News, articles and opinions on the current trends in the IT industry.

Cloud providers – the backyard IT guy is back

In the recent past, people used to refer to the “backyard” computer guy or company. You know the one who worked in his garage. It is condescending of course but the term was used for good reason.

And in many ways, literally that’s how it was.

Clone assemblers would purchase parts and assemble computers in their garage. And for the most, these computers were fine.

Personal computing was relatively unregulated and purchasing no-name, white label clones was standard practise. Dealing with warranty usually involved exchanging a part for an alternate one in stock.

Backyard computing companies sprang up everywhere.

Parts were sourced from all over the world. The local backyard companies would open up “clone production” as quickly as they would shut down.

As the industry matured, the backyard computer assembler became less common.

As the computing market entered mass production, large IT manufacturers have dominated sales. Clone computers can still be purchased but the market forces mean that production on a larger scale has led to dramatic price drops for name brands.

Even today, computing has remained somewhat of an unregulated industry in that there are no required certifications or education required to provide a service.

There are few regulations as far as equipment, software or the location where it is running. With those elements in play, it provides an environment where misleading marketing and rhetoric are common place.

With the advent of cloud computing, we have seen a return of the backyard style operation as the shift from customer owned equipment to the IT as-a-service model.

The backyard clone guy has become a cloud computing provider.

The term “cloud” has continued the tradition in IT of breeding an environment where it’s difficult to differentiate one provider from another.

Cloud service providers have emerged from everywhere almost overnight. Here is why. 

In principle, it is possible to buy a single 1RU server, install VMWare on it, connect it to the Internet and refer to the company as a cloud computing provider.

With headlines of redundant processors, fans and hard disks, a not so diligent prospective customer might sign up to the service.

In principle, these are cloud services provided by a cloud provider making it difficult to differentiate a ‘backyard’ cloud provider from a company that has made a large investment in infrastructure with multiple contingency plans for redundancy, scalability and reliability.

Ideally, you wouldn’t want to be running your whole business on an environment that was not, let’s say commercial. Customers rarely ask about the infrastructure that’s supporting the applications and data.

They tend to take for granted that there is sufficient infrastructure to support the needs of uptime, reliability, capacity for expansion, application performance and backup. Surely that is a big risk.

Be careful when choosing a cloud provider.

Moving your IT infrastructure partially or fully to the cloud is almost guaranteed to be a part of the future.

Given that all of your applications and data are going to run on “some hardware, somewhere” it’s a very good idea to ensure that your cloud computing provider has an appropriate investment in infrastructure and has a decent balance sheet to support it.

The value of your data should not be underestimated.

Most businesses treat data backup as something that just happens and under the cloud services model they outsource that function to the experts.

That is of course until the data is required to be restored. Outsourcing data management to a backyard cloud provider is seriously scary.

The company data is one of its strongest assets and loss or partial loss could be crippling. Find out during an investigation what exactly is the cloud computing provider’s infrastructure and capability in regards to backing and restoring data.

Commercial service provider viability is worth investigating.

The principles of building recurring revenue businesses are very different to those of selling equipment and services. The payback time is longer and requires a larger cash flow to support the growth.

If the supplier cannot meet their financial obligations, their upstream services might get suspended or canceled and this will affect all of the customers of their service.

For certain, there are new computing cowboys out there recommending services, implementing cloud solutions without the capital, skills or know-how to genuinely provide a robust service.

There are also some providers doing a really good job.

This article was not designed to point the finger at any provider but more to raise awareness of the GCOMM stakeholders to have your eyes open when in discussion with cloud providers.

A significant amount of due diligence might just save a whole lot of future pain.