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How to deal with the on-premises vs. cloud challenge

Some tools and applications aren't a good fit outside of the data center. Try these tactics to cope as more tools and application vendors start to migrate to the cloud.

For some administrators, the cloud is not a novelty. It's critical to their organization. Then, there's you, the lone on-premises holdout.

With all the hype about cloud and Microsoft's strong push to get IT to use Azure for services and workloads, it might seem like you are the only one in favor of remaining in the data center in the great on-premises vs. cloud debate. The truth is the cloud isn't meant for everything. While it's difficult to find a workload not supported by the cloud, that doesn't mean everything needs to move there.

Few people like change, and a move to the cloud is a big adjustment. You can't stop your primary vendors from switching their allegiance to the cloud, so you will need to be flexible to face this new reality. Take a look around at your options as more vendors narrow their focus away from the data center and on-premises management.

Is the cloud a good fit for your organization?

The question is: Should it be done? All too often, it's a matter of money. For example, it's possible to take a large-capacity file server in the hundreds of terabytes and place it in Azure. Microsoft's cloud can easily support this workload, but can your wallet?

Once you get over the sticker shock, think about it. If you're storing frequently used data, it might make business sense to put that file server in Azure. However, if this is a traditional file server with mostly stale data, then is it really worth the price tag as opposed to using on-premises hardware?

Azure file server
When you run the numbers on what it takes to put a file server in Azure, the costs can add up.

Part of the on-premises vs. cloud dilemma is you have to weigh the financial costs, as well as the tangible benefits and drawbacks. Part of the calculation in determining what makes sense in an operational budget structure, as opposed to a capital expense, is the people factor. Too often, admins find themselves in a situation where management sees one side of this formula and wants to make that cloud leap, while the admins must look at the reality and explain both the pros and cons -- the latter of which no one wants to hear.

Part of the on-premises vs. cloud dilemma is you have to weigh the financial costs, as well as the tangible benefits and drawbacks.

The cloud question also goes deeper than the Capex vs. Opex argument for the admins. With so much focus on the cloud, what happens to those environments that simply don't or can't move? It's not only a question of what this means today, but also what's in store for them tomorrow.

As vendors move on, the walls close in

With the focus for most software vendors on cloud and cloud-related technology, the move away from the data center should be a warning sign for admins that can't move to the cloud. The applications and tools you use will change to focus on the organizations working in the cloud with less development on features that would benefit the on-premises data center.

One of the most critical aspects of this shift will be your monitoring tools. As cloud gains prominence, it will get harder to find tools that will continue to support local Windows Server installations over cloud-based ones. We already see this trend with log aggregation tools that used to be available as on-site installs that are now almost all SaaS-based offerings. This is just the start.

If a tool moves from on premises to the cloud but retains the ability to monitor data center resources, that is an important distinction to remember. That means you might have a workable option to keep production workloads on the ground and work with the cloud as needed or as your tools make that transition.

As time goes on, an evaluation process might be in order. If your familiar tools are moving to the cloud without support for on-premises workloads, the options might be limited. Should you pick up new tools and then invest the time to install and train the staff how to use them? It can be done, but do you really want to?

While not ideal, another viable option is to take no action; the install you have works, and as long as you don't upgrade, everything will be fine. The problem with remaining static is getting left behind. The base OSes will change, and the applications will get updated. But, if your tools can no longer monitor them, what good are they? You also introduce a significant security risk when you don't update software. Staying put isn't a good long-term strategy.

With the cloud migration will come other choices

The same challenges you face with your tools also apply to your traditional on-premises applications. Longtime stalwarts, such as Exchange Server, still offer a local installation, but it's clear that Microsoft's focus for messaging and collaboration is its Office 365 suite.

The harsh reality is more software vendors will continue on the cloud path, which they see as the new profit centers. Offerings for on-premises applications will continue to dwindle. However, there is some hope. As the larger vendors move to the cloud, it opens up an opportunity in the market for third-party tools and applications that might not have been on your radar until now. These products might not be as feature-rich as an offering from the larger vendors, but they might tick most of the checkboxes for your requirements.

This was last published in July 2019

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