By: Terry Storrar, Managing Director, Leaseweb UK
In today’s digital-first, 24/7 economy, many companies are now operating with an ‘always-on’ model at the heart of everything they do. From sales and customer service to marketing and manufacturing, being open for business around the clock is not just a route to competitive advantage – increasingly it’s becoming a minimum requirement.
The provision and adoption of agile and affordable technology services has been a huge enabler. In particular, the ubiquitous growth of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and cloud-hosted online service models have given businesses the flexibility and power to implement the infrastructure they need to stay up and running – ideally, without interruption.
As a result, the way organisations approach their technology strategy has inevitably changed from an emphasis on in-house strategies to an increasing reliance on outsourced service providers. The range of options is enormous – while some businesses carefully cherry-pick their use of SaaS or cloud-hosted services to match their precise needs, others have gone ‘all-in’ with the outsourcing model, retaining little or no on-premises infrastructure to speak of.
For many, the balance lies in a hybrid approach where on-premises technologies are integrated with a range of SaaS and cloud capabilities to provide the flexibility, performance, and cost control needed to remain ‘always-on’. In balancing this kind of strategy, however, businesses will often face a common set of challenges that will influence how they operate. In almost all cases, there are three core considerations: infrastructure hosting, IT management, and cost control.
- Infrastructure Hosting
The choice of where to host IT infrastructure sits front and centre for both short and long term tech strategy planning. For example, to what extent does each business retain control over the design, implementation, and administration of its IT estate? If they outsource to a service provider, how can they be sure that the partners they choose will be able to match their performance and reliability standards? Alternatively, does switching to a service model actually increase the price/performance balance, could it improve security, or ease the strain on an overstretched in-house IT team?
These are crucial questions and each has specific use cases, pros and cons. For instance, hosting everything in the cloud via a pay-per-use model can be absolutely ideal for businesses that might need to quickly scale their resources. Businesses should be mindful, however, that these flexible, always-on workloads can use a lot of IT resources, significantly adding to the cost.
Conversely, hosting everything in-house might lead to more predictable costs but can be less flexible if a business needs to adjust its resources and capacity either up or down. Many organisations will be familiar with the frustration of paying for IT infrastructure that has been over-provisioned and subsequently not used.
Balancing the two with a hybrid setup can help deliver an effective strategy, and is particularly useful for organisations at the start of their journey to transition their infrastructure to the cloud. In particular, a hybrid approach allows businesses to host those workloads requiring scalability in the cloud while still affording the option of developing and building other key services in an on-premises data centre.
- IT Management
Key decisions such as infrastructure hosting shouldn’t be made in isolation because back-end IT management always impacts the ability of a business to remain ‘always-on’. While some organisations have well-resourced operations teams that help their systems run like clockwork, others are more focused on priorities such as cloud-native development and, as a result, possess a very different skillset. In many cases, decisions about how to handle back-end management can actually hold companies back from developing and growing.
However, the flexibility of modern data centres and the service providers who run them gives businesses with always-on aspirations lots of options. For example, advanced and highly virtualised servers and storage solutions have become quite simple to run, even for businesses with a limited IT team. What’s more, the cloud-like management experience of these systems means they can be seamlessly integrated with public or private cloud environments. This allows users to easily manage their back-end infrastructure so they can focus their attention on strategic business priorities, rather than keeping the IT lights on.
- Cost Control
Linking everything together is the fundamental issue of cost control. Keeping budgets in line with expectations is crucial for companies operating an always-on model. Without proper management, costs can pile up quickly and successful planning is dependent on understanding the relative TCO of a public cloud environment versus an on-premises data centre if businesses are to balance IT budgets against business needs.
Therefore, businesses should always look to make precise, informed decisions. A great basis for this is to request an independent and objective TCO calculation from any prospective service provider before committing to a solution or service. Another option is to work with a third party to help calculate the TCO for on-premises solutions. Either way, the benefit of some detailed planning up front is that teams can then work with accurate information and predictable cost models.