Why I ditched my servers for the Cloud

Why I ditched my servers for the Cloud

Summary: Old habits die hard. But it no longer made sense for me to maintain my own systems anymore.

My servers, may they rest in peace.

Over the last two years, due to career changes, I've made the transition from datacenter consolidation specialist to a cloud architect.

It could be argued that very little has actually changed in terms of the tools of the trade and the methodologies that I work with, as both make heavy use of virtualization and systems automation, but the reality is that I haven't done a lot of work in the datacenter itself since shifting the focus of what I do.

In my professional life, I help hosters, service providers and ISVs build new cloud offerings, whether they are deployed as IaaS, desktops as a service or hosted/subscriber applications via SaaS. If it's cloud in the public or in the private space, I'm all over it.

Until recently though, I haven't practiced what I preached. Vestiges of my earlier life still existed, in the form of my own private server lab, which I used for software testing and storing files and for multitudes of other things.

I'm a server guy. I've always been a server guy.

Over the last seven years I invested in 1U and 2U x86 servers, building them new from parts or buying them second hand. I needed systems that could run virtualized instances of Windows and Linux, running under various hypervisor platforms, because I had little room for on the job experimentation. 

Over time my testing demands increased and I needed more storage. So I bought more hard disks. I needed to speed up performance, so I upgraded CPUs and installed SSDs. I needed to test and run larger workloads. So I bought more memory.

When you are an enterprise, there are cycles for upgrades and replacement. Systems are assets that are depreciated and serve ongoing business functions, and there are IT budgets to justify their existence as necessary if they serve the needs of the business.

Look, messing around with hypervisors is fun at work, but let's face it, I really don't want to run my own infrastructure anymore.

But as an independent systems professional this was a tough pill to swallow. How much money should I spend per year on maintaining server equipment and my PCs? $2000? $5000? I made a very good living, but it was hard to justify the expense.

I continued to do it though, because I wanted to further my education on competing technologies, whether it was operating system, virtualization, networking or storage-related.

It wasn't just the cost of the equipment though that was a burden, however. I had an entire bakers rack in a spare bedroom dedicated to them and they made a lot of noise, generated a lot of heat, and consumed a lot of electricity.

I couldn't keep them running all the time because my electric bill would be outrageous, and they made such a racket that I had to turn them off at night or we couldn't get any sleep. 

It finally came to a head about three or four months ago. I was going to buy two new servers to replace the aging systems I own now. With my oldest boxes going on six years old, they are now at the point where running modern hypervisors on them, whether they are Hyper-V, VMware or KVM-based is a bit of a challenge.

They'll still run most stuff bare metal perfectly fine, but that's a huge waste of resources and makes it that much harder to test the things I want to test.

I did the math, and it probably would have run me a good $5000-$7000 to get what I wanted in terms of CPU horsepower, memory, networking and storage. That kind of capital investment for what amounted to a testing/lab rig for someone who no longer owns their own consulting firm didn't make any sense anymore.

I looked at the pricing on Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, as well as a number of private cloud offerings, and the numbers frankly astounded me. I'd be out of my mind to buy new equipment.

Let's start with storage. Enterprise-grade, locally-redundant cloud "blob" storage is ridiculously cheap now, to the tune of about two cents a gigabyte per month for the first terabyte, and it gets cheaper after about the first 10 terabytes. If you want georedundant you pay a little bit more. 

I could use that blob storage accessed by virtual machines I could run in IaaS, or I could use it as direct storage over the Internet, and build my own secure backup vault with it.

If I wasn't as concerned about RTO's or potential restore costs I might be enticed to use something like Amazon Glacier, which is priced at about 1 cent per gig and functions more akin to a tape drive than a random access device.

My multi-terabyte photo collection would have been a good candidate for that, but I chose to put it all on Azure blob, so I could access it directly from my PC as a hard drive and backup target using software like Cloudberry and GoodSync.

For personal data storage? OneDrive is awesome. I can access that from every device I own, from anywhere. Admittedly, I don't use many Google services anymore, but I have to give serious props to Google Drive for driving consumer storage prices way, way down. 

The VMs? Look, messing around with hypervisors is fun at work, but let's face it, I really don't want to run my own infrastructure anymore. I only want to run workloads and operating systems when they need to run, and I want to provision and deprovision them as necessary.

Azure gives me 10 different types of VM configurations for general purpose, compute intensive or memory intensive testing. Amazon and Google have similar offerings as do any number of independent cloud providers.

Cloud storage and VM compute is a commodity, period.

Provisioning a multi-tier application environment is as easy as clicking a few links in a web browser. It was never that effortless when I ran my own systems. And if I need something as simple as a website or a hosted database without firing up a whole VM? I can do that with my cloud provider as well.

Sure, I used to love firing up the servers and making hardware hum. But that's not me anymore. Now I just want to make the applications work, I don't want it to break the bank and I want it to run more reliably than I can possibly build it myself.

And when you get down to it, that's what the Cloud is ultimately all about.

