All Aboard the Cloud Bandwagon

Embracing cloud computing methods is becoming predominant for companies looking to drive their business forward over the upcoming years. Although digital transformation continues to be a fancy buzzword for the moment, with coverage of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence increasing as each day ticks by, cloud computing remains current, even if it has slipped from the glare of the limelight in the popular online press.

 

The cloud market is now growing significantly as more companies realize the Cloud’s power and untapped potential. With growing innovation boosted by a breakneck competition in the cloud market, new startups like DocuSign, Cohesity, Clumio, Slack have popped up with more innovative and unique cloud-related products and services that explore new horizons making the cloud a much broader, vast and versatile infrastructure. 

 

Toyota, for instance, is using cloud technology to convert its cars into a connected platform. Apps that connect these cars to social media sites are hosted on Microsoft Azure. These apps enable Toyota to offer an enhanced customer experience. Buffer uses Zoom to run it’s All Hands Meet. Zoom enables the team, spread across 10 different time zones to connect, collaborate, and get up to speed.

Migrating resources to the cloud no longer require purchasing hardware and equipment. Not only do businesses save on the initial purchase expenses of hardware, but businesses also financially benefit from the cloud ‘pay-as-you-go’ model of only paying for the storage businesses need and use.

 Thus, migrating to the cloud provides the opportunity for the company to scale up as computing needs increase and easily scale down if they decrease. For example, pay-as-you-go platforms like Amazon EC2, allows users to tailor computing resources by what is used while plugging in any additional software to run their environment.[It is basically like a virtual Linux environment.]

 With the cloud, not only are fewer servers used, but they are powered efficiently, thus reducing the carbon impact on a company’s data center. Cutting down on data centers by switching IT operations to a public cloud provider significantly lowers carbon emissions and electricity consumption. This gives cloud users the additional perk of being greener while also saving green on the energy bills. 

Since the virtual server is hardware-independent, the operating system, applications, patches, and data can be safely and accurately transferred from one data center to a second data center without the burden of reloading each component of the server. This can dramatically reduce recovery times compared to conventional (non-virtualized) disaster recovery approaches where servers need to be loaded with the OS and application software and patched to the last configuration used in production before the data can be restored.

Firms don’t need to set up servers and computers. They just need to invest in a cloud service such as Azure or Amazon Web Services. APIs provide seamless integration between apps.

But, deciding to move your company’s digital environment to the Cloud is not a small ask. Most firms are reluctant to hire an entire professional team to do it. This is where cloud consultants come in. Firms like Amazon [Amazon Web Services] have highly skilled cloud consultants who are responsible for providing smart and personalized cloud-based solutions for their clients. The same goes for Google [Google Cloud Platform] and Microsoft [Microsoft Azure] who are industry leaders in the cloud business.

 

Vendor Strengths Weaknesses
AWS • Dominant market position

• Extensive, mature offerings

• Support for large organizations

• Extensive training

• Global reach

• Great Open Source Support

• Difficult to use

• Cost management

• Overwhelming number of 

options to choose from. 

Microsoft 

Azure

•Second largest provider

• Integration with Microsoft tools 

and software

• Broad feature set

• Hybrid cloud

•Issues with documentation

• Incomplete management 

Tooling

•Slower than competitors

•Poor open source support.

 

 

 

Google • Designed for cloud-native 

businesses

• Commitment to open source and 

portability

• Deep discounts and flexible 

contracts

• Late entrant to IaaS market

• Fewer features and services

• Not Enterprise focused

 

It wasn’t too long ago when the biggest nightmare for an enterprise was if their platform went down for days. However, in today’s fast-paced world being down is a fraction of the worry. Now, it is all about speed. Cloud computing makes businesses dependent on the reliability of the Internet connection. For example Datacenter powerhouse Equinix lost power in its Ashburn campus. The power outage resulted in a networking failure, interrupting service to customers that co-locate on Equinix infrastructure for two roughly 10-minute intervals that morning. 

