Are you getting what you paid for?
When you subscribe to any cloud service you sign a Service Level Agreement (SLA) which specifies, among other things, the Quality of Service (QoS) you will receive from the provider measured as a percentage of the time that the service will be available to you. The Microsoft Office 365 online productivity and communications suite, for example, commits to subscribers that the service will be available 99.9% of the time. Tech types often refer to this as “three nines.”
At the bottom line, this means that if Office 365 is unavailable to you more than 8.76 hours per year you are due a penalty payment from Microsoft.
While all cloud service providers enter into an SLA with you for a specific QoS and many offer penalty payments for failure to achieve that QoS, nothing guarantees that any of them will actually let you know when they’ve exceeded the allowable downtime. This means that it’s up to you to make sure somebody is keeping an eye on the availability of all of your cloud services and alerting you whenever a service has failed to maintain its committed QoS.
How Important is This?
You invest in cloud services to move responsibility for critical IT business functions to a qualified provider you can trust. Your SLA indicates that you trust them to provide the service on an ongoing basis with a specific allowance for downtime. When they exceed that allowance they are violating your trust, and not providing your business with needed services.
The penalty payment represents the provider’s good faith effort to compensate you for the missing services. While it can be argued that a penalty payment can’t adequately compensate for lost access to services, the impact on the provider can be profound when you consider the burden of potentially having to make payments to hundreds of thousands of users. When you combine that financial risk with the even more overwhelming threat to the provider’s reputation, it becomes a powerful inducement to maintain the highest possible QoS.
Back when most of your IT services were produced by equipment located on your premises the only external service you may have depended upon was the dedicated carrier circuit between you and your other locations, or the circuit from your location to the nearest Internet point of contact. When you contracted those services you entered into an SLA for a specific QoS from that connection.
Starting in the late 1990’s, many companies contracted with a third-party company to connect to their network and manage it for them. These early managed services providers (MSP) advertised that they carefully monitored the functionality of every router, switch, modem, and other devices on your network at all times and alerted you whenever something was about to go wrong. The reality was that those devices seldom failed. Some early MSPs estimate that more than 95% of the alerts they issued were caused by failed carrier circuits or, in some cases, power outages from utilities that also commit to a specific QoS.
Today, every cloud service you subscribe to has its own SLA for a specific QoS, so there’s much more to monitor and manage.
You Pay for What You Use
Another reason you subscribe to cloud services is for their “elasticity.” Whenever you need more capacity in memory, storage, even processor power, you can simply “throttle up” by requesting more. When you’re done using it you can release it just as easily. You only pay for the capacities you are actually using until you release them, so it pays to release them as soon as you are done with them.
In the aggregate, you may often find that you are oversubscribing for capacities you are no longer using. Your MSP should also be carefully monitoring how much storage, memory, processor power, and other resources you’re using to make sure you’re only subscribing to, and paying for, services you actually need.
Your Savings CloudStrategies
Let CloudStrategies assure that you have capable, quality monitoring of all of the SLAs you’ve entered into, that you receive any penalty payments you are entitled to, and that you are only paying for what you need. The savings will be substantial.
Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft’s Server & Tools Business, recently posted on the “In The Cloud” blog talking about Identity Management for Hybrid IT. In this post, Anderson definitively states that “Simply put, hybrid identity management is foundational for enterprise computing going forward,” explaining that “the consumerization of IT would be impossible without the ability to verify and manage the user’s identity and devices; an organization’s move to the cloud wouldn’t be nearly as secure and dynamic without the ability to manage access and connect people to cloud-based resources based on their unique needs; the explosion of data would be useless without the ability to make sure the right data is accessible to the right people; and new cloud-based apps need to govern and manage access just like applications always have.”
Identity Management Here, Identity Management There, Identity Management Everywhere
Anderson talks about the need to have the same level of identity management for Software as a Service (SaaS) and other cloud applications to protect the privacy and security of users and their data. In the Microsoft universe this equates to extending the capabilities of Windows Server Active Directory, introduced with Windows 2000 and today “the default identity management and access-control solution for over 95% of organizations around the world,” to a new set of features in their Azure cloud platform called, aptly, Windows Azure Active Directory.
According to the post, “Windows Azure Active Directory (Windows Azure AD) is your organization’s cloud directory. This means that you can decide who your users are, what information to keep in the cloud, who can use or manage that information, and what applications or services are allowed to access it.” Sounds a lot like Windows Server Active Directory, and it is.
“Windows Azure AD complements Windows Server AD for authentication and access control in cloud-hosted applications,” explains Anderson’s team. “Organizations which have Windows Server Active Directory in their data centers can connect their domains with their Windows Azure AD. Once the identities are in Windows Azure AD, it is easy to develop ASP.NET applications integrated with Windows Azure AD. It is also simple to provide single sign on and control access to other SaaS apps such as Box.com, Salesforce.com, Concur, Dropbox, Google Apps/Gmail. Users can also easily enable multi-factor authentication to improve security and compliance without needing to deploy or manage additional servers on-premises.
Enabling a single ubiquitous identity management service across local and remote cloud-based resources and users is perhaps the most important benefit of how Windows Server Active Directory and Windows Azure Active Directory work together. “The benefit of connecting Windows Server AD to Windows Azure AD is consistency – specifically, consistent authentication for users so that they can continue with their existing credentials and will not need to perform additional authentications or remember supplementary credentials. Windows Azure AD also provides consistent identity. This means that as users are added and removed in Windows Server AD, they will automatically gain and lose access to applications backed by Windows Azure AD.”
