When you boil it right down, most IT is not extraordinarily complicated. Users need keyboards, computers, email and word processors. Operators need control, security and a reasonable expectation that they will not be getting panicky phone calls in the middle of the night more than once in a while. If your organization isn't involved in cutting-edge technology or research, these problems have mostly been solved.
You buy what you need, put the parts together and explain to your users that you are not in charge of Microsoft Word. That's part of the allure of
"We run what I consider a private cloud environment. A [Cisco] UCS tied to a NetApp [storage appliance], all shrouded in an ARS [Action Request System]," said Brian Denton, CTO of ExamWorks, a company founded a little more than two years ago.
ExamWorks is a medical services firm that supplies doctors and researchers for independent medical review, like when an insurance company disputes a claim or when a lawyer needs expert review of medical issues, perhaps to fight that same insurance company in court. Denton said he supports 700 end users in 25 locations with just six IT staff and a private cloud.
He delivers virtual desktops to all his offices and handles everything from his data center. He said the primary benefit was that troubleshooting has dropped to near zero -- it's either end user issues plus a little phone support or he simply resets their desktop environment. "Because of the deployment model, if something goes wrong we just do what we call a recompose and there is no troubleshooting," he said.
The reasons behind going private
Delivering basic office IT across the country would seem like a perfect fit for Google Apps or other hosted services. So why did Denton forgo cloud-based services in favor of running his own infrastructure? He says there were two considerations. One was regulatory. "We're scrutinized with HIPAA and SOX and I don't have the comfort level right now," he said.
The other was cost. Denton said he was on a mission from the start with ExamWorks. He wanted to understand exactly where every cent he spent went in his IT operation, something only possible when he controlled as many variables as possible. He also has a long-term plan for his UCS, meaning his upfront investment will pay off over time much better than paying subscription fees would. "We have 100% knowledge of our cost structure. Lots of people have no idea what IT costs, they call it shadow IT or hidden costs. We have payroll and our hardware costs."
Denton said he could easily pay four times what he paid for his UCS to achieve the same results. He wouldn't say what the UCS costs ExamWorks; he bought it from systems integrator Presidio and had them stand it up in a data center. The math is simple for an operator. Put traditional IT spending for a remote office, including servers, PCs, manpower and installation in one column and put the UCS in the other column, and it was pretty clear where the money was.
Public clouds were no better. Denton noted that if he used an Infrastructure as a Service provider like Amazon Web Services he could get the same results, but he'd still be stuck managing his infrastructure, something he dodged by buying pre-built, pre-configured hardware. "When you factor in all these costs, are they actually delivering product you can't deliver yourself?" he asked rhetorically. "Our cost structure looks cheaper than theirs vis-a-vis management." he said.
Denton looked at public cloud carefully but doesn't see the benefit at this point. For one thing, there is no standardization, so he said he'd be pretty much trapped if he invested heavily in one provider or another. Most important, though, was a lack of trust.
Denton said there was no ground floor in public cloud right now, nothing he could rely on to provide comfort and reassurance that everything was operating as advertised. He says the industry is in dire need of a recognized, independent, third-party authority to validate cloud offerings and provide some level of trust, just as there are bodies that oversee computer hardware and the internet.
Over time, Denton said he thinks that will happen, and as security and regulatory concerns meet up with real-world needs, he'll gladly shift his IT operations into the cloud. But that is years away and he'll be getting every penny out of his private cloud investment first.
"My private cloud will probably dissipate as public cloud becomes solidified around auditing bodies," he said.