long-abandoned computer room to rethink their expenditures.

The write up reports:

Many regard repatriating data and applications back to enterprise data centers from a public cloud provider as an admission that someone made a big mistake moving the workloads to the cloud in the first place. I don’t automatically consider this a failure as much as an adjustment of hosting platforms based on current economic realities. Many cite the high cost of cloud computing as the reason for moving back to more traditional platforms.

I agree. However, there are several other factors which may reflect more managerial analysis than technical acumen; specifically:

  1. The cloud computing solution was better, faster, and cheaper. Better than an in house staff? Well, not for everyone because cloud companies are not working overtime to address user / customer problems. The technical personnel have other fires, floods, and earthquakes. Users / customers have to wait unless the user / customer “buys” dedicated support staff.
  2. So the “cheaper” argument becomes an issue. In addition to paying for escalated support, one has to deal with Byzantine pricing mechanisms. If one considers any of the major cloud providers, one can spend hours reading how to manage certain costs. Data transfer is a popular subject. Activated but unused services are another. Why is pricing so intricate and complex? Answer: Revenue for the cloud providers. Many customers are confident the big clouds are their friend and have their best financial interests at heart. That’s true. It is just that the heart is in the cloud computer books, not the user / customer balance sheets.
  3. And better? For certain operations, a user / customer has limited options. The current AI craze means the cloud is the principal game in town. Payroll, sales management, and Webby stuff are also popular functions to move to the cloud.

The rationale for shifting to the cloud varies, but there are some themes which my team and I have noted in our work over the years:

First, the cloud allowed “experts” who cost a lot of money to be hired by the cloud vendor. Users / customers did not have to have these expensive people on their staff. Plus, there are not that many experts who are really expert. The cloud vendor has the smarts to hire the best and the resources to pay these people accordingly… in theory. But bean counters love to cut costs so IT professionals were downsized in many organizations. The mythical “power user” could do more and gig workers could pick up any slack. But the costs of cloud computing held a little box with some Tannerite inside. Costs for information technology were going up. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to do computing in house? For some, the answer is, “Yes.”

2 11 ostrich

An ostrich company with its head in the clouds, not in the sand. Thanks, MidJourney, what a not-even-good-enough illustration.

Second, most organizations lacked the expertise to manage a multi-cloud set up. When an organization has two or more clouds, one cannot allow a cloud company to manage itself and one or more competitors. Therefore, organizations had to add to their headcount a new and expensive position: A cloud manager.

Third, the cloud solutions are not homogeneous. Different rules of the road, different technical set up, and different pricing schemes. The solution? Add another position: A technical manager to manage the cloud technologies.

I will stop with these three points. One can rationalize using the cloud easily; for example a government agency can push tasks to the cloud. Some work in government agencies consists entirely of attending meetings at which third-party contractors explain what they are doing and why an engineering change order is priority number one. Who wants to do this work as part of a nine to five job?

But now there is a threat to the clouds themselves. That is security. What’s more secure? Data in a user / customer server facility down the hall or in a disused building in Piscataway, New Jersey, or sitting in a cloud service scattered wherever? Security? Cloud vendors are great at security. Yeah, how about those AWS S3 buckets or the Microsoft email “issue”?

My view is that a “where should our computing be done and where should our data reside” audit be considered by many organizations. People have had their heads in the clouds for a number of years. It is time to hold a meeting in that little-used computer room and do some thinking.

Stephen E Arnold, February 12, 2024


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