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"Some techniques, like virtualisation, are harder to master than they superficially appear and you may be better letting cloud service providers who have a huge amount of collective experience to do this."


PA'S Alastair mcaulay, cloud exPERT

The rise and fall of cloud DIY

Alastair McAulay

National Computing Centre

1 March 2012

There are two schools of thought when it comes to doing home maintenance; pay for a professional or do it yourself (DIY). In theory doing it yourself can save you a lot of money; if you have the skills, the tools to hand and the time available you can get a better result than paying a professional. At the risk of offending interior decorators, sometimes even professionals cut corners; can you ever be really sure that the second layer of paint has been sanded down properly unless you stand behind your painter?

However, through trial and error most of us come to realise that some jobs are better done by professionals. It isn’t economic for us to buy the tools required, master the techniques and deal with the building and safety regulation. Typically the scale of our task doesn’t make it worthwhile trying to overcome the obstacles.

The same rationale should really be applied to organisations thinking about cloud computing.  In theory it could be a cheaper alternative to do it yourself, but to improve on the cost advantages of what cloud can offer requires a lot of skill, tools and hardware. You really need to be big enough to achieve your own economies of scale. 

There are two examples that PA Consulting Group has recently been involved with that reinforce these points.  The first was where we were doing a service review for an organisation that invested heavily in virtualisation.  They were concerned that, although they appeared to have invested in the right tools, they weren’t seeing all of the benefits they hoped for, which is not to say that it was a disaster or that they hadn’t got some benefits.  Sadly the outcome of the review was that despite some product training, their in house operations staff weren’t experienced enough to exploit the tools to get the performance required. Some techniques, like virtualisation, are harder to master than they superficially appear and you may be better letting cloud service providers who have a huge amount of collective experience to do this.

The other example we were involved with, was where we were asked by the Met Office to develop an application to allow enthusiasts to submit their weather data to build up a database of detailed observations that could be used to refine their forecasting models ( This solution is hosted on the Google AppEngine platform, it took a minimal amount of time to implement, it scales perfectly to meet a peaky demand which was unknown at project initiation and costs a fraction of what it would do if implemented and supported in house.  Here it was a clear case of it being far more cost effective to get the cloud hosting professionals in to do the job.

There will always be circumstances where it makes sense to do it yourself. However, with the maturing of the cloud supplier marketplace the initiation of any IT implementation project should now  establish whether there is’ a cloud provider around who has the skills, tools and experience to do a higher quality more cost effective job than doing it yourself.

Alastair McAulay is a cloud expert at PA Consulting Group.

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