Cloud computing has been a boon to tech startups, allowing them to build, launch and scale without substantial up-front investment in hardware. But at what point does the moving from the cloud to a data center make more sense - for both performance and cost?
Facebook announced plans earlier this year to build a custom data center in Prineville, Oregon, and Twitter announced last week that it plans to build one near Salt Lake City, Utah. And web app maker 37Signals isn't building its own data center, but it did reveal last week that it will move its infrastructure from Rackspace hosting to a colocation space in a Chicago data center.
As Jonathan Heiliger, Facebook's VP of Technical Operations said at last month's Structure 2010 conference, "For a consumer web site starting today, I would absolutely run on the cloud. It allows you to focus on building your product. But if you have 10 million users, that's a pretty big check I'm writing to someone else. How much control do I have?"
Data Centers Give More Flexibility, More Control?
37Signals Operations Manager Mark Imbriaco explains the growth of 37Signals as such: since moving to the cloud four years ago, "we've grown from around 15 physical machines to a mixture of around 150 physical and virtual machines. We've also grown from having less than 1TB of data to on the order of 80TB of data today. Our needs have evolved a great deal as we've grown and we reached the point where it made sense for us to acquire our own hardware and manage our own datacenter infrastructure. The amount of flexibility that we have with our own environment makes it much easier for us to use some specialized equipment that meets our needs better than the solutions that Rackspace generally supports."
The desire for greater flexibility and control was also given by Twitter as rationