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Fastly Blog

Demystifying the cloud

Forward progress and innovation require smart, thoughtful risk taking, a concept well known to Nick Rockwell, CTO of The New York Times. That includes being open to new technologies — for the NYT, that’s adopting a multi-cloud architecture, and being able to pivot if it doesn’t work out: “I am willing to do things quickly based on conviction and keeping our eyes open. At our scale, we’re picking one solution. We’re going to be multi-cloud, ideally, but it’s an adaptation, not a strategy.”

Like it or not, the cloud is here to stay. Although 81% of executives surveyed experience cloud FOMO (“fear of missing out”), it’s not peer pressure alone that’s driving cloud adoption; the cloud offers undeniable benefits to your business: boosting engagement with your customers, cutting costs, and empowering innovation.

Almost without our knowing, the cloud has fully insinuated itself into our daily lives: we stream songs, binge-watch shows, and stay in the loop with breaking news alerts. It’s also integral to day-to-day business operations, necessitating a rise in more robust solutions, and companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have stepped up with public cloud platform offerings. According to Forrester, the total global public cloud market will be $178B in 2018, that’s up from $146B last year, and they expect more than half of all global enterprises to rely on public cloud platforms.

That said, the public cloud isn’t for everyone — there are benefits to private cloud, combining the two for a hybrid architecture, or foraying into multi-cloud, like The New York Times. In this post, we’ll take a look at the different methodologies of cloud computing, cutting through the noise to offer our recommendation and vision for what’s ahead.

Public cloud: fast rollouts + infinite scalability

In this model, a provider such as Amazon, Microsoft, or Google makes their resources (like virtual machines) available for use over the public internet. Public cloud services can be free or you can pay based on what you use. Around 90% of our customers, including Airbnb, Pinterest, Condé Nast (and many more), are using a public cloud service as part of their architecture (whether that’s going all in with the public cloud, or incorporating it as part of multi-cloud architecture, like what The New York Times is doing).

Pros: Public cloud instances are both quick and easy to implement — you can get up and running with a cloud services provider far quicker than you can install and run your own data center. This quick-to-deploy model makes scalability more seamless as well — you can increase your public cloud footprint effortlessly in order to accommodate growing customer demand and business expansion. The public cloud is also cost-effective; you pay for what you need, without having redundant servers sitting idly by. Per NetworkWorld, you also have more resources at your disposal with leading industry technology and the savviest tech teams.

Cons: One con to be aware of is vendor lock-in — some providers make it very difficult (and expensive!) to move away from their services. And, although it’s becoming less the case, security is often cited as a blocker for moving to the public cloud, and organizations with a major emphasis on compliance are often wary. These concerns stem from the fact that the public cloud is a shared technology — there’s data from many companies on a cloud provider, which can make it a more desirable target for attacks — but cloud providers are mitigating these concerns by bolstering their security teams. The prevalence of agile methodologies and continuous delivery further empowers engineers to roll out patches quickly and effectively.

Private cloud: maximum security + control

A private cloud is dedicated to your needs alone (as opposed to public clouds, which serve multiple organizations). Many of the aforementioned major providers offer private solutions, or you can have your own internal, in-house servers. Companies relying on the private cloud vary widely in terms of size, from SMBs to major players (with veritable cornucopias of content) like Facebook, Apple, and Netflix.

Pros: Because the private cloud is managed within an organization, businesses benefit from increased security and control. And because it’s hosted on premises, your data isn’t sharing a platform with other companies, and is further protected by company firewalls and internal hosting.

Cons: On the other side of the coin, the fact that you’re running your own servers means you’ll require the same staffing, management, and maintenance costs as running a traditional data center. It also makes it difficult to scale quickly to meet user demand — you either have to plan on having redundant servers sitting around (to accommodate sudden spikes in traffic to your site), which isn’t cost effective, or maintain fewer servers with the hope that your site won’t go down during a major event. The prevailing con is cost: according to NetworkWorld, “If the infrastructure is only used to about 50% of its capacity, then it requires a cloud administrator to manage up to 1,000 VMs each to achieve a TCO advantage compared to public cloud.”

Hybrid cloud: the best of both worlds (maybe)

As you might’ve guessed, hybrid cloud combines public and private cloud, allowing data and applications to be shared between the two, with companies like Spotify, Foursquare, Marriott, and AppDynamics opting for hybrid architectures.

Pros: When demand fluctuates, a hybrid cloud architecture enables you to scale up to the public cloud, without incurring the cost of having idle servers. Because you can pick and choose what data goes where, you’ll have the same flexibility and computing power of the public cloud while keeping sensitive data secure. This is likely why hybrid cloud adoption grew 3x in 2017.

Cons: Ultimately, the hybrid cloud serves more as a transition strategy than anything else — it’s really a way to hold on to data and systems that you’re not quite ready to move to the public cloud. Either way, any benefits you’d see with hybrid are greater with public offerings. Even security concerns with the public cloud aren’t necessarily mitigated by a hybrid — or private — option: when managing your own data center (whether in a private or hybrid cloud capacity), you’re on your own when defending from denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, and security is yours alone to manage and bolster. With a public cloud, on the other hand, you have access to industry leading technology and cloud security experts, and you’re armed with their scale and expertise when defending against attacks.

Multi-cloud: the next step in cloud evolution

While it might be easy to conflate multi-cloud with hybrid, they’re not quite the same. While a hybrid cloud is a mix of both public and private clouds, multi-cloud can extend to a combination of different public clouds. If public cloud is prevailing in terms of adoption and popularity, and hybrid is the transition from private to public cloud, multi-cloud is the natural next step for the cloud architecture going forward.

Pros: Unlike hybrid architectures, multi-cloud gives you far more options beyond the public/private dichotomy: you can mix and match cloud infrastructure vendors, choosing the solutions that best fit your needs, taking advantage of a wider selection of technologies while avoiding getting stuck with one vendor. The same benefits of scale, flexibility, and cost efficiency of the public cloud also apply, with the added benefit that you’re not limited to one provider.

Cons: Moving to the public cloud, let alone multiple public clouds, may in itself seem daunting, and is certainly a blocker for many businesses in more traditional fields (especially those where security and compliance are of utmost concern). However, multi-cloud gives you more options, and therefore more power to hold your vendors accountable — as security in the public cloud continues to be prioritized, you can demand from your vendors the same peace of mind you’d expect from managing your own data centers.

As The New York Times confirms, the trend in 2018 and beyond is looking toward multi-cloud: the RightScale 2017 State of the Cloud report notes that 85% of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy, and 95% of organizations surveyed are either experimenting with or running applications with infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

We hope this helped cut through the noise of the booming — if not somewhat chaotic — cloud infrastructure industry, highlighting the pros and cons of the variety of clouds at your disposal. Stay tuned — in our next post, we’ll discuss how you can get even more out of your cloud, further bolstering security while delighting your customers.

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Simon Wistow | Co-founder, VP Product Strategy

Simon is co-founder at Fastly, where he helps lead product strategy. Before helping found Fastly Simon was Senior Search Engineer at Yahoo! Europe, LiveJournal, SixApart, Scribd and then at social help desk company Zendesk. In a past life he worked on R&D for a leading VFX Company doing films like the Harry Potter series, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Sunshine, and Wallace and Gromit. At one point he worked as a cowboy in Australia. Mostly because it seemed like a good idea at the time.