By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. December 7, 2016
Supporting and delivering IT services from remote data centers existed long before AWS was a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Remote data centers have always played key roles in back-up and disaster recovery practices. Hosted services got a serious boost in the dot.com era as businesses began exploring the value of leveraging the Internet or proprietary networks for numerous business applications and processes.
It can be and certainly has been argued that cloud computing is merely a new take on a very old subject. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it has probably helped legitimize cloud for some people who would have otherwise viewed AWS and other cloud providers with unwarranted skepticism. But is cloud as unreservedly beneficial to businesses’ capital outlays and operational processes as proponents claim?
On- vs. off-prem IT at USD
One group that would dispute assumptions about cloud’s cost and technical supremacy is the University of San Diego (USD), a top-ranked Catholic university long recognized for its academic excellence and leadership development efforts.
Recently, Mike Somerville, Manager of Systems Support & Chief Cloud Evangelist in USD’s IT Services group posted a blog discussing the economics of the university’s internally-deployed virtual IT infrastructure. That process was begun in 2011 with the purchase of a Dell EMC Vblock system that was deployed as a “data center in a box.”
In 2016, USD further modernized its IT infrastructure by replacing the original Vblock with a new flash-optimized VxBlock System 350 to support its four campus data centers and a hyper-converged Dell EMC VxRail Appliance at its disaster avoidance site in Phoenix, Arizona.
To measure its infrastructure refresh strategy, Somerville’s team performed extensive analyses comparing the cost and efficiency of using Amazon Web Services (AWS) versus the university’s Dell EMC-supported private cloud infrastructure. The results were highly positive for USD and startlingly one-sided:
- USD spent about $900,000 on its first Vblock System over four years, or 48 months
- Dividing the cost of the system by 48 equals approximately $19,000 per month, or $30 per hour
- That is the equivalent cost of about 100 AWS EC2 instances with up to 100GB of attached storage, but doesn’t include the cost of monthly support from AWS
- USD calculated that it could run 4X the number of solutions in its Dell EMC-supported private cloud for the same cost as the AWS public cloud
- Plus, by utilizing an on-site Dell EMC solution, USD can connect the VxBlock System to our other three campus data centers at 10 Gbps and provide 1 Gbps access to on-campus users in contrast to AWS’s Internet-speed connections
Somerville acknowledged that USD could purchase AWS EC2 Reserved Instances for one or more years and thus reduce public cloud costs. But even taking that into consideration, AWS still wouldn’t be cheaper than Dell EMC solutions.
What can we conclude from USD’s testimonials? First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that the university’s experience shouldn’t be considered a litmus for every organization. The highly experienced and adept IT services team Mike Somerville manages makes USD an ideal environment for taking on forward-facing and future-focused IT modernization strategies.
In other words, what works for USD may not be achievable or applicable in other circumstances. However, even with that in mind the results of USD’s efforts and the benefits its Dell EMC-based infrastructure delivered compared to analogous AWS services are highly positive, even startling when considered alongside assumptions about the benefits of public cloud.
The final lesson of USD’s Dell EMC experience is that in the case of IT modernization, it pays to study and understand your essential goals, and to test, compare and contrast all possible approaches, even if some options dispute or contradict commonly, even deeply held beliefs.
The fact is that while public cloud computing offers numerous potential and provable benefits, it can’t fix every problem. In fact, as the University of San Diego’s experience proves, oft times the best solutions are firmly rooted in solid ground, running smoothly in the data center just down the hall.
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