Have you put your servers out to pasture yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Cloud, Data Centers, Servers


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • The question that holds me back...

    from going all-in on the cloud is the true ownership and privacy of the data that is stored there. I don't have anything provocative that would stir up suspicion, but still have a hard time giving up control of really important and hard to replace data.
    • And

      for those living outside America, it is even harder. Using a cloud service with any ties to the USA pretty much leaves you open to prosecution in your local jurisdiction, if you store personally identifiable information in that cloud.

      I'll be waiting to see what happens in the Microsoft case. Will the US Government really decide that they have jurisdiction in Ireland, against a server based in Ireland and owned by an Irish company, just because the paren company happens to do business in America?

      If that happens, it will be the death knell for international businesses running cloud services. As soon as the company has any dealings in the USA, it will have to abandon all customers outside the USA and any US based cloud service will be pretty much restricted to doing business domestically.

      So, Google Docs, Gmail, Office 365, Outlook.com etc. will all shrink to the domestic US market only and there will be dozens of disparate, incompatible cloud services that are regionally based.

      Still Microsoft's licence sales will probably get a boost, as Azure shrinks.
      • Anything but Google

        No business in their right mind would use Google cloud service to begin with, as their TOS of service states that your data is their data and they will share it. MS at least states your data belongs to you, and they will not share it. Every cloud based company's TOS though states that if there is a security or data breach you are on your own, and they are not responsible. Which is another very good reason not to use the cloud.
        • Why lie about Google?

          The Google Cloud Services TOS says:
          5. Intellectual Property Rights; Use of Customer Data; Feedback.

          5.1 Intellectual Property Rights. Except as expressly set forth in this Agreement, this Agreement does not grant either party any rights, implied or otherwise, to the other’s content or any of the other’s intellectual property. As between the parties, Customer owns all Intellectual Property Rights in Customer Data and the Application or Project (if applicable), and Google owns all Intellectual Property Rights in the Services and Software.

          5.2 Use of Customer Data.Google may use Customer Data and Applications only to provide the Services to Customer and its End Users and to help secure and improve the Services. For instance, this may include identifying and fixing problems in the Services, enhancing the Services to better protect against attacks and abuse, and making suggestions aimed at improving performance or reducing cost.

          5.3 Customer Feedback. If Customer provides Google feedback or suggestions about the Services, then Google may use that information without obligation to Customer, and Customer hereby irrevocably assigns to Google all right, title, and interest in that feedback or those suggestions.

          It does not claim that your data is their data and that they will share it. That, of course, applies to Cloud Services, not to other areas of Google.
          • Well then,

            You haven't been paying attention to how Google works and makes its money. It's a data mining company first and foremost. That is no secret, that is not evil. The problem is that their revenue comes from the sale of that info and the resulting targeted advertisements.

            Their wording is done well, however in 5.2 Google determines what makes their services better, not you. You know what makes a Google services better or enhances them? Data mining and sales of that data... because THAT's WHAT GOOGLE DOES!!! That is their sole purpose and that is their revenue maker. Google Search is the core of their model, and everything runs through it. They don't do big licensing like Microsoft, they don't do over-priced hardware like Apple. They work with data. Your data, everyone's data. Without that business model, they don't exist. You don't get to opt out. The system doesn't work if you do.

            They are not (and have not been for a long time), the Altruistic company they started out to be. None of this is a secret and it makes me wonder why people don't care. The apathy towards this kind of stuff is the sweet spot in which Google thrives.
          • Do you have any facts about google mining data stored in Google Drive?

            This article is not about cloud based email, it is about cloud based servers with only a mention of cloud storage, but then the anti Google trolls come out in force with the same BS about Google's targeted marketing business model. I'm pretty sure that, by now, everybody knows how Google monetizes its services. Many people think its worse than it really is and they still use Google services in spite of the lies.

            I wonder when the trolls will give up spouting the same BS about Google invading people's privacy selling people's private data. Everybody knows... those who care have switched and those who haven't switched don't care.

            Personally, I think if you are concerned about on-line privacy you should stop sending unencrypted emails regardless of who your email provider is. You are basically sending postcards where anyone along the delivery route can read your messages and then complaining that someone is reading your messages. News Flash: All email is scanned somewhere in transit, multiple times as it passes between you and your intended party. All email. First of all a mail server has to receive then transmit every bit of every byte of a message in order to do its job. Messages are read then written to storage. Spam filters and virus scans are run on the content of the messages and the attachments. Algorithms are run to match messages to certain conditions. Google runs certain algorithms to determine if you might be interested in certain marketing. They do not sell your data to their advertising partners. I seriously doubt that analyzing the contents of a person's 15 GB cloud storage will yield much valuable marketing data but, like email, a users privacy should not be trusted to any cloud provider since the company, its employees or outside IT contractors, governments and hackers could violate that privacy and you most likely would never know to complain about it. If you value your privacy, use strong encryption or simply do not put your data in anyone else's hands. Do not rely on any company's TOS to ensure your privacy.
          • yup...

            my own mail server scans all email passing though it, for viruses, for SPAM, it looks for keywords and patterns and links and scores them based on that.. If I wanted to scan for keywords to show people ads for, I could do it with a couple of lines of Perl.. So that email you just sent probably got scanned by about a dozen automated systems on it's way to it's target.. The fact that 95% of SPAM never arrives in my inbox is a very good reason to love automated scanning.

