To Cloud or Not to Cloud: Why Startups Should Consider Cloud Computing
Your customers expect an uninterrupted user experience. As a startup founder, CTO, or CIO you need to ensure the scalability and continuity of your IT operations to meet this demand. Do you want to future-proof your business and lay the foundation of long-term growth? Go cloud-native! Not all startups actually need to use cloud services, and today SPsoft will explain when cloud computing is a good idea.
Every startup can get multiple benefits from developing and running products and services in the cloud — if everything is done correctly. One of the biggest advantages is the DevOps approach to software delivery. DevOps culture enables standardized, automated, predictable processes that speed up software development and deployment through automation of repetitive IT operations.
For example, the correct configuration of the DevOps toolchain ensures Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). This way, when developers deliver every new batch of code, they can automatically test it locally, on testing servers using automated unit tests. If the testing finds no bugs, the Devs can push the code to the staging server for QA to test it there, and for Ops to roll the new product version out to production.
Do you know what is the best part of this process? This all can be done with a single command! This is how top-performing startups achieve 100 deployments a day, instead of 1 deployment in every 100 days or so.
This requires some expert configuration of tools and environments along with following the DevOps culture or communication and collaboration across your teams, but in the end, it pays off by allowing to develop and release products faster, with high quality and better predictability. How can these results be achieved? You should either have a skilled DevOps engineer in-house or gain access to DevOps expertise through a reliable technology partner.
Cloud Computing Benefits for a Startup
Startups working under the DevOps paradigm can achieve much better software development and deployment reliability, yes. Cloud hosting platforms like AWS, GCP, or Microsoft Azure provide the infrastructure and features that serve as building blocks for DevOps workflows and CI/CD processes, true. However, there are 2 sides to every coin, and the transition to cloud computing is beneficial only if it is done when needed — and correctly.NN
- Scalability. Cloud computing is the best choice when the daily traffic to your product or service grows exponentially and/or fluctuates a lot. In this case, planning dedicated server resource capacities becomes hard, if not outright impossible.
In the cloud, you scale the infrastructure up or down in a matter of minutes. With DevOps tools like Kubernetes, it can be done in seconds. Thus, your infrastructure will always have sufficient capacities to handle the workload. Implementing Site Reliability Engineering best practices and rollback strategies help further improve application resilience in production.
BUT: Using cloud computing resources during MVP development is not needed. A couple of dedicated servers can have enough resources to support the code building, testing, and QA in the staging environment. However, it’s best to start building your product using DevOps tools like Pulumi, Kubernetes, and Docker. Thereafter, the transition to the cloud will not take much time, investment, and effort once you need to scale up. Speaking of investment…NN
- Cost-efficiency. With dedicated servers, you pay for the full capacity of your infrastructure, regardless of how intensely you use it. With cloud computing, unused resources can be shut down easily, so you will always pay for the resources you have actually consumed.
BUT: By using dedicated servers, your capacity grows as fast as you can provision new machines. In the cloud, computing resources are virtualized, so the process is nearly instant. Just like a nuclear reactor explosion. Thus, an incorrect configuration of some operation in the production environment can result in multi-million dollar bills from AWS…NN
- Cybersecurity. Cloud computing providers offer the strongest multi-layered security for apps, data, and networks. It spans from security settings of a single Docker container and ssh keys, all the way to Bastion hosts, Kubernetes cluster security policies, CDN networks, and secret management tools. If correctly configured cloud security measures are nearly impenetrable. Due to this, CIA and the DoD chose AWS as their secure data storage since 2013 and paid $600 million for that contract
BUT: Cloud security is a complex system with multiple moving parts. Configuration mistakes due to lack of experience or lax cybersecurity policies can result in severe data security breaches. Remember the infamous CIA Vault 7 data breach? It happened because the CIA’s in-house cybersecurity team members were more interested in hacking Apple than in protecting their own data. This is why Fortune500 companies and state agencies worldwide (including the CIA) increasingly prefer engaging in cloud security contracts from certified professionals.
Summing up, going for cloud computing from the very start might not be the best choice for a startup. You can develop your products and services on-prem, make them cloud-native by using Kubernetes and Docker containers, and move to the cloud once you have a pressing need for it. If you do not have in-house technical expertise for such a transition — looking for a trustworthy technology provider to assist you. But what business needs can cloud computing cater to?
Why Going for Cloud Computing Is Good for a Startup
We have briefly covered the main “pros and cons” of cloud computing already. However, returning to the beginning of the article, we can surely say that going for the cloud is a wise decision for any startup when the time is right — and here is why:
- Software development speed. The process of software development involves creating and configuring multiple environments. Even with using ready scenarios, it takes time on dedicated servers or Virtual Private Server machines.
On the contrary, cloud computing resources are virtualized using Docker Engine. This allows launching containers with required runtime in seconds, greatly decreasing waiting time. As a result, overall software development time becomes much shorter.
In addition, quick software development cycles mean the rapid implementation of customer feedback. Using DevOps best practices in the cloud allows startups to roll out new features in weeks, not months or years.
- Software testing reliability. Cloud computing provides the resources for storing vast libraries of automated unit and integration tests. In this way, every new batch of code can be automatically tested before pushing the new code build to the staging server. Thus, bug discovery is much faster and reliable, as most bugs are found very early in the development process and not on the staging server or in production.
- Software release replicability. When developers write, build, and test the code within Docker containers, dev, testing, and staging environments are exactly the same as in production. This gets rid of a “works well on my machine” situation, where discrepancies between dev and production environments cause post-release bugs and crashes.
- Software release predictability. Using tools like Ansible, Jenkins, or Travis CI simplifies software release practices like Blue-Green deployment or Canary releases in the cloud. Due to this, startups can avoid nightmares of faulty releases, as rollback strategies are quite simple to implement in virtualized cloud environments.
- Product availability. Due to the scalability of cloud resources, you can configure automated provisioning of additional instances to meet customer demand spikes. These resources can then be quickly decommissioned to reduce your expenses. This way, you ensure product availability without wasting a fortune on infrastructure.
- Mean TTR reduction. Incidents will still happen in production environments but mean Time To Resolution is much shorter in the cloud. This is possible due to cloud platforms offering advanced monitoring, alerting and logging tools. When your IT team gets an in-depth incident report, (not merely an alert), fixing the issue becomes easier.
- Service continuity. With virtualized cloud resources it is much easier to prepare for the contingency. Rebooting a faulty service takes seconds and you can replicate mission-critical digital assets to remove single points of failure.
- Uninterrupted positive customer experience. When your product is well-designed, performs reliably, developers roll out new features at a steady pace based on stakeholder and customer feedback — you get a positive customer experience as a result. This, in turn, is the basis for lasting business success.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The full list of cloud computing benefits for your business depends on the industry, stage of operational maturity, and the level of technical expertise at your disposal.
To conclude, the transition to the cloud is an important step in every startup’s lifecycle. Should you be well-funded — you can start from the cloud. If you are operating on a limited budget — you will need this step to go global. Cloud computing provides multiple technical and business benefits if everything is configured correctly and you are able to pay the fees.
However, you need to have access to the technical expertise to get things done right. Unfortunately, such expertise is hard to come by, as the demand for skilled DevOps engineers surpasses their availability by several orders of magnitude. Thus, the choice is not whether to move to the cloud or not — the choice is WHEN to do it and HOW to do it in the best way possible. Do you have the answer already?