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How Cloud Computing Enables Our Startup’s Success

July 20, 2017

Good-bye big data center. We’ll kind of miss your double air lock doors and elevated tile floors.

By Denny Brandt for Startups.co, 4/3/17

I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night ’tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
~Shelley

Remember when clouds were just for sifting snow, and “the Cloud” was just for storage?

A lot has happened since those days. A lot. But the Cloud’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind nature makes it easy to miss the benefits of the latest developments.

Why Cloud computing matters

Recently I sat down with my colleague Eric Schmidt, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) certified Cloud Systems Architect, to talk about his perspective on the future of Cloud computing. Our aim was to exchange ideas as we create products and services our customers value.

Cloud computing is a key strategic component for our startup. The way it has enabled our Software as a Service value proposition is only growing in significance and scale. That’s important for us as an organization that creates differentiated customer experiences amidst expanding customer expectations. We never stop hunting for new ways to create value.

A conversation about creating value

In the conversation below, Eric answers my questions in areas we believe are key to creating value for our customers. We’ve edited it for length and clarity.

Let’s start with background and assumptions about the Cloud. What would be helpful to know about?

We use AWS as our Cloud solution, but our conversation could be generalized to any industrial strength Cloud computing solution. Let’s assume the product benefitting from Cloud computing has a consumer-facing software component. Think iPhone app or SaaS solution.

For industry context, it’s also worth noting that we’re part of the AWS Partner Network (APN) and have the AWS Financial Services Competency designation.

One last piece of background. You might be wondering, how did “the Cloud” get its name?

The history of the name comes from system diagrams. Engineers typically use a cloud shape to refer to an entity that is outside their organization or control.

Get it? Nice.

What’s the regulatory environment like for Cloud solutions? Are they safe and secure?

What we’ve found is that Cloud security is actually stronger than a physical data center’s. It’s the difference automation makes over the human-error factor.

At a physical data center, people are responsible for installs, configurations, and maintenance. All activities are at risk for people’s natural and individual variations. These variations could open vulnerabilities and other problems. Of course, a data center is not the place for individualism.

What were manual human actions in a traditional data center environment are now programmatic API calls, greatly reducing the opportunity for human error.

Photo credit: Alberto Restifo

Photo credit: Alberto Restifo

For example, the AWS CloudFormation service provides a template based orchestration API for provisioning cloud resources that removes the inherent risk of multiple human interactions.

In addition to security and related errors, we’ve also had great results with Cloud compliance standards. The compliance standards among Cloud providers are comprehensive and often also cover narrow markets with unique compliance standards, such as an Asian financial market. The level of verification you can do on a Cloud implementation just isn’t possible in a physical data center. You can check out the compliance details as described by Amazon.

What are the unique Cloud advantages for rapid prototyping, or for lean startup build, measure, and learn cycles? Is there a concept of a development sandbox?

It’s incredibly painless and easy to get started. For AWS, if you have an Amazon.com account, you’re already on you’re way. You can sign up for the AWS Free Tier with your existing account.

There’s an incredibly low barrier to entry. Compared to even 10 years ago, the startup costs are zero or very low. Individuals and small development teams often start for free for the first year. After all, the goal of Cloud computing is to do the undifferentiated heavy lifting for you, so you can focus on differentiators in your products.

If you’re looking for a simple way to get started with an end to end experience, try the Internet of Things (IoT) Button. You don’t have to be a developer.

The IoT Button is a great way for anyone to learn the possibilities by actually using AWS services such as IoT, AWS Lambda, DynamoDB, Simple Notification Service and others. The IoT button and everything you need to get started is available from Amazon.

At what scale does Cloud make sense? Is there a tipping point where the scale is too small or too big?

Cloud solutions makes sense at any scale. While not all Cloud solutions are created equally, neither are all systems deployed in the Cloud in need of the same level of Cloud resources. You can match your needs with Cloud capabilities and their corresponding costs. Whether big or small.

There’s no scale too small. Get started quickly and cheaply, and the infrastructure scales with you. Eventually, cost optimization may be a factor. But that’s not a barrier to starting. So before you launch your web site with an ad during the big game, plan ahead for scaling options. Understand that there are costs associated with supporting increased traffic.

Photo credit: Reelika Raspel

Photo credit: Reelika Raspel

There’s also no scale too big. Don’t think of your Cloud instance as a single hosted server. You’re actually tapping into a set of global, highly-available resources.

If you think about a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, you can get a sense for the global, distributed nature of a Cloud system. Imagine a DDoS attack against a single rack server, versus an attack against distributed resources around the world. Most physical data centers can’t respond to and fight off DDoS attacks the way distributed Cloud computing can.

What’s the biggest WOW factor related to product that you’ve experienced from Cloud computing?

It used to be that you had to choose two of three among cost, schedule, and quality. Now, with a correctly architected Cloud solution, you can have all three. This is a huge wow factor the engineers and the CEO can all get excited about.

The wow factors are not the products themselves. You still have to imagine and deliver those. However, the commodities are now off your plate. You can focus on the differentiators that let you deliver products and services your customers value.

Look at technology environments as an example. The benefits come from optimization that allows you to focus. It’s a huge competitive advantage.

Production environments often differ in material ways from Development and Test environments. You may start with identical environments, but as you scale up Production, you’re unlikely to scale your other environments in lock step. With Cloud solutions, you can stamp out identical environments in ways not seen in physical data centers. You have the ability to rapidly build code and move from Dev to Test to Production.

Ultimately, the goal of Cloud computing is to do the undifferentiated heavy lifting for you, so you can focus on the differentiators in your products and customer experiences.

Good-bye big data center. We’ll kind of miss your double air lock doors and elevated tile floors.

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