For users, this is a key and crucial set of solutions. Imagine having to sign on separately for your local network and each of your cloud services. As the use of cloud services continues to increase that would become an overwhelming challenge, and a definite security threat. Anderson points out that “single sign-on which is a massive time and energy saver for a workforce that uses multiple devices and multiple applications per person. It can also enable the scenario where a user’s customized and personalized experience can follow them from device to device regardless of when and where they’re working. Activities like these are simply impossible without a scalable, cloud-based identity management system.”
Service Level Agreements can be confusing, but are also critical to successful implementation and successful user support.
Understanding the relationship between Service Level and cost helps avoid unnecessary or excess investments
CloudStrategies helps you balance your budget and your requirements
“We guarantee five nines!!!”
Almost sounds like an impossible poker hand, but its really a service providers way of telling you that their service will be operational and available to you 99.999% of the time. Simple really.
Given that a year consists of 525,600 minutes, that means that there will be less than 5.256 minutes of downtime during a year. That’s pretty fantastic, but also very expensive. The question you need to ask is whether or not your business requirements are such that your business couldn’t tolerate more than five and a half minutes of unavailable systems.
Take email for example. Would your people even be aware that email was unavailable for ten minutes on any given day? Every day? Several times each day? Depending upon how your business uses email, probably not. But in a busy retail operation, if the Point of Sale system experienced even a minute of downtime it is very likely that the IT manager’s life would instantly turn upside down.
Of course, you’re probably thinking that having only five and a half minutes of downtime in a year sounds pretty good, so why not shoot for that anyway. If it didn’t cost any more to have five nines than it did to have, say, three, that would make a lot of sense. But what if it cost ten times more? Definitely not worth it, right? That’s why it is so important to carefully analyze your business requirements system by system, application by application, and determine the appropriate Service Level Agreement to establish, and invest in, for each.
||Take the email example given above. Three nines, or 99.9% uptime, equals 8.76 HOURS of possible downtime each year. But when you divide that by the number of days in a year its way less than a minute per day, so you’d likely never even notice it. Microsoft Office 365, as an example, offers a Service Level Agreement of three nines or 99.9% uptime.So the answer to the question “How Many Nines Do We Need?” depends both upon what your business requires and also upon what your business can afford. Your CloudStrategies consultant can help you analyze and determine both!
The primary attributes of cloud computing that we hear about most often include cost reduction and improvements in efficiency and service levels.
But one of the most powerful attributes of cloud computing that many businesses truly need but cannot find elsewhere is the “elasticity” of cloud computing solutions.
What Does ‘Elasticity’ Do For My Company?
Most companies go through cycles. Sometimes demands are high, at other times lower. Perhaps yours is a seasonal business that hires additional staff at certain periods of the year. When those staff leave, what becomes of the computer capacity you had to build up for them? Does it sit idle?
This is where the elasticity of a cloud computing solution becomes so valuable. Were yours a cloud-based company, you would simply “throttle up” capacity during the busy season, adding sufficient capacity to support additional users, and then simply “throttle back down” when the season ended.
The same would be true if your business needed to pilot new applications. Once the pilot was concluded, if you were premises based, you’d have a server sitting there with nothing much to do. In the cloud you simply unsubscribe from that server.
The ability to be very flexible about capacity, and to only pay for that which you use, is a tremendous advantage that can only be achieved in a cloud-computing environment. To learn more about elastic cloud solutions, contact Cloud Strategies at 973-630-5020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cloud Computing offers many advantages, including enhanced business agility, increased resilience and sustainability, robust collaboration and communication capabilities and more, but the one benefit most frequently cited is substantial cost savings.
Cloud Computing Cuts Costs Short & Long Term
There are several key areas in which savings will be created as you move to a cloud computing environment.
Computer equipment, such as servers and storage devices, become old and outdated in just a few years, so many companies purchase or lease new equipment periodically. Moving to a cloud computing environment eliminates the need to make many of these investments.
Depending upon the size of your company and your current computer network you may only be consuming a moderate amount of electricity to power your servers and your storage. The larger your company is, and the more hardware you house on your own premises, the more this is costing and so the more you will save.
High Volume Air Conditioning
Desktop computers are designed to be comfortable where people are comfortable, but the same is not true of servers and large storage devices. They require a cool climate that demands high-volume air conditioning (HVAC) which can be a very expensive proposition.
Another cost that is directly proportionate to the size of your network is the size of the space required to house it all. Your company may only require a closet, or perhaps a small room. But when you begin to grow and need your network to scale with you, expect space to become the final frustrating frontier.
For a company like yours that isn’t in the IT business it’s seldom easy or inexpensive to recruit, qualify, and hire talented technical support. Since technical people by nature tend to want to keep growing their knowledge they can quickly become restless and move on, incurring even more cost to replace them.
This is the one cost most people try very hard not to think of. What happens when your inhouse computer network crashes and you don’t have a recent backup? Statistics vary, but they all cite that a major proportion of companies that suffer such an incident end up going out of business. That’s the ultimate cost, and it often happens simply because nobody changed a backup tape or checked the backup log to see if it was working. That simply doesn’t happen in a cloud-based data center. In fact, many cloud providers offer a guarantee of penalty compensation in the event of data loss because they are confident they’ll never have to pay off on it.