Treat a cloud deployment as you would a home remodel

Cost, reliability, and security are obvious, but control and responsibility are often overlooked in choosing cloud services

When weighing whether to go to the cloud or which cloud service to use when you do, it's a no-brainer to make sure the service's reliability, cost effectiveness, and security track records match your requirements. However, many cloud buyers don't carefully consider two other critically important characteristics of any cloud service: the degree to which you can control your services without intervention from your vendor and the degree to which you cede responsibility for day-to-day management tasks to your vendor.

When I think back to some of the more well-publicized failures of megascale cloud infrastructures (Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure), each has been followed by enraged forum posts from users who had incurred downtime, lost production data, or both. It's entirely understandable for customers to be irate when a service they're paying for fails. However, it's also an excellent indication that these cloud users didn't fully understand that they still bore a large responsibility for managing and protecting their systems.

Cloud vendors should shoulder some of the responsibility for this disconnect. Although it might not be good for business, big, red warning text suggesting that users are responsible for backing up their data or maintaining replicated failover instances in different availability zones might have dampened some of those anguished cries.

I believe the responsibility for understanding what a service will and will not do for you (or allow you to do for yourself) rests with the user. You don't need a computer science degree to understand how this works in the cloud -- knowing what to look for in a cloud service is very much like what you'd look for in any outsourced service.

Your bathroom or your business -- the same principles apply

Let's say I want to remodel my bathroom (as it happens, I do). First, I have to decide what I want to have done -- that's the needs and design phase, a combination of requirements and user-experience preferences.

If I'm willing to spend hours digging through fixture catalogs and poring over Pinterest to get ideas for what I want in my new bathroom, I can do much of the design myself. If I don't want to do that or don't have the time, I could hire an interior decorator to come up with design ideas for me. If I do it myself, I have complete artistic control over my new bathroom, but I've also spent a ton of time and don't benefit from the years of experience an experienced decorator might bring to the table. If I have someone else do it, I might not get exactly what I want and I'll spend more, but I don't have to do any research and it probably won't look like a mismatched horror show when it's done.

After I have a design in hand, I enter the deployment phase. I could hire a general contractor to handle the project soup to nuts; I could hire subcontractors (plumbers, electricians, carpenters) for individual jobs for me while I handle a portion on my own; or I could do the whole job myself.

The first way will undoubtedly be the most expensive, but it also substantially decreases the amount of time I'll spend working on the job and the amount of risk I'll expose myself to if something goes wrong. The second way saves some of the money that the general contractor would have pocketed, but it leaves me managing the contractors to make sure that they all show up at the right time and do what they're supposed to.

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