Cloud this, cloud that. All the chatter is about the cloud, and of course I’m not talking about where the birds fly. I am talking about virtualized computing across multiple physical servers. There are many advantages to such a configuration, like being able to scale RAM or hard drive space into the virtual servers. The topic of this post is to discuss cloud hosting options for your data analytics servers when you are planning your business intelligence and analytics implementation.
There are many cloud vendors with reliable services, such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Rackspace, however picking the best one for your association can be a challenge. The standard offering and the least expensive option on a per month usage charge is what is called Unmanaged Cloud Hosting. The alternative is called Managed Cloud Hosting.
What is the difference between an unmanaged and managed cloud server? For starters, if you’re looking at the monthly price for each, you’re going to see a dramatic difference as the unmanaged server will be much less expensive. However, this price excludes the costs that will be required to keep the server up to date (with operating system patches) and secure. Do you have an expert with time 24×7 to make sure the server is always available? Carefully check your contract terms with the hosting provider regarding uptime and know if down time might be your fault. Similarly, if there is any built in redundancy to the host’s architecture that is in your favor for uptime (like redundant network hardware).
If you think the hosting provider will be watching your association’s back when it comes to backups, you should double check that contract. Backup options will vary by vendor with some including a backup of just your data (for example if you contracted for a SQL Server), and some will leave it entirely up to you. Backup and recovery cannot be overlooked as it is common knowledge that unrecoverable data is tremendously expensive on all levels – reputation, loss of information, potential loss of revenue and more. Our recommendation is to back up your entire server – it’s worth it!
Finally, let’s consider support from the cloud vendor. You can certainly ask about the vendor’s proprietary web based control panel or their APIs, but what if you need help with setting up your server to provide FTP services? The server is likely capable of it, but is someone at your association able to help with the configuration of IIS and permissions? The vendors typically leave this to you and some won’t even be allowed to access your environment remotely to help configure or troubleshoot.
There is no doubt that we support putting your data in the cloud and we firmly believe that a managed solution is the safest arrangement for our clients and that is our recommendation. The monthly cost is more, but you get the peace of mind of knowing your server is updated, secure, and backed up. Plus, extra assistance is available for configuration and setup, not to mention the peace of mind of not having to manage an infrastructure or worry about availability. It might be in the cloud, but your data mart is still a production server and should be treated as such.