To Cloud, or not to Cloud…

It really does seem to be the question…  the sad part is how many people I talk to in my travels don’t really understand what cloud even is, let alone what the pros and cons are of moving your applications into it.

Background – a company is considering moving probably 3,000-5,000+ users to gmail as a ‘corporate’ email system…  They are running exchange currently…

Apparently, they don’t read the news and have missed out on the multiple spectacular failures of services like Google, Amazon and the like.

Cloud services are GREAT if you are running a small business, don’t want to / can’t afford an IT budget, or just plain don’t want to deal with it.

If you’re a billion dollar corporation with a multi-million dollar IT infrastructure already in place.  Outsourcing email seems a bit…odd.

Granted, if you are this company, you are obviously going to get the top-of-the-line service, dedicated support personel, etc.  You’re also buying plausible deniability should data-loss put you in jeopardy under subpoena. (While “I disposed of the data” is bad, “The company I was outsourcing to lost it” is not as bad.)

“Honest your honor, we had the emails but Google deleted them by accident.”

*DISCLAIMER – I’m not implying that google would ever do something like this on purpose, using them as a generic, like Xerox.

** It’s Google’s fault…they’re big enough to have become the verb.

***Does anyone actually own a Xerox branded machine anymore?

So if you’re SuperMegaCorp, LLC…you pay for the real service.  You get dedicated support staff, a private line to call, etc.  But to be honest, you might as well keep it in house because hey, you already have the staff, the datacenter, the VMWare farm, etc.  At that point you’re talking a few dollars in licensing and you’ve got email address for your thousands of employees for pennies each.  (Ok, yes, add in replication, backup, etc and it gets a bit higher, but the point is you’ve already comoditized it. (is too a word))

But think about it this way.  The company you’re contracting too has to pay for the same things *YOU* have to pay for.  *PLUS* they have to make enough of a profit to keep their shareholders off their back.  They do get a bit of a discount for bulk licensing, hardware, etc…

But what you GET for hosting it in house is immeasurable.  You get control.

At my last gig I heard the following phrase over and over again.  “I want one neck to choke.” (Oddly enough it was the argument given for moving AWAY from their previously preferred vendor, but you get the idea.)

When the email admin works for you, you have one neck to choke.  You get immediate results. Or you get the pleasure of firing someone.  (Can be fun in the right circumstances, ask The Donald.)

Now say you hosted with Amazon, just for grins.

Not only are your hosts down, potentially THOUSANDS of other hosts are down as well.  Now while we would like to believe they have a thousand techs on staff to give each customer equal time…let’s face it.  it’s not going to happen.  They  have, EXTREMELY generously, 10 technicians per thousand customers.  The techs will bring hosts up as soon as they can…

In an egalitarian society, odds are quite simply about 1000:1 against your site being the first one brought up…  990:1 against it being the second, etc.  See where I’m getting?  Eventually they’ll get around to it, but unless they figured out time travel and can loop back and do them all at the same point in time…you’re out of luck.  Yes, you’ve probably got a 99.999% uptime guarantee…but read the small print of your contract…  Their liability to you cannot exceed the cost of the hosting, if that, or some similiar legalease that limits their liability for downtime and, god forbid, data loss.

But this is not an egalitarian society…  Pure capitalism and “he who has the most gold gets their email back first.” If you’re with Amazon, well they host some PRETTY big sites…including their own.  Netflix comes to mind.  So in a downtime event if it comes down to bringing Joe the Plumber’s CRM app or Netflix’s east-coast streaming…which one do you think is going to get priority?


I have one neck to choke…  50Micron is hosted by Catbytes… the company that I do my consulting through.  Reason being that I maintain the lab anyway for “play” (officially: self-education and training) purposes, it’s easy for me to spin up an extra VM and put Exchange on it, a couple of CentOS Mailscanners, a few webservers, etc, even off-site replication of backups over a 10MBit link to a “DR” site (that happens to be in my basement)  (If someone wants to donate another CX3-20i or a couple of FCIP bridges I’ll have block-level replication. 😉 )

When Amazon EC2 had their issues, suspiciously I had a pretty major crash as well… (As did the customer I was working for at the time, don’t get me started on my paranoid theories.)

But when my stuff breaks… It’s my fault, it’s my responsibility, and *I* am the only one in line.  If I had hosted with Google or Amazon I might have been down for weeks…

I was back up in about 2 hours.  The time it took me to cycle the environment remotely. 🙂

Yes…building an IT infrastructure if you already have one can be pricey..  Paying someone else for hosting when you already HAVE an IT infrastructure just plain doesn’t make sense.

P.S. The funniest part is I’m now hosting about a half-dozen servers for friends/family (not free, I’m ugly, not stupid; and co-lo cages are NOT cheap) and about 40-50 websites that I’ve gotten via friends and word-of-mouth…

Of course my guarantee is as follows:

“Best effort, and you have to realize I have a day job that by it’s very nature comes first.”  🙂


  1. Great write up with some good points.
    Could we describe cloud as just another wave in the drive to outsource IT function to a provider that is perceived as cheaper?

    Of course with so many people using Gmail and Dropbox to get around their “restrictive” corporate IT, perhaps this is all happening by stealth anyway.

    1. Scary part is:

      I want to know where my data is. If I can’t point to a rack and say “That’s where it is” I’m not comfortable with it. In the event I’m paying someone to host it for me, I want to point to an address on a map.

      I also want to know how it’s being handled. If/When/How Often it’s being backed up, how long backups are retained, where they’re retained, etc.

      I strongly believe that if people who are paying for remote hosting actually asked those questions, they would either get lied to, or they would look for a new host.

      For my hosting, I back-up daily. I export filesystem backups to a remote location ~25 miles away. I also snap images of VM’s every night. Backups are key.

      That and being cheaper than just about everyone out there (because it’s not my primary livlihood, just funding an overglorified hobby) is what differentiates me from the rest.

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