What can cloud computing do for MSPs? Five years ago, the answer to that question was quite different than it is today. If you haven't kept up with the latest developments in cloud services and architectures, you may be missing out on the value that the cloud can offer MSPs.
I have always thought cloud computing was a silly term. It became popular in the mid-2000s, but architectures that are essentially the same as the cloud have been around since long before then.
Thin-client architectures, which entail lightweight workstations that download most of their data and computing power from centralized servers, are basically a form of cloud computing.
So, for that matter, is the World Wide Web. What is the Web if not a very large network of PCs that retrieve information from remote servers?
What the Cloud Used to Mean
Yet even if you put aside the question of whether cloud computing was truly as innovative in the mid-2000s as the buzz surrounding it implied, it's hard to deny that what cloud computing meant circa 2008 was relatively basic.
When most people began talking of cloud computing, the cloud boiled down to a way to outsource data storage and processing to servers that were set up and managed by someone else. That is what services like AWS EC2 allow you to do.
The main value of this type of cloud computing is that it relieves end-users of the need to maintain their own infrastructure.
In addition, services like EC2 provide a great deal of scalability because it is easy to add resources quickly.
How the Cloud Has Evolved
The diversity and sophistication of cloud resources have changed significantly since the first decade of the millenium.
Today, most major cloud providers offer a range of services that extend far beyond the basic compute and storage outsourcing that used to be the main features of the cloud.
The cloud now includes services like the following:
- Serverless functions, which provide innovative ways of executing code within an application without having to maintain a server environment for it. For MSPs, serverless computing opens up new possibilities for application architectures and can offer important cost efficiencies.
- Container-as-a-Service platforms. These provide organizations with an easy way of deploying applications inside Docker containers. In addition to providing hosting infrastructure, Containers-as-a-Service platforms also usually offer integrated management and monitoring tools. They're about more than just outsourcing infrastructure.
- Bare-metal servers. Initially, most public cloud storage and compute services were delivered in virtual environments. That was not ideal for all use cases because some applications work better on bare metal. Today, most public clouds offer bare-metal servers for those who want them.
- Multi-cloud architectures. Multi-cloud architectures are not a service per se. They're an approach to the cloud that offers valuable resiliency and performance advantages over traditional cloud computing architectures.
- Built-in monitoring. All of the major cloud providers now offer relatively sophisticated monitoring tools for customer's infrastructure and applications, such as Azure Monitor and AWS CloudWatch. These tools may not always be sufficient on their own for full-scale monitoring and alerting in cloud environments. But they can suffice for small-scale use cases, and they make it easy to collect important performance metrics for use with third-party monitoring tools.
These are just some examples of what you can now do with the cloud that was not possible five or ten years ago.
The message for MSPs is this: If you still think of the cloud as simply a solution for outsourcing your storage needs or hosting basic Web applications, think again. You can now do things in the cloud that no one even imagined when the term cloud computing exploded into MSPs' lexicon a decade ago.