            Incidentally Microsoft, Yahoo and just about every other mail service on the planet also has automated systems scanning your email.. virus and spam scanning couldn't work any other way.. The only difference is that in googles case, if it seems a noun, it ticks a box somewhere and you might get ads for that noun.. no people involved at all and no context taken or stored.
          • Finally someone

            Finally someone who is not bullshitting himself.

            Of course Google mines your data. Legal documents do not always mean much. Every company on the planet says "We do not sell your data to anyone." The ones that shove that in your face, are the ones who DO sell your data.

            I am reminded of some cartoon where some criminals put a note on their door that says: "We did not just rob that bank and we also did not escape to that faraway place." Someone who is not guilty would not have a reason to defend against allegations that have not been made.

            Evernote tells me, when there is no reason to, the following in a customer support email:

            "Taken from our Privacy Policy, your email address is used to help you create an Evernote Service account, so we can communicate with you, to send password reset emails, etc. Evernote does not mine user information. You can read more on our Privacy Policy here:"

            I never questioned why they need my email address. It is completely obvious why any web service needs an email address. So why go and explain why you need my email address? Why tell me that you are not mining my data?

            It is a response to an accusation that has not been made, and hence it indicates guilt.
          • but so is microsoft..

            In fact, you clearly don't know that they actually have a search engine called Bing that they desperately want to be competitive with Google.. so they are using pretty much all the same tools to get there. be honest about it and perhaps people will listen.. While we are on the subject, are you absolutely sure Apple dont' data mine icloud? What about Facebook/twitter/etc.

            Seems to me that you are singling out google for no apparent reason.. Did your boss google you and find out something you didn't want him to know?
  • Only for some

    The cloud is only a bargain if your data is worth nothing.
    • 99%

      of a company's data isn't proprietary, and could be stored anywhere. We used to hold the entire engineering database of a multi-national company on four 4GB drives in a rack. That pretty much fits under a desk, along with a backup tape drive. In fact, that's exactly where it was. Hey, it worked, and the designs it produced took over the world. Don't tell anyone, but the huge server room with all those servers and racks of drives were really just an illusion to keep the IT guys off of engineering's neck. We'd upload data every night, just to keep the line trickling so that the backup in the machine room would produce something.
      Tony Burzio
      • I work

        for a medium size company. Peoplesoft data (HR and Accounting) 1.2TB, Email data 2 TB, File Server data, 3 TB.

        We would NOT want any of that data to get out into the public. That data represents only about 10% of the data we want to keep private.
  • Deja Vu

    "Why I'm ready to ditch my dedicated server and move to the cloud"
    By Ed Bott for The Ed Bott Report | May 13, 2013

    What took you so long, Jason?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • What took me so long

      If I only had a single dedicated server to worry about I probably would have done it a while ago. His box was Internet-facing and running production websites and email hosting and mine were for the most part, not. Ed's needs are different than mine, obviously.
  • Non-Productive

    Seems like to me this was only a test bed server.. If you use it to test Platforms & operating systems. Also turn it off from time to time because of noise or head. How does ditching local based servers for cloud. Some servers are used for Data Storage, Websites or VPS. Depending on the use.. Moving to a cloud could be more costly in terms of CPU load, Data Cost or Just Storage cost. 200gb quota is small for just storage.
    Anthony E
  • I moved lots of stuff to Azure.

    But I still keep few machines at home, I love tinkering with hardware. I moved my critical stuff to Azure so that I don't have to run home servers 24*7. I turn on home servers only when I need to test something. My power bill has gone down by 25 percent.
    • lol

      I call BS on that.
      • On what?

        On what? The power usage? That's not that unlikely for a big server and a small house in the summer. You've got the power used by the server and the power used by the A/C to remove that heat. Winter is another matter as the system is helping heat the house.
        Buster Friendly
  • That's some serious gear

    The stuff I use at home costs me hundreds and not thousands. That must be some serious gear. The limitations I would see with going purely with hosted VMs is I can't keep up to date on the various hypervisors or do much in the way of performance testing.
    Buster Friendly
  • Security is a big reason I don't use the cloud

    I work for , and support, the legal profession. Every year I look at the cloud offerings, and every year it is basically the same. Google says your data is our data and we will share it with everyone, MS states your data is you data and we will not share it at all. But, and this is a bi but and what still prevents me from using and cloud service at all, if there is security breach everyone's TOS states "it sucks to be you buddy". I do not even use Dropbox or Onedrive because of this, and have my own secure FTP server for file sharing. Until that changes I will not use, nor recommend any cloud service to any of my clients. And if anyone uses cloud based anything, good luck.