Can't decide between in-house or in the cloud? Why not choose both?

Even in a cloud and tablet world, lots of businesses are going to keep using systems designed for the on-premise world - and that's just fine.
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor on

The new StorSimple appliances and Azure services Microsoft announced recently give you unlimited storage in the cloud, but they're not a cloud service, or at least not in the Platform as Service sense.

You get a piece of hardware that looks, to your applications, like an iSCSI SAN — both physically (it sits in your datacentre and has disks) and logically. It's just that as soon as it gets low on space, even after deduplicating your data, it encrypts it and puts it on Azure.

You get cloud storage without having to hook anything up differently from the way you'd do it for any other iSCSI SAN, or having to learn anything new (assuming you already know about SANs). If you spend time buying and loading and testing and couriering tapes around, count up the time that not doing that will save you.

And the virtual StorSimple appliance that you can run on Azure (but not on premise) looks like a Storage Area Network to the applications you run in Azure virtual machines, so you can use it with applications that were deigned to run on premise with a storage network.

This isn't the blending of PaaS and Infrastructure as a Service Azure gives you with the Azure Files Service (which doesn't interoperate with StorSimple) or the agent that lets you manage Windows Server and Linux VMs as if they were platform services.

That's the future direction of Azure, but Microsoft also wants it to be a universal platform on which you can do everything from disaster recovery to running Docker containers to remote desktop application hosting — and just about anything else you can think of.

It doesn't matter if it's Paas or IaaS or somewhere between the two, Microsoft just wants you to use Azure as your platform for it. Azure is one of the key platforms CEO Satya Nadella just added back to the devices and services emphasis that former CEO Steve Ballmer introduced.

You can use Azure for disaster recovery PaaS-style with the Azure Site Recovery service, or IaaS-style by having a StorSimple appliance fail over into a virtual Azure StorSimple appliance, or into one of your other StorSimple boxes via the Azure StorSimple service. Or you can use the InMage Scout technology Microsoft just acquired, which will work with Site Recovery whether your servers are Windows or Linux, physical or virtualised on Hyper-V or VMware or just about anything else.

That means you don't have to rework a system you already have running on premise just to get the advantages of using it in the cloud; you can take the thing that already works and make it cheaper and more reliable by connecting it to the cloud.

It's like virtualising your servers — it puts you another step away from having to care about the hardware.

Instead of caring about the firmware rev on a RAID card or the spec of the drives in the array, you can be thinking about analysing the data you're storing to see if there are useful business patterns you could use to retain more customers or design a new product.

That's IT moving up the stack inside the business by becoming more about the business information than about the information technology. It's the same kind of time saving you get by switching to Office 365 and not having to care about keeping the Exchange server running or managing email quotas. But it doesn't mean you have to stop using systems that work for you, that you've spent time designing and setting up and testing and teaching people how to use.

Maybe you don't invest in developing them if there's a cloud service you could move to at some point that would be as good but a lot cheaper. Maybe you look at a cloud service that would be a lot cheaper and only does half of what your infrastructure system does — and then work out how many of your expensive extra features are actually getting.

Maybe you put together a transition plan for how you'll move off your infrastructure system in the future, when it's not useful to you any more or it's costing you more than it's making. What you really need to do is take a step back, look at what you have, and what you need. And what you could get, and what it will cost you to move (and what it will cost you not to move) and then decide what to do.

Because it's not either-or. It doesn't make sense to blindly cling to infrastructure just because it's what you know and use today; it's like hanging on to Windows XP and Server 2003 "because they work" — even though come the first major security threat, they won't work so well.

It doesn't make sense to give up what's already working just because cloud services and tablets are trendy either. Move if it makes sense, virtualise and cloud connect your infrastructure if it doesn't. Just keep checking back to see if that's still true.

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