If you’re working on a technology strategy for a small business, you’ve probably heard that tons of cheap storage and computing power is available in the cloud, or that hardware is so cheap now, you can build your own data center. In the strictest sense, both of these statements are true. But is the data center or storage business the business you want to be in? If not, you might want to think twice about rolling out your own. Let’s examine each of these statements a little more closely:
- “I can build my own data center.” Sure you can. But do you want to pay someone to maintain the servers, network switchgear, and the building itself? How will you manage patches and upgrades to applications and operating systems? How about installing and maintaining a security system? What about running firewalls and antivirus protection? Do you want to hire a night watchman? Have you thought about your energy bill? How will you manage resource allocation, virtualization and monitor machine health? You’re going to end up spending a lot more money than you should. Unless you are a large Web provider or Fortune 500 enterprise, you don’t need to build your own data center. The cloud is there for you. It’s secure, redundant, scalable and cost-effective. That data center you build in a warehouse on the edge of town is likely not going to be any of those things.
- “I can get a great deal on storage at Amazon EC2.” It’s true: Amazon Web Services (AWS) epitomizes the value of the public cloud. But it only removes the physical maintenance problems of running your own data center. Other than that, you’re pretty much on your own. Do you know how to build an application on top of Amazon S3? Do you know how to write to storage through their API? Have you ever tried to get someone at Amazon on the phone? AWS is great if you have an experienced Web-scale engineer who can devote his time to managing the deployment. Everyone else should think about donning a flotation device before jumping in that pool. (Just so you don’t think I am picking on Amazon, for the most part the same is true of Rackspace, Softlayer or Savvis. Amazon is just the biggest kid on the block.)
- “I want to learn how to run my own private cloud.” Doubtless you could develop the expertise, but is it the business you’re in? As a small business you probably barely have enough resources – time, attention, and money – to get things done that are core to your business and your customers. It’s key not to dilute your efforts by trying to run things yourself unnecessarily.
So let’s talk about those “flotation devices” that can get you started in the cloud. There are so many services out there today that provide one-stop shopping and commoditized cloud storage for small businesses, it would be foolhardy not to investigate and pick from one of them. One of the great things about 21st-century technology is that it allows businesses to scale and mature much more quickly than in the past. With robust security, push-button provisioning, on-tap capacity and 24-hour phone support, most cloud vendors are competing on price, which benefits you, the small business.
As a small business owner, there’s always tension between what to handle yourself and what to leave to professionals. Given the expertise and affordability of cloud storage, it makes sense to leave the cloud to the professionals and focus on your core strengths.