Cloud Computing: Will mom&pop technology companies suffer?

I have been in the business of selling technology services since 2000. When I started my partner and I decided we would not go the way of $8.00 a month hosting providers. The customer support required would have wiped us out years ago.

I am in the process of redefining our services and have been following all the twittering about Rackspace and cloud computing. One of the companies I admire, Jazkarta, has moved to offering hosting through Amazon’s cloud services (EC2).  It’s an intriguing idea and I haven’t decided against it yet, but I tend to be conservative and want to be sure this really does make sense for us and is safe.

We looked at Google’s cloud offering along with Amazon a year ago and decided against it because it just seemed so new and rife with the potential to rack up a huge bill (kind of like Google’s AdWords and suddenly getting a gazillion clicks you have to pay for!). So we decided to wait and see. Now a year later cloud computing is attracting everyone from the service provider to the enterprise CIO looking to cut IT costs.

This worries me, not because I feel threatened as a provider of IT services, but because I’m not quite convinced that this is the “safest” or “best” solution for the enterprise. I can remember working with a hosting company that offered FreeBSD jails to clients (my client was already hosted there and needed Plone support). Everyone shared resources, clients basically received a directory on the filesystem and software (php,python, etc) was installed on the system for everyone to use. Worst experience ever, hosting vendor decided to upgrade Python on the server. I spent 3 days trying to get a hold of said vendor (didn’t return calls) and trying to get 2 sites that got taken down by this global upgrade back online. Those clients are now hosted with us in their own xen based virtual machine.

So one of the first things I did was put “downsides to cloud computing” in Google:

Voice of the Customer: Trend Spotting –  Cloud Computing

What are the downsides to cloud computing? Solutions may be subject to low availability, internet connections may be slow or servers may become infected (Google App Engine, a service for developers, was crippled for several hours last month, blaming the outage on a database server bug) . Solutions may be through multitenant or shared services, not an ideal solution for regulated businesses or hyper secure applications. In addition, application customization may be limited. Finally, if your data structure does not follow commonly accepted data practices, there may be compatibility issues between your data and the host data servers.

This may have improved and I suppose for applications that do not have “security” concerns, Cloud Computing can be an excellent way to manage IT services. As someone who deals with clients who are concerned about security this may not work.

Outsourcing IT has always been a hit-or-miss scenario and I think we need to take a step back before everyone jumps on board with the hope of “saving money”. Something that hasn’t been mentioned here is the human element of IT. Granted being able to scale resources and only use what needed is a great thing. At the same time it makes me nervous to allocate control to a cloud service with a third party that doesn’t know my clients and what they need.

I think cloud computing has it’s place but will it replace smaller IT companies that offer one-on-one support and consultation?

No.

Will it provide clients and providers with more options?

Absolutely.

Is it secure and scalable and free from the same potential issues as non-cloud hosting services?

Security, depends on the level you want. Scalable, yes it’s scalable but is it flexible? Cloud computing will introduce different issues than it’s non-cloud counterpart. Those remain to be seen.

I’m still not sold on Cloud Computing but it is definitely an interesting concept. I don’t think the mom&pop tech companies need worry, yet.

  • leejoramo

    I have had a server with RackSpace for over 8 years, they have been the best customer experience I have server seen in the computing industry. In 8 years, I have only had one network outage! Their tech support team all actually know their stuff.

    I missed seeing the news about their new cloud computing products. I had seen their Mosso subsidiary, but Mosso could not do plone so I never tried it. Lately, I have been moving to VPS hosting with SliceHost, because of the flexibility hat VPS offers.

    I will look at what RackSpace is up to in Cloud Computing. I don’t like the offerings of Google and Amazon, because I want to be able to talk to someone.

  • I think cloud computing has the potential to provide a nice neutral ground for the relationship between the software developer/consultant/integrator and the client. As it is currently usually the software developer is also the system administrator, and it makes it hard for a client to use other people without changing their entire system around. To the degree the system administration is abstracted out of the system (which cloud computing can do to some degree) it gives the client more safety. When the client has more safety, it makes smaller providers more attractive — people are often drawn to big providers because of a sense of safety and ensured continuity.

  • leejoramo

    Wow so I go to read about what RackSpace is doing, and I learn that they are acquiring SliceHost. Like I said, I have been moving from RackSpace to SliceHost in the past year. I loved RackSpace, but they did not offer the flexibility that I needed. And SliceHost has been a dream to work with. This is great news for me.

    Strangely enough, last year when I decided to stop running my own email servers, I moved my clients from my RackSpace servers to WebMail.us. Shortly thereafter, RackSpace bought out WebMail and renamed it to MailTrust.com. I have been very happy with all of these companies!

  • laurencerowe

    I think Amazon EC2 should be a fairly safe bet – it’s just a xen virtual machine which is commissioned through a web service. The new elastic block storage makes deployment and rebooting much easier. The only thing to be careful about is that you need some monitoring system to watch if your instances go down and restart as necessary. Google’s app engine is a very different kettle of fish.