Cloud v Server

5 mins read

The cloud is billed as the all singing and dancing successor to running your IT from an antiquated server. But is the new kid on the block really all that? Max Gosney pits the technologies in a head-to-head

CD v vinyl, TV v radio, tablet v laptop. The history of recent technology is littered with classic duels between established force and young pretender to the throne. So ladies and gentlemen please take your seats for the main event of the night. In the red corner, weighing in at half a tonne and with an unblemished record since 1980-something, the undisputed heavyweight champion of manufacturing IT, the server. And in the blue corner, weighing in at absolutely nothing, the challenger, the cloud. Round 1: The opening exchanges Seconds out and the cloud comes out all guns blazing with a classic combination punch. "Argument one for moving to the cloud is I can free up some of my time as an IT professional to get to some of those things on my to do list because I'm not having to cache the server or sort back-up tapes," says Toby Owen, head of product space for cloud service provider Rackspace. "Number two, I get this risk off my books of having equipment in the manufacturing facility where I've invested a lot of money in the manufacturing equipment, but the IT is probably an afterthought. Let me turn that over to a specialist who's better suited to do it." The champ takes the early punishment, but hits back with a body blow: the cloud might not be so clever when your internet connection crashes. Factories will need to check their broadband connection doesn't become a bottleneck for cloud access. Paying for 50 gigabits of network access per second is pointless if your broadband cabling starts smoking at 500kB. At least with a local server you will still be able to access key documents in the event of a disruption, say the fans of servers. However, the cloud parries well against this onslaught. "You've usually got multiple means of connecting to the internet," responds Neil Pickering, marketing manager at workforce management software supplier and cloud host, Kronos. "You've got mobile phones, tablet devices, PCs that can connect via a mobile network. You've got far more means of bypassing a problem than a local server site. If the network goes down on a local site there's nothing you can do about it." Round 2: Cost The cloud is once again quickest to the punch. Services start from £5 a month compared to entry level server costs of £500 and upwards. And it's not just the initial outlay you'll be paying for with a server. "Of course, if you buy your own machine then you have the energy costs and you have to pay people to look after it," says Paul Watson, professor of computer science at Newcastle University. "Then you have to worry about what happens if it fails. If you're renting a machine on the cloud then it's up to the provider to fix it." Server rooms have a list of demands to rival the dressing room requirements of a Hollywood diva. Air temperature must be kept below 20°C to prevent overheating, back-up power packs must be on hand in case of a blackout and tape decks are constantly backing-up information. The cost of maintaining the entourage soon adds up. It leaves the cloud looking like a leaner, more agile option. Capacity can be bought on a pay as you go basis. Servers look lumbering by comparison. Paying for Big Bertha to gather dust in the server room until the one time a month you need her during peak production periods seems like financial suicide. A general rule of thumb is if you're using less than 60% of your server then it's cheaper to go to the cloud. Yet the server refuses to go down without a fight. The champ unleashes a sidewinder against its cloud rival, otherwise known as 'vendor lock-in'. This term has been coined to describe the difficulty and expense some customers have experienced when trying to switch their data from one cloud provider to another. Avoiding vendor lock-in involves a frank discussion with your cloud provider before signing a contract. Make sure you are fully briefed on the potential surcharges for moving. Round 3: Security And here comes the haymaker from the server's corner. Transferring the warts-and-all details of your manufacturing business onto the cloud is tantamount to demolishing the security gate and fixing a giant 'Come and help yourself' placard to the factory warehouse. Putting sensitive financial data or confidential product design information in the hands of a third party is enough to bring many IT managers out in a rash. Yet, in reality your company's crown jewels may just be safer in the cloud than the server storeroom, says research firm Aberdeen Group. On premises solutions suffer an average of 11 incidents of data exposure or loss a year compared to just six for those kept in the cloud, the firm reports. The trend stands to reason. Cloud providers are aware of their customers' concerns and know they will live or die by the strength of their security systems. A one-man band simply can't match that firepower when it comes to firewalls and other security devices. The referee's verdict It's been a titanic battle. The cloud has landed a bloody nose with its promise of a more flexible, fuss-free service than servers. Owen of Rackspace sums up the sentiments of the pro-cloud camp:"By taking this complex stuff that's definitely not core to manufacturing and outsourcing that, it allows you to focus on what you're good at rather than the CEO scratching his head and wondering whether the server got backed up last night." But despite the cloud's potential there's a nagging doubt whether the technology has done enough to deliver a knockout blow to servers just yet. Security, fairly or not, remains a big concern. For hands-on engineers there's something reassuring about being able to pull apart a server stack in the event of IT Armageddon. There's also a question mark over the financial imperative to switch when a business may have tens of thousands of pounds sitting within its server room. Cloud is without doubt the coming force, but even in these days of digital there will always be some who swear by the sweet sounds of vinyl.n Cloud or server: what do you use and why? Email your views to Tale of the tape Name: Server Description: processes, requests and delivers data across multiple computers Strengths - simplicity: all computers can be managed via a single master computer or server. If an internet connection crashes, servers can still be accessed by local users - security: network can only be accessed by nominated users providing you shore up the server with the necessary security software Weaknesses - cost: you'll need bundles of investment capital to equip your site with new servers. Like any asset, their value will depreciate over time. - heavy resources: servers require constant backing up to prevent the loss of key data, which means dedicated back-up technology and constantly keeping tapes running. You'll also need to invest in the extra IT personnel needed to keep the servers up and running. Name: Cloud computing Description: provides services to multiple computers, but from virtual servers hosted on the internet. The cloud network has no physical manifestation Strengths - low entry price: the absence of physical hardware means access costs can be offered on a pay-as-you-go basis by providers. Monthly access can be from £5, but will be depend on your service demands - ease of use: third party providers take responsibility for managing the network and will automatically back-up data. Weaknesses - security: many are dubious about storing commercially sensitive data somewhere on the internet. However, providers say security is second to none - vendor-lock in: once you put your data with a chosen cloud provider it can be very difficult and expensive to move it to an alternative provider.