Will your business lower costs by using cloud services? That seems to be a key bottom-line question that CIOs — and their bosses — want to know. Why then is it so hard to get a simple answer?
Writer Doug Bartholomew reports in his article, Costing out the Cloud, that, “understanding cloud economics is sort of like going for a swim in a hidden lake” — you never know the depth before you take the plunge.
While that sounded true, I was left wondering why. How can a model designed to ease complexity be so complicated to price out — especially when nearly every department from HR to sales is jumping into the cloud computing pool?
When I investigated further, I found lots of research, analyses and case studies that I will share with you here. Most concluded that there is no one-size-fits-all ROI calculator that tells you when to go to a cloud model and how much you will save or pay; the most definitive answer about lower costs seems to be you probably will see savings; but as with warning labels on medicine bottles, results will vary with the situation.
Cost savings may be one of the prime reasons companies are flocking to the cloud, but as Steve Phillips, VP and CIO at Avnet, told us: It is “only part of the story. At Avnet, it’s more about adding new functionality more quickly and affordably than we could do it on our own,” he says.
Some analysts are comparing cloud economics to the outsourcing of a decade ago. In an Accenture report, “Cloud and the Future of Business: From Costs to Innovation,” issued earlier this year, the consultancy — which also provides IT outsourcing services — says that shifting computing and storage capabilities into the cloud offers economies of scale in terms of IT support, energy consumption and speed.
However, it also says that cloud computing is unlikely to result in huge transformational shifts “if it is understood solely in terms of cost savings arising from data centre consolidation and virtualization.” Indeed, just as business found that “the most effective forms of long-term outsourcing tend to have a perspective that is diametrically opposed to concerns about cost-minimization,” cloud computing has to be considered from a broad perspective as well.
Accenture’s conclusion? “Long-term cost benefit modeling for cloud computing is immature and demands much further attention.” So that puts you back where you started from.
James Staten, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, has also studied cloud economics, and asks in a recent blog: “Is your cloud strategy centered on saving money or fueling revenue growth?” Where you land on this question, he says, “could determine a lot about your experience level with cloud services and what guidance you should be giving to your application developers and infrastructure and operations teams.”
According to Staten, “the majority of CIOs would vote for the savings, seeing cloud computing as an evolution of outsourcing and hosting that can drive down capital and operations expenses. In some cases this is correct, but in many the opposite will result. Using the cloud wrong may raise your costs.”
Staten offers other insights in another blog about which applications to move to the cloud. He advises that: “For enterprises to make the most of a public cloud platform, they need to ensure that their applications match the economic model presented by public clouds. Otherwise, the cloud may actually cost you more.”
I also recommend reading a comprehensive white paper, “The Economics of the Cloud,” issued late last year by Microsoft. It offers models and criteria to use as a framework when making decisions about cloud economics. It is a very in-depth analysis of cloud cost considerations and includes discussion of infrastructure, data center and utilization; multi-tenancy options; support and maintenance costs; capital versus operational budget expenditures; private versus public cloud costs, and new application development costs.
It also notes that the emergence of cloud services is different from previous outsourcing and virtualization efforts and is “fundamentally shifting the economics of IT … cloud architectures facilitate elastic consumption, self-service, and pay-as-you-go pricing.”
The report cites four areas that may yield economies of scale and cost savings:
- Cost of electrical power
- Infrastructure labor cost
- Buying power
- Elimination of capital expenditure
So, what are the takeaways for budget-conscious CIOs and their business-unit partners from these experts? In my view, it’s to jump in and test the waters, but carefully. Conduct your typical due diligence by analyzing contracts, negotiating with providers and starting small. Know what type of cloud is optimal for each applications before you sign on. Are you looking at pay-as-you-go public clouds to offload peak capacity from your servers, or for a small, dedicated application hosted in a private cloud for one business group? The total cost of ownership (TCO) will be very different for each.
I’d like to know more about how you approach cloud economics at your enterprise. Does the pace of business allow for thorough cost analysis for each application? Are you saving money? Please share your experience and tactics by commenting on this blog and also take our poll here to compare your strategies with your peers.
Editor and Community Manager
Smart Enterprise Exchange