Cloud, with Benefits: Challenges and Opportunities from Using Cloud Technologies with On-Premise Legacy Systems
Our company has built robust on-premise proprietary systems with thousands of business rules that reflect decades of experience in our industry. When the time came to design the architecture for our new online channel system, the team wanted to leverage cloud technologies for their scalability and redundancy options. After two years of work, the final system encompassed a front-end cloud-based system hosted at Azure that allows flexibility in terms of adding compute capacity and regional redundancy when needed. The key part is that the Azure system is connected via VPN to our on-premise back-office to leverage the legacy systems that define our market differentiation. This hybrid cloud/on-premise solution brings the best from both worlds, but there are certainly challenges and opportunities in doing so.
The challenges we have faced in making this hybrid setup work have to do with learning about the difference in terms of performance between SaaS options, the extra time it takes to troubleshoot outages and cost. One of the first things we learned is that there are standard and premium offerings (for some of the true cloud services) that will impact performance. For example, the cloud messaging system has a standard offering that shares resources and a premium one with dedicated resources. For transactional operations like ours, where speed of processing is key, we quickly realized that the standard option was too slow for our real-time needs. This then forced us to go with the premium / dedicated option, which significantly increased our costs from what was originally estimated. We experienced a similar situation with the cloud SQL offering. To meet demand for performance we had to upgrade to premium flash storage since the standard storage would not deliver the IOPS required to sustain the transactional performance we needed.
Hopefully sharing our lessons-learned will help other CIOs avoid experiencing the same issues, particularly the difference in performance and the subsequent increase in costs to compensate
Another challenge we have faced is having to troubleshoot outages that ended up being outside of our control. While a true multi-region, load-balancing cloud setup will usually take care of most of these issues, the fact is that troubleshooting a cloud incident is more time consuming since your team will have to exhaustively demonstrate to the cloud technical support team that the problem is not on your end. The stance we have typically seen is that the cloud’s technical support will assume the issue is on your side unless proven otherwise. Finally, cost can be an issue when trying to estimate the overall Opex for a project during its planning stage. In addition to the standard vs. premium cost creep mentioned above, it’s important to keep in mind that costs can quickly increase given how easy it is to add new cloud resources. If not monitored closely, this can spin out of control and affect the annual IT budget.
These challenges become less impactful with experience. Hopefully sharing our lessons-learned will help other CIOs avoid experiencing the same issues, particularly the difference in performance and the subsequent increase in costs to compensate. But a hybrid cloud/on-premise setup definitively has more advantages than challenges. Once the flow between cloud and back-office is smooth and all the services are working as expected, the ability to quickly launch new projects that can leverage your existing business rules truly provides a business differentiation and the possibilities are endless.
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