Organizations Must Consider Cost and Security Before Moving to the Public Cloud

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Click to learn more about author Jon Toor.

About three to five years ago, organizations tended to view the public cloud as something of a panacea — an easy solution to the challenges associated with managing their data on-premises themselves. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has bolstered this attitude for many enterprises, with some CIOs convinced they must go all-in on the public cloud to support their new remote workforce. But these CIOs should take note of the many organizations before them that migrated large volumes of their data to the public cloud, such as Seagate, only to later repatriate it back on-premises. While the public cloud provides clear benefits for certain use cases, companies that move all or most of their data there often end up paying higher costs than expected while jeopardizing the security of their data and sacrificing performance. Anyone planning a major move to the public cloud should first think about the following cost, security, performance, and vendor lock-in considerations.

Public Cloud Costs Exceed Expectations

Public cloud providers employ complex pricing structures, inhibiting visibility into how much an organization will actually have to pay. These pricing structures can differ significantly from cloud to cloud, making it harder to determine costs for organizations evaluating or deploying in multiple platforms. Even in a single public cloud platform, there are varying types of fees and several thresholds that pile on costs when resource usage hits a certain point. Because of this complexity, many CIOs are stunned when they begin receiving monthly invoices that dramatically exceed what they had budgeted.

At a high level, three factors determine public cloud costs. First is the amount of data an organization stores in the cloud. This is the easiest of the three components to measure and estimate, but in large organizations, the volume of data being kept in the public cloud can often grow more quickly than anticipated. The next factor is data access frequency, with organizations having to pay a fixed rate every time they leverage data. This cost can be difficult to predict for large enterprises, with many users spread across several business units that need to access data for various purposes. Finally, there’s the cost of WAN bandwidth usage. In addition to simple access fees, organizations have to pay network bandwidth charges when they use that data. These fees vary greatly depending on how much data is being used, how it’s being used, and the network bandwidth required to support these instances. Generally speaking, it takes three hours using a 1G link to access a single TB of data in the public cloud. To achieve the access performance needed, organizations might have to pay for an expensive WAN upgrade.

A False Sense of Security

One major misconception about the public cloud is that it’s more secure than on-prem deployments. However, this simply isn’t the case. For example, ransomware is possibly the biggest cybersecurity threat facing organizations today, and according to a recent Sophos survey, 59 percent of ransomware attacks took place in the public cloud.

Many enterprises falsely believe that cloud providers will take care of their security needs. In reality, it’s incumbent upon the organizations themselves to protect their data. And security best practices are very different in the public cloud than they are on-prem. This causes confusion regarding what customers need to do to secure their deployments, such as how to properly configure their public cloud storage bucket services, so they’re safeguarded from unauthorized access.

Unpredictable Performance

Performance in a public cloud setting can be broadly defined as the amount of time it takes to transfer data to and from the cloud. In these environments, performance depends on available WAN bandwidth and the cloud provider’s overall workload burden at that moment, making it highly unpredictable. When an organization needs to use an app involving a significant amount of data, they can encounter considerable latency. This variability in performance can be unacceptable for mission-critical applications.

A Hybrid Future

Despite these drawbacks, the public cloud offers a number of clear benefits. For one, it’s highly scalable, making it a good fit for apps that have elastic compute requirements. Think about a retail application that must support huge increases in traffic during the holidays but then only needs to support one-quarter of that traffic during the rest of the year. The public cloud is also cost-efficient and convenient for disaster recovery use cases.

The best option for most organizations is a hybrid cloud approach, keeping the majority of data on-prem (in a traditional data center or private cloud setting) while putting select data in the public cloud for certain use cases. By managing most data on-prem, enterprises can keep costs lower, better secure their data, and enjoy consistent performance. Meanwhile, they have the freedom to expand their deployments into the public cloud when circumstances require it.

With remote work here to stay for the foreseeable future, there will be continuing buzz about the necessity of migrating completely to the public cloud. To best serve their organizations, CIOs must resist the hype and adopt a flexible hybrid strategy that allows them to leverage public cloud services when it fits business needs while storing most of their data on-prem.

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