Some cloud servers operate on Dynamic algorithms which mostly work on the observed properties of the resources at run time. However, this feature leads to high overhead on the system as constant monitoring and control adds more traffic and cause more delays. For example, it has been noticed that cloud servers have performed poorer during a scenario of flash sale where there is a large amount of incoming traffic.

One can pre-test the network with synthetic traffic to understand how proactive monitoring will perform against either specific application traffic or a combination of traffic types. The synthetic traffic provides the network and/or application loading of a “busy hour” and the flexibility to perform evaluations during the network maintenance window.

According to basic psychology, humans are more satisfied and calmer when they feel in control of a situation. This applies to website loading times, where a longer loading speed equates to a perceived loss of control. Codechef, a popular Indian competitive programming site, decided to shift to cloud servers to handle the massive traffic that the site had started receiving during the lockdown period.

Unfortunately, the site could not keep pace with the amount of submission it received and had to cancel a few of their contests even after upgrading to a new system of cloud-based checkers. It slowed down the evaluation process. While this solved the issue of having massive submission queues, on an average, it takes much longer for a user to get a verdict on their solution. Furthermore, some of the solutions that were accepted earlier don’t get accepted now. However, when reported about this Codechef did not take any active measures to work on the issue. The declining quality of the platform is probably one of the reasons why Directi decided to sell it to the ed-tech startup Unacademy. 

On the flip side, similar programming hosting platforms called Codeforces and TopCoder have been handling contests with much heavier traffic than Codechef. Codeforces has continually updated its online judge configurations[With the latest update scheduled to take place in July 2020]. The last official note from 7 years ago states that they were using i5-3470, 8Gb with turbo-boosting the CPU to 3.5GHz. To ensure that the judges run quickly, the network configurations are tested regularly to ensure flow control auto-negotiation. The fact that the Codeforces website servers are handled by a smaller team makes their work commendable. Codechef could consider using a pretest based approach to run their contests to handle the traffic if they cannot implement the features that Codeforces uses due to architectural restrictions. 

But even the most prominent cloud providers have had their bad days. From service disruptions that have lasted for hours to a loss of customer data, unexpected cloud disasters have hit the most popular of cloud vendors. 

On May 9, 2016, the Silicon Valley NA14 instance of Salesforce.com went offline, resulting in an outage that lasted for more than 24 hours. Extensive business damage was inevitable, with customers losing hours and hours of data. Salesforce moved to Amazon Web Services for most of its workloads thereafter as a result. This shows us that while Cloud has made significant in-roads into the industry there are still a number of problems that need to be handled. 

In one sense, cloud environments face similar threats as traditional data centers because it runs on software. Software always runs the risk of code vulnerabilities and opens up avenues for hackers to exploit web security. Web application firewalls (WAFs) and complimentary cloud-based solutions can help defend an organization against a host of threats. However, the problem with cloud environments doesn’t end here. It is extremely important to have a highly optimized pipeline for a cloud-based website to function properly. A lack of optimization at any stage of a pipeline can lead to sub-par performances, as seen in the case of Codechef.

Cloud-based solutions have become even more important in the face of the Covid19 crisis. Companies now have to ensure the safety of their workforce. But, they cannot afford to falter in accounting and compliance. While a majority of businesses are finding it impossible to manage their team, allot work, or even oversee accounting and compliance, those companies which have opted for SaaS-based compliance solutions, are faring better than the rest. By opting for cloud accounting software, businesses are fighting the inconvenience brought about by this scenario. The social distancing norm has made cloud-based firms more important than they ever were. The sign on the wall is simple, “Either you opt for cloud-based solutions to move your workforce to a virtual platform or close your shop.”

As cloud computing continues to make inroads in enterprise worlds, all stakeholders are looking forward to the evolution of the model. More companies are abandoning on-premises computer hardware in favor of the much more advanced cloud system. As computing technology develops, businesses naturally leave behind their older ways and switch to cutting-edge solutions.  Moreover, data for companies and personal use will be available everywhere in standardized formats, enabling individuals alongside businesses to easily leverage and interact with each other at a larger level.

 

References

  1. https://blog.codechef.com/2020/04/17/scaling-up-new-cloud-based-checkers/
  2. https://codeforces.com/blog/entry/8457

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