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The case against moving to the cloud

Even the most cursory glance at cloud service offerings makes you immediately see why nearly every company is there today. It’s cheap, it’s fast, and at the larger providers like AWS, it’s even very secure. (AWS always gets high marks for security). Who wouldn’t be seduced by all those computers — bought, paid for and managed by someone else — available for 2 cents a minute, or less?

Seduced may, in fact, be exactly the right word for it. I recently spoke at length with an IT manager of a 500 person company in the food service industry. (To protect her job, I’m not naming her or her employer.) She’s been the manager there for just over a year and inherited what some might call a total mess. The previous boss bought best of breed, but unfortunately many of those BoB systems don’t communicate with each other. The net result: she has 25 different systems in a company that is not huge, and with a very, very small IT staff.

Her boss felt the cloud had to be the answer…it’s fast, cheap, etc. So she did her homework and the results were eye-opening. Her research showed it would cost $12 per person per month — or $72,000 per year — and that cost did not include basic services such as email, Sharepoint, etc. “We’re too big for the cloud to be cost effective and too small to have money to spend on it,” she said. Cloud providers make the case that companies can “get rid of their programmers,” she said, but those key services like email still have to be in-house and someone has to support it.

And she looked at the 10 year ROI, which she described as horrible. “It’s like the difference between renting a house and buying a house,” she said. “In the food service industry you just can’t waste money like that.”

So instead of the cloud, she’s planning to slowly knit her disparate solutions together by phasing in an ERP system. With user-defined fields and a lot of flexibility she thinks it will ultimately eliminate the need for serious programming skills either internally and externally. And more important, she’s predicting the company will see a return on investment starting at the 2.5 year mark.

So I share this cautionary tale about jumping on to the cloud wagon not to be a luddite but to remind us all that doing what everyone else is — whether cloud or automating testing or DevOps — may not always be right for every company or every situation.