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Why Some Companies Are Leaving the Cloud | Leaving the Cloud

Updated: Feb 21

Over the past two years, we've witnessed an interesting trend: some companies are deciding to leave the cloud. This decision might seem counterintuitive, especially when industry giants such as AWS, GCP, and Azure continuously tout the benefits of the cloud, promising reduced costs, optimized financial management, and improved stability and performance of infrastructures. However, beyond the marketing rhetoric, reality can be quite different. While the cloud can indeed be advantageous in certain cases, it doesn't necessarily meet the needs of all businesses.

The questioning of cloud efficiency became more visible in 2022, particularly with the article by David Heinemeier Hansson titled "Why we're leaving the cloud", followed in 2023 by "We have left the cloud". In these articles, Hansson explains why, after more than a decade of using the cloud via Amazon and Google, Basecamp and HEY decided to abandon this technology. The main reason cited is that for a medium-sized company, with steady growth, the cloud's economic model doesn't justify itself. The promised savings, especially in terms of infrastructure simplification, never materialized.

Hansson highlights that the cloud offers advantages in two very specific situations:

  • For simple, low-traffic applications, where fully managed services can truly save on complexity,

  • And for highly irregular workloads, with high usage peaks.

Unfortunately, Basecamp did not fall into either of these categories, ending up paying an exorbitant price for an unfulfilled promise.

The article "We have left the cloud" then details the process and benefits of their transition out of the cloud. Contrary to expectations, the change proved to be relatively simple, largely thanks to the prior containerization of their applications. In six months, Basecamp and HEY completely migrated out of the cloud, realizing significant savings and improving the performance of their service through the acquisition of high-performance computing hardware. This transition, far from increasing complexity or management costs, allowed Basecamp to save at least $1.5 million per year, while maintaining the same operational team size.

These experiences underline a crucial point: owning one's own hardware can be much more advantageous for businesses with stable and predictable growth. Hansson openly criticizes the marketing strategy of cloud providers, who, in his view, exaggerate the benefits of their services while underestimating the associated costs and complexities.

Here is a recent video, "The Cloud Fugitive", which well illustrates his point of view and was published on YouTube on February 10, 2024:

Reflections on the Cloud and Cloud Service Providers

Using the cloud for certain specific services seems relevant, especially in cases where resource pooling offers clear value. Email servers (Gmail, Exchange Online, Kmail) and data storage for end-users, with tools like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Kdrive, are perfect examples. These solutions provide ease of use and accessibility that, although potentially matched by traditional infrastructures, are made much more practical and cost-effective through the pooling and standardization offered by the cloud.

One of the major strengths of the cloud is its remarkable agility in response to demand fluctuations. This technology allows for almost instantaneous adaptation during peak activity periods, a feature particularly appreciated for managing fluctuations without having to oversize infrastructures. While traditional systems can technically meet these demands, the cost and logistical complexity of scaling often make it a less attractive option. The cloud, with its economic model based on actual consumption, offers a more flexible and economically viable solution to navigate these variations without the heavy initial investment required by traditional infrastructures.

That said, I believe the future of IT infrastructures is moving towards a hybrid combination. Migrating basic services, such as messaging solutions to platforms like Exchange Online, Gmail, or Kmail, seems logical. These platforms simplify maintenance, ensure regular updates, and offer global accessibility, thus freeing companies from significant operational constraints. However, it is essential to approach cloud migration with nuance. Opting for a "lift and shift" strategy without adaptation or reflection can prove counterproductive, leading to unexpected costs and a loss of control over system management.

Dependency on cloud providers is another important consideration. Replacing a diverse operational team with a handful of cloud-specialized engineers may seem to simplify operations in the short term. However, this transition towards increased specialization in the cloud often leads to a significant dependence on these providers. We then find ourselves in a "golden cage": a situation where, despite the apparent advantages in terms of convenience and efficiency, companies are tied to their cloud providers, with high costs and increased complexity when exploring alternatives or reverting to more traditional solutions. This dependence, while manageable initially, requires careful attention to avoid finding oneself trapped in a difficult to reverse situation without undergoing significant disruptions or costs.

Cloud providers often tout the simplicity of their offerings. However, an internal operational team, guided by a clear vision and a well-defined strategy, can achieve comparable levels of simplification and efficiency. It is crucial to maintain a qualified IT team capable not only of managing internal infrastructure but also of intelligently integrating cloud services that bring real added value.

Balance is therefore essential: using the cloud where it offers distinct advantages while maintaining a solid internal infrastructure and preserving essential skills. This requires a deep understanding of operational and strategic needs, as well as flexibility to adapt to a constantly evolving technological landscape. By choosing a hybrid approach, we can benefit from the best of both worlds, ensuring both innovation and autonomy. True simplification does not come from indiscriminate outsourcing, but from strategic and intentional management of our resources.

Political Aside

It seems absurd to me to entrust the management of all the world's servers to a few companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and Microsoft. By doing so, we lose not only expertise but also independence. It is imperative to maintain digital sovereignty, both at the country level and within companies themselves, by preserving expert profiles in these areas.

In summary, the experience of Basecamp and HEY teaches us a valuable lesson: the cloud is not a universal panacea. As always, the key lies in thoughtful strategy, informed choices, and maintaining solid internal expertise. And remember, technological independence also means ensuring that you retain control over your digital future.

Update 21.02.2024 :

Here is another very interresting video regarding the cloud

Enjoy 😎

AlexIn Tech



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