Tag Archives: Azure

The Hidden Costs of Cloud Services

Azure and Email Marketing
Have you considered moving computer workloads to the cloud? You probably have. In the studies we’ve seen, over 90% of companies are now using cloud computing services.1 If you are considering moving your infrastructure to Amazon Web Service (AWS), or Azure, or some other cloud computing service, there are a few things you should know before taking the plunge. We’ll look at these potential pitfalls and give you the information you’ll need to make an informed decision.

Moving to Azure: A Case Study

Recently, a customer decided to move their databases from a managed IT provider to Microsoft’s Azure. They had a large, home-grown CRM-style database to move, plus several more databases that we helped manage for their email marketing purposes. They carefully studied the Azure website to determine which package would meet their needs, and how the cost compared to that of their current provider. They concluded it would be cheaper and more reliable to switch to Azure. However, things didn’t go as planned.

The first question everyone asks is how much will it cost, but that’s difficult to estimate. Even careful scrutiny of the configuration pricing using Azure or AWS won’t necessarily answer this question. When you buy a server from Dell or others, many factors determine the performance, but the cost is relatively upfront. The speed and number of cores determines the base speed and how much RAM can have a significant impact. In the case of a database server, the speed and size of the storage system is critical. There are other factors but these are the main considerations. It’s a relatively straightforward process.

Compare that with the purchase of a cloud database. For Azure, you start by determining if you want a managed instance, an Elastic Pool, or a single database. Go down the route of a managed instance, and you choose from Windows Virtual Machines, SQL Database Managed Instance, or a SQL Server virtual machine. The Elastic Pool is closest to owning your own server that hosts multiple databases and that pricing path has you choose between the vCore (virtual core) and the Database Transaction Unit (DTU) model. Choosing the DTU model has you then select your elastic Database Transaction Units (eDTUs) per pool, which determines the per-hour pricing. But what is an elastic Database Transaction Unit, and how many units do you need for a viable database? Microsoft defines a DTU as “…a blended measure of CPU, memory, and data I/O and transaction log I/O in a ratio determined by an OLTP benchmark workload designed to be typical of real-world OLTP workloads,” but they provide little information on how these factors are “blended” or the specifications of the OLTP numbers used. Microsoft does offer a DTU calculator, but it involves running either a Command Line Utility or a PowerShell script to capture CPU and IOPS at the server level and create a CSV file, which is then uploaded to the Azure website.

It’s also tricky to verify that the configuration you’ve chosen will actually work. The customer initially picked a mix of a single vCore and the other databases in an Elastic Pool. However, they learned later that this setup does not allow SQL jobs to run or cross-database joins, things that their current database allowed and were fundamental to their design. There were also resource limits that Azure imposed that caught them by surprise. An estimated nine-hour overnight transfer of the data ended up taking thirty hours because of Azure-imposed resource limits.

Azure vs. AWS

Although Microsoft’s Azure cloud offering is growing in popularity, Amazon’s AWS is still the market leader. How would you estimate the costs for their system? To us, AWS pricing seems more straightforward than Microsoft’s. You still get these cryptic descriptions like db.m5.xlarge and db.r5.8xlarge that you must individually look up, but when you do, the abbreviation stands for a computer with a certain number of cores running at a specific speed, and an amount of RAM. Much more like what you get when buying your own computer. You must also estimate costs for data transfers and database and backup storage, which can be hard to determine.

The customer ran into several issues in attempting to migrate their databases to Azure that further increased their costs, but once they worked through those technical issues the migration was performed overnight. However, when they brought their systems back online the next day, they found the performance was unacceptably slow. They rolled back to their existing managed provider and looked over the website pricing options again. With their increased knowledge of the requirements, they recalculated the monthly pricing. Now they estimated a figure that was twelve times their initial cost!

Needless to say, this was unacceptable, so they’ve stayed with their current managed provider. But how could the price be so far off? We looked over the options they had initially selected. In our opinion, the eDTUs for the Azure DTU model was a bit low, but not unreasonably so. It’s easy to see how someone performing a diligent and thoughtful analysis of the pricing could come up with this price.

If you’re considering moving your infrastructure to the cloud, you need to be aware that the benefits don’t always outweigh the costs. Goolara’s Symphonie email marketing solution can use a database hosted by a cloud provider, or with AWS, the entire system can be installed on their computers. If you are considering a cloud provider for your database or entire email marketing system, contact us, and we’ll be happy to help you estimate the costs.

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1. According to Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud Report.

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Cloud-based Infrastructure and Your Email Marketing Solution

Azure and AWS
Traditionally, companies ran their own data centers, or they paid other vendors to manage racks of servers in a colocation facility that served as their computer infrastructure. A recent trend in business is the shift away from on-premise servers and infrastructures to off-site, cloud-based systems that handle all or most of a company’s computer infrastructure needs. These services can be purchased from vendors who take care of all aspects of hardware purchasing and provisioning, load balancing, firewall protection, and more.

They go by acronyms such as “PaaS” (Platform as a Service) and “IaaS” (Infrastructure as a Service), and offer small businesses a way to scale up a business without the usual IT and hardware overhead. Amazon Web Service (AWS) and Microsoft’s Azure are two of the largest players in the cloud space. Email marketing software that is designed to work with external databases, such as Goolara Symphonie, can run on these platforms, but an Email Service Provider (ESP) that keep its data separate from other input data is going to encounter problems. The PaaS/IaaS providers companies don’t want email marketing mail sent from their networks. This is understandable. To do so would provide too many opportunities for unscrupulous spammers to hide their tracks and potentially block their ability to send any emails. That doesn’t mean you can’t use Azure or AWS with your email marketing software, but you need to understand how it works, and then decide which solution is best for you.

On-Premise Meets the Cloud

Traditionally, if a company wanted to keep its data safe, it meant keeping everything in-house. This meant servers, RAIDs, and constantly monitoring for load balancing, software updates, and redundancy issues. It’s a lot to take care of, so it came as no surprise that, when afforded the opportunity, some businesses preferred to hand off these duties to third-party services. This approach really took off when Amazon introduced their Amazon Web Service (AWS). Suddenly, it was possible to forgo the high cost of a computer infrastructure and concentrate on the business’s core products and services. Enough companies joined the shift to AWS that, soon, a new acronym was born: “IaaS” (Infrastructure as a Service).

With the success of Amazon Web Services, other companies, such as Google, IBM, HP, and Rackspace soon entered the market, but the first real competition to AWS came from Microsoft with its Azure service. As of this writing, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are neck-and-neck as the two top providers of cloud-based Infrastructures and Platforms by a wide margin. With its Microsoft pedigree, Azure has gained ground on Amazon, especially with companies that already use Microsoft products.

Email Marketing and Cloud-Computing

So can AWS and Azure integrate with email marketing software? Well, maybe. It will depend on your email marketing solution. Goolara Symphonie can do it because it allows you to use subscriber data from your own database. Many companies—especially those that offer “free” services—send their email marketing from within their own system, and this can be a problem when you try and shift your infrastructure to the cloud. Azure won’t let you send mass emails directly from within it, and AWS wants to funnel everything through its SES (Simple Email System). So what are these companies to do with their email marketing when they migrate their computer infrastructure to the cloud? Suddenly, you are playing on someone else’s field, and you’ll have to play by their rules.

ESP and IaaS

If you are already using an ESP that doesn’t offer data integration, this might not matter to you, but if you use any type of CRM integration, you’ll find things get more complicated when you move your infrastructure to the cloud. This isn’t a problem if your ESP (such as Goolara) is designed for data integration, but it could result in problems with those ESPs that like to keep all the subscriber data local to their own records.

On-Premise and Cloud Computing

So what about using an on-premise email marketing solution with Azure or AWS? On first glance, this may sound like a contradiction in terms, but we’re starting to see IaaS/PaaS used with on-premise systems as part of a hybrid solution. Properly configured, this approach combines the advantages of a cloud-based infrastructure, while maintaining the data security and integrity you’ve come to expect from an on-premise system. The email system can pull the data from the servers in the cloud and send the mailings outside of Azure. Setting up this hybrid infrastructure is quite easy, and gives the advantage of all data being hosted in the customer’s cloud, with the sending actions handled by the ESP’s infrastructure. The customer remains in control of the data, and can directly read or modify the data in their database, which are some of the key advantages of an on-premise deployment.

International Issues

One area that has not received much discussion is the thorny problem of national boundaries. With the advent of cloud-based infrastructures, the question of where your data resides might become critical. This won’t matter much if you are located in America, but recent European legislation could have an impact on your choice to move to a cloud-based platform. On the plus side, we doubt that even the people who drafted the legislation are aware of the potential issues of borders with a cloud-based system. Right now, there are no signs that any court cases are planning to deal with the question.

Moving your Infrastructure to the cloud is not a task to take on lightly. Whether you choose AWS, Azure, or some other Infrastructure/Platform as a Service, you’ll still need to set up your email marketing software to work with it. This means working closely with your ESP to ensure that everything is compatible. Already, we’re seeing companies spring up for the express purpose of helping other companies make their transition to the cloud. Every situation is bound to be slightly different. There is no simple plug-and-play solution that will work for everyone. If you are a Goolara Symphonie user, or you are interested in moving your company’s infrastructure to an IaaS, feel free to contact us to learn more about how you can integrate your cloud-based database directly with Symphonie for a great hybrid approach of cloud infrastructures.

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