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Leaping to the clouds

An introduction to cloud platforms

Leaping to the clouds:
An introduction to cloud platforms

Cloud computing has been around as long as the world wide web in some form or another. At first, internet companies used data centres of servers to offer their services, and quickly learned how to overcome the nuances and complexities of the infrastructure. It was quickly obvious that these learnings and intellectual property can be harnessed into its own service offering, and that was the birth of cloud computing as we know it today. Cloud computing has become a cornerstone of digital transformation and IT modernisation strategies for businesses that want to remain competitive.

1. The business and operational benefits of moving to a cloud platform

Simply put, cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of IT resources including servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence—over the Internet. There are typically three main types of cloud computing, as opposed to traditional on-premise hosting:

    • On-premise infrastructure: Self-managed, on-site software and infrastructure installed within an enterprise’s IT environment. This is a traditional approach where you purchase the licenses for the required hardware and software, and manage the stack yourself.
    • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): A cloud service that acts like a virtual data centre. The service provider provides all servers, networking and storage resources, so the enterprise can perform a number of activities.
    • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Utilising cloud platforms for both computing resources and platform services, PaaS delivers a framework for developers that they can build upon and use to create customised applications.
    • Software as a Service (SaaS): A way of delivering specific applications over the internet, as a service, instead of installing and maintaining the software. These services package solutions to specific problems in a widely accessible way.

Below are some key benefits a business can expect to achieve when adopting cloud infrastructure:

 

a) Flexibility for scale

Cloud computing allows businesses to scale their computing resources as demand for their solutions scales with transparent pricing. This means that as the business requirements change and customer behaviour evolves, the computing needs are scaled to match and priced accordingly. 

b) Reliability

Most businesses are not data centre businesses, so why would you invest in architecting and maintaining servers and networks? The cloud abstracts much of the responsibility to specialists who manage the respective cloud platform. Cloud platforms provide reliable disaster and data recovery mechanisms which is difficult to accomplish on self-managed data centres.

c) Cost

Cloud computing is cheaper than on-premise infrastructure in terms of CAPEX (initial procurement of hardware) and OPEX (maintaining, upgrading, and disaster recovery for data centres). Although this is true most of the time; it’s dependent on the cloud services being used, and their configurations. Many cloud services can be tweaked and optimised to be more cost efficient while providing the same level of service.

d) Time-to-market

Cloud platforms offer more than just computing. They offer suites of functional services that encapsulate complex code plumbing, and provide rich reliable functionality like robust storage, real-time logic functions and machine learning capabilities.

    • Most security by default: Cloud platforms have spent time ensuring the right security protocols are in place for accessing services and data on the network. Secure certificates, rigid access and privilege control is built into how cloud services are offered. Security patches to operating systems and underlying frameworks are almost always up-to-date automatically.
    • Engineering productivity: By abstracting the complexity and nuances with “plumbing” infrastructure, developers can be more productive by concentrating on business-value focused applications rather than fighting infrastructure fires. Monitoring and debugging issues are also more efficient on cloud platforms due to their extensive logging and service analytics features. Cloud platforms also provide tooling to better support distributed teams, which is a growing trend.

2. Comparing cloud platforms

The competition for domination in public cloud computing is a fierce three-way race: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

Below is a comparison of these leading cloud platforms’ market share worldwide.

Even though the market is largely dominated by the above three platform providers, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant includes a graphical competitive positioning of other technology providers for more niche use cases and applications:

Alibaba Cloud: Holds the biggest market share among cloud providers in China and Asia-Pacific for IaaS. Provides industry-specific solutions for retail, healthcare, finance, and more.

Oracle: Provides infrastructure services, data storage, and cloud applications. Also offers industry-specific solutions for communications, engineering and construction, hospitality, and more. Oracle Cloud has a strong partnership with Microsoft Azure, so their customers can run their workloads across the two clouds.

IBM: IBM is reshaping itself as a hybrid cloud and AI company. Their cloud services focuses on solutions for AI, mobile, automation, blockchain, app modernisation, chatbots and more.

Tencent Cloud: Similar to Alibaba but with limited product offering. Tencent has a wealth of gaming capabilities, and offers a game ecosystem based on the cloud.

3. When to choose which cloud provider

The big three cloud providers, Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud are mostly comparable in the functionality they provide.

a) Strategy

Your enterprise’s digital strategy might comprise of many software solutions that support the business with many teams and business units involved. Choosing a cloud provider should be based on a longer-term vision where there is a need for convergence of data and systems. This doesn’t happen overnight. Moving sensible components to the cloud or building new components on the cloud should be dictated by a clearly thought-through roadmap. Convergence and synchronisation of teams comes down to establishing a clear yet lean ways of working mechanism.

b) Skill sets

A major factor in selecting a cloud provider is the availability of skills for the respective platform. Solutions are driven by engineering teams, and since different cloud providers have different mechanisms to achieve similar ends, having the right skills available is critical. AWS tends to be more complicated to operate and provides a number of courses to up-skill developers. Azure tends to be more user-friendly, but also offers courses for architecting systems. Google Cloud is known for being the easiest to use.

c) Regional availability and data regulations

Different cloud providers support different features in different regions. This has an impact on the latency of solutions. Evaluating the supported services and future roadmap for each platform in your specific region can guide which platform is best for you.

GDPR, POPIA, and CCPA, and other data privacy regulations contain effective mechanisms to protect consumer information, but create complexities for technical solutions in terms of how data is stored, processed, and transferred. The physical location of the data centre processing your data plays a role in compliance to these regulations.

In conclusion, choosing a service provider and setting up a cloud roadmap will require a thorough analysis of your enterprise’s requirements. This will be key to determining which provider will best support your ongoing business, operational, security, and compliance goals. Avoid putting the platform first, and rather put the problem first – this will allow you to choose and use the best tech for the job.

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