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Interview with Raymond Garren on Cloud Computing

Clutch spoke with Raymond Garren, managing partner at Midwest Cloud Computing, about the variety of Cloud computing options for business, specifically comparing AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Rackspace.

Learn more about Midwest Cloud Computing at midcloudcomputing.com.

Background

Please describe your organization.

Midwest Cloud Computing provides private and public cloud solutions and managed service provider services, aimed at small and medium-sized businesses in the Midwest.

We work with Rackspace, AWS and Azure, in that order. We also have our own private solution that we market for cloud computing, with our own stack and datacenter.

What is your position?

I'm the managing partner.

Challenge

What is the typical business challenge that a client might be facing when they approach your company, inciting a need for a cloud platform?

Generally, they want to explore the possibility, but are lacking in the resources that are internally required to help architect such a solution. They don't have a lot of familiarity in the differences between providers in the industry, and are looking for someone who can direct them.

Solution

What would a typical implementation of a cloud platform look like for a client?

In an early-on engagement, we will discuss what the end-state looks like to them in terms of the problems they're trying to solve: if they are infrastructure-based, if they have complexities that they can no longer solve, and so on. There is a myriad of problems that can be brought to the table. Once we've created a robust problem statement, we'll look for the best provider of such services. If the client isn't specifically interested in the technology itself and they simply want a service, we will probably opt for a Rackspace datacenter. They offer fanatical support.

If the client is looking for a quick and cost-effective solution, we'll choose AWS. Otherwise, if they're excited about mirroring their infrastructure, specifically if they are an application developer, we will choose an Azure marketplace. This comes with around 110 pre-built APIs for different applications.

We build a relationship with the hosting organization that the client will choose and, in concert with that organization, we create a migration plan, taking into consideration the percentage of virtualization the client currently has. They might be in a hybrid situation in which email and other services are in the cloud, but other elements are in-house. We bring these factors together and, once a project plan is put together, we will have an idea of what the requirements on their end and ours will be. If they sign the contract based on this, we engage; if not, we will catch up with them at 90 day intervals and assess their direction.

What are the specific reasons for which you would recommend either Rackspace, AWS, or Microsoft Azure to a particular client?

As a managed service and support provider, I've seen Rackspace's fanatical support in action. They have a very robust platform which does a good job of making the process simple and keeping the client's solution functional. Whenever an anomaly occurs, they keep you in the loop and explain what is happening.

AWS does a good job in this regard as well. They've also been in this business for quite some time. A while ago, the choice was strictly between them and OpenStack, Rackspace's entry into hosting services.

I've been an early adopter of what can be called Azure 1.0. I wasn't initially a big fan of their service, but they've made significant improvements. As I've said, if the client is a software developer, they have reasons to consider Azure. They provide features which can make the client's life better.

Compared to legacy systems, what can an organization expect in terms of cost?

In my point of view, there exist physical and logical costs. The physical costs involve platforms, capital expenditure and so on. They can be deferred by working with solution providers. Many companies get into the three to five year cycles of having to replace server hardware and other infrastructure elements, which can amount to millions of dollars. An in-house cost model also implies that 50% of the money is spent just to make sure that the lights are blinking.

From a logical cost perspective, the benefits and cost factors are centered around people. Applications have to be patched and updated. By moving to a hosted or cloud model, these costs see a sharp reduction.

An organization may have found the best database admin on the planet. That person can still find another job at a different company. The cost of replacing talent isn't considered by many clients. Managed service providers come with that expertise.

Specifically when it comes to big data deployment, a MongoDB infrastructure will fetch a $150,000 price. A Midwestern company with a good MongoDB administrator will have that person snapped up from them by the West or East Coast.

A hosting environment has the responsibility of bringing that expertise to the table. This is a huge advantage. When such a key person is lost, your project will be sunk. After a company has invested millions of dollars in Hadoop and in business analytics time, if their star administrator is lost to another company, they're done.

Features

Are there any specific features of tools on any of these platforms that might make them stand out compared to others?

As I've stated, the Azure marketplace has pre-built APIs for Salesforce and other major platforms. This is an attractive resource if you develop software. The APIs are already built.

I've worked with Rackspace on a product which we call “big data in a box”. We're able to provide the entire infrastructure, like Hadoop, NoSQL and MongoDB in one place. The client can jump ahead to step 25 on the project plan, so they can actually focus on business analytics. From an advantage perspective, Rackspace enables users to host their existing workloads from Azure, AWS or other legacy platforms. They're agnostic from a functionality perspective, whereas Azure and AWS don’t cross-pollinate.

AWS is very quick and easy to use. It's an established service which I've used a lot for startup companies. It's very easy to get things moving using it.

Are there any key areas that these platforms could improve?

AWS can be complicated in locating its desired features and factoring their costs. They provide tools for figuring this out, but the client needs to know what they're looking for.

The new Azure, compared to the old one, is improving day by day. I'm waiting to see if there is an end-state in their platform.

I can't say anything negative about Rackspace. They're large and employ lots of people. The only thing I would mention is that it's a compartmentalized service. If you have a specific need and don't find the right person to help, you will waste a lot of time finding a solution.

Overview

We have five additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate each service on a scale of one to five, with five being the best score.
How would you rate each platform for its functionality and available features?

AWS - Four
Microsoft Azure - Four
Rackspace - Four and a half

How would you rate them for ease of use and implementation?

AWS - Four and a half
Microsoft Azure - Three and a half
Rackspace - Four

How would you rate them for their support services in terms of their teams' responsiveness and helpfulness of available resources?

AWS - Three and a half
Microsoft Azure - I can't comment. I've never had to deal with their support services.
Rackspace - Five

How likely are you to recommend each platform to a friend or colleague, out of five?

AWS - Four
Microsoft Azure - Four
Rackspace - Five

How would you rate your overall satisfaction with each platform?

AWS - Four
Microsoft Azure - Four
Rackspace - Four and a half

Expert quote
"Once we've created a robust problem statement, we'll look for the best provider of such services. If the client isn't specifically interested in the technology itself and they simply want a service, we will probably opt for a Rackspace datacenter....If the client is looking for a quick and cost-effective solution, we'll choose AWS. Otherwise, if they're excited about mirroring their infrastructure, specifically if they are an application developer, we will choose an Azure marketplace."