Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The cloud's "skinny straw": How to not be the sucker

My IBM colleague Mark May flagged this interesting article for me, by open source guru Bernard Golden for CIO magazine online:


The crux of Golden's argument is that cloud computing moves the IT bottleneck from memory tonetwork bandwidth. That is, as you migrate to a cloud solution, it becomes someone else's problem to refresh the hardware, so you'll always have up-to-date hardware that can effectively run all your applications (or else, presumably, you've got someone to sue). The bottleneck, then, moves to the network connecting your enterprise to the cloud infrastructure. Golden calls that network bottleneck, "the skinny straw".

I agree with Golden, but I see the implications a little differently. Here's my take on it (for his, follow the link above):

Assuming that the cloud provider's LAN is sufficient, you're facing two potential skinny straws. The first is the point-to-point line charges. You need to make sure that you've got all the bandwidth you need, and then some to allow for growth. Then you have to negotiate those line charges for all you can squeeze.

I once wrote a white paper describing how there is no linear function to describe how big a pipe you've got, how far it goes from one city to another, and how much you're paying. I wrote that paper in 2002, right after the collapse of Global Crossing, when the communications industry was overbuilt and in a state of panicky retreat. But you know what? I bet I'd reach the same conclusion if I did the same research today.

You should also make sure that the terms you negotiate are for the same length of time as your agreement with the cloud provider.

The other network cost to consider is the last-mile charge from the local hub to the cloud provider's back wall. If you can negotiate this directly with the network service, great. But more likely you'll have to negotiate with the cloud company. Do not let them lump this in with the rent; make sure that this cost is broken out. Do not pay for such sunk costs as actually digging the trenches and laying the cable. Pay only for the real cost of the ping for the month.

And here's an important rule of thumb: It should cost less -- much less -- to pay for one mile's worth of fiber than for the thousand miles of fiber you're riding between cities. Does that sound too simplistic? Do me a favor: Call the budget analyst responsible for your WAN and see what the ratio is now.

Then get back to me. I might be the only one in the world interested in the answer -- but I am that.

Have a better day,


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