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Tech Blog: Public Cloud Strategies

Welcome to the Huntzinger Tech Blog. Our goal is to provide some insights and perspectives on various technical topics that CTOs, IT directors, and other healthcare IT professionals deal with from a technical infrastructure perspective.

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By John Hendricks
Senior Management Consultant
Huntzinger Management Group

It’s been said that health systems won’t be in the data center business in five years. Interesting though, I’ve be hearing this for about five years now. Regardless, cloud computing certainly has a place in healthcare now and in the future. This blog post focuses on the public cloud computing market, namely comparing Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and the Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

There are many problems that can be solved by moving computing workloads to the cloud. Examples include creating a data center that is designed to be highly available, or using a data center that has sufficient geographical distance from the disaster recovery site. Resource constraints are another example. Capacity for computing growth in the data center doesn’t exist, funds to fix data center issues aren’t available and teams are just too busy with other work. Given that problems exist, then what topics should be considered when moving computing workloads to the public cloud?

The most important consideration is whether the application will run or work in the public cloud. The other is security. The application and its respective data must be secured against breaches and continue to meet all the necessary security requirements and regulations. Some of the public cloud providers won’t sign a business associate agreement (BAA) or won’t sign your BAA. This is a concern and the risks associated with this will need to be vetted. Assuming these two challenges can be met with the public cloud, then many choices exist.

Three vendors dominate the public cloud market — Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and the Google Cloud Platform. All three offer a robust set of functionalities that will meet most computing requirements. Amazon’s strengths are in its market dominance and longevity, offering cloud services for more than 11 years. Amazon also is known to have the most comprehensive network of global data centers. Microsoft’s strengths are its ability to support much of an organization’s on-premises software, such as Windows Server, SQL Server and Active Directory in the cloud. Google’s strengths are its ability to support big data, analytics and machine learning.

All three offer compute services that can be scaled appropriately. Amazon offers a secure web service that can be resized automatically. It supports Windows, Linux and other operating systems. Microsoft also supports multiple operating systems and can easily support hybrid cloud needs. Google offers the same and operates in a carbon-neutral way to use half the energy of typical data centers, which reduces costs. All offer a free tier for a limited amount of computing for the first 12 months. Leveraging the free tier is a great way to get started moving workloads to the public cloud. It will support various proof-of-concepts or pilots for organizations to determine if public cloud computing aligns with a data center strategy.

Storage is an offering from all three, both in object and block form. Block storage is typically paired with respective computing services, and all three offer a service for file and network drives. Amazon and Microsoft offer a hybrid storage solution where file shares can be leveraged seamlessly to users on site. To migrate data to the cloud, all three providers have tools and services to make this as efficient as possible.

What happens after you move the cloud? Hopefully, you picked a cloud provider that can support your data migration efforts with ease and offer several ways to migrate it. Moving data can be expensive and time consuming, so you want to be careful and build this time into work plans. In addition, consideration needs to be given for the ongoing data migration effort, both to and from the public cloud. Amazon and Google offer an appliance that can be installed on premise to manage this data-migration effort. These appliances help facilitate large data transfers, both one-time and ongoing.

Managing your environment and using the web portal provided by the cloud provider is also something to consider. Amazon’s portal has been known to have the steepest learning curve, likely because of the many functionalities provided. Microsoft’s interface will look familiar, since you’re likely using it today. And, Google’s interface is straightforward, but could get more complicated as the offering grows over time.

Fortunately, there are many training resources out there to learn all three. Training through the cloud provider is available, including certifications. Training through online providers such as Coursera or Udemy are also an option.

Other items to consider when using a public cloud vendor is establishing connectivity to the provider’s network. You’ll want to consider a dedicated connection and establishing a virtual private cloud for additional security. Sizing the connection that matches your use case and data load movement is important, so data transfer bottlenecks are reduced or eliminated.

Price or cost is often overlooked when using the public cloud until the first few invoices come due. You’ll want to explore paying for what you use and be truly elastic with your needs, spinning up computing and storage when you need it, and then remembering to turn it down when you aren’t using the resources. There are tools provided by the cloud provider or third-parties that can help optimize the value of using cloud technology and the price you will pay for it.

If you’re considering a move to the public cloud, many organizations start with moving backup data as a proof-of-concept. Another option to get started is hosting development and testing environments in the cloud, turning them down when not in use to save on expenses.

There will be a time when we can answer the questions on the need for a local data center. And, with so many choices and topics to discuss around cloud computing, you may need help architecting the right solution for your organization. If you’re thinking about moving to the cloud and need help, Huntzinger’s Technical Advisory Services Group is happy to partner with you on this journey.

Topics: Tech Blog

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