Those cloud-hosting rates that vendors promote look great! For a few dollars a month, why would any business want to maintain their own equipment? But it should be no surprise that those attractive rates are all marketing, and all for bare-bone services.
Are you concerned about the costs of cloud hosting? You should be. Lack of information and understanding of cloud operation costs is perhaps the most expensive factor that can affect a company’s bottom line. While the actual migration to cloud technology in itself is a manageable expense, it is often the hidden costs accruing unexpectedly that can result in a nasty increase in your business’ expenditure on the whole.
If certain add-on costs are not stated upfront, how then can you identify them? You just need to know where to look and what to look out for. Hidden and incidental costs of cloud services are often found in the fine print of the contract. Or their need is only discovered only after a major outage or problem. Opting for the wrong storage model or the wrong server price level can impact an operational budget negatively in the long run.
A combination of operational costs – increases in bandwidth, subscription fees, system and staff setup and training contributes significantly to unexpected costs.
Here are some of the commonly experienced costs to be aware of:
Costs of Moving Data
Not knowing how much data you have to move to a cloud services vendor may have you forking out a substantial sum of money. Bandwidth and uploading and downloading costs grow over time. You can project upfront the costs if you know the amount of data that needs to be moved.
The cost of integrating different applications
If your business uses a number of dissimilar applications, integrating them incurs additional costs. Integration management is done for an additional fee as cloud computing vendors don’t usually provide this service.
Does your contract provide for on-going support or does your cloud service vendor offer you capped uploads and downloads or includes a high level of security? Don’t jeopardise the bottom line of your business. Know what the real cost of adapting to a cloud computing strategy – the cost of keeping the servers running all the time, any additional support services or the expertise in designing and managing the service on an on-going basis.
Cloud computing is a new way of planning and using technology and resources. IT staff in effect need to be retrained so they learn that a cloud platform is utterly unlike a data centre. They need to learn about deployment patterns and when using the cloud is best. A business needs staff or a person who understands cloud development, operations, architecture, storage, security and integration. If you don’t have the staff then this will have to be outsourced which also costs money.
Complex backup and recovery
Cloud hosting can also complicate data and recovery rather than simplifying it. Some businesses find themselves doing three backups: physical, cloud and virtual data. This leads to increased labour costs, data recovery expenses and even total data loss. Data loss of course has potentially serious knock-on implications. Serious cloud data loss could take days or weeks to address and a business can suffer hugely in that period.
Compliance and eDiscovery issues
With cloud storage one has to both meet compliance obligations and – as importantly – prove that one has done so. This can be a challenge and failing to comply can carry very heavy fines. There are already records of businesses that missed deadlines because their eDiscovery request was not responded to in time. Other entities were unable to find the data they needed.
Assets in the cloud require SSL certificates to protect data such as financial and personal information, business transactions and other online interactions when it is in transit. Many cloud users find managing these certificates very complex and onerous. This, too, exposes one to increased labour costs and potentially costly liability
If you outsource your IT support and do not have dedicated IT staff, you will be reliant on your support provider to keep your documents that describe your cloud deployment and configuration up-to-date. Under a cloud hosted environment, the ‘luxury’ to walk up to physical equipment to discover information is removed. Lack of accurate internal documentation will make changing support providers more difficult.
If you are performing an in-house cloud migration, ensure you are considering all aspects of security, access and encryption. Cheap and simple deployments do not place a high emphasis on security. Retrofitting an environment to be more secure or having to re-migrate to more secure platforms could be costly.
Data Usage Requirements
When servers are moved to the cloud, data needs to travel over the Internet or dedicated links. Consider what that your data previsions will be and make sure your network plans are adequate. Also remember to include backup related data in the estimates. It is worth regularly monitoring data usage closely post-migration. Many ISP and link providers provide these tools via their websites.
Always consider an exit plan, even if you never use it. If in the future you are not satisfied with a chosen cloud vendor, how or can you migrate away from them? Also investigate the providers policy on future rate hikes, or decreases.
Bang for Buck
It’s worth remembering that IT costs generally fall over time. Any cloud solution you purchase today, you will probably purchase in the future cheaper, or you’ll get more for the same price. Vendors generally will not reduce fees automatically, and they will not upgrade you unprompted. Review your fees and charges and server capacity every 1 to 2 years. A discrepancy between what you get for what you are paying when compared to what is currently being offered might be an opportunity to discuss with your vendor rate decreases or free upgrades.
Despite all the best documentation intentions, any server that has been in production for a while is bound to have undocumented changes, patches and configurations. So anticipate some surprises and headaches during a migration, and factor these into your migration plan and budget.
Remote Access Support
Check with your software vendors that they will support their software when hosted on a cloud server or platform. Although most software will work fine in a cloud environment, sometimes a vendor may “not recommend” it or not provide support for cloud or remote access to their software, particularly if it is legacy software.
Increased Reliance On Documentation
Despite all the best intentions, many small organisations do not maintain adequate documentation. Furthermore, when they outsource their IT support, their support agents do not always maintain great documentation either. A cloud environment is complex and intangible. You cannot walk up to equipment and perform a discovery on it. During the migration, factor in time to create and update documentation. If you use an external support agent, ensure they take the time to document changes.
Vendor Support Charges
Know upfront before selecting a cloud vendor what their support fees and charges will be. Cheap and attractive hosting rates rarely include 24/7 support. Consider SLA agreements and charges in addition to the hosting charges you will pay.
Server Monitoring and Console
Investigate what a potential vendor provides in addition to a vanilla cloud hosting. Many vendors provide tools to help monitor and manage your cloud servers, however the quality tools may attract additional charges.
Some vendors include cloud backup space with then hosting plans. Some do not. And when they do, the provision may not be adequate for your needs. Ensure you factor in your backup requirements for the now, and what you anticipate for the future.
Viable cloud strategies and environments add complexity. While it is tempting to place all cloud services with one provider for ease of management and potential cost savings, it’s not advisable. The outage or failure of a single vendor will cause you grief. Deployments across multiple vendors add to management and configuration complexity. These factors add to the setup and migration cost, and to the overall effort to manage the cloud environment.
© Gary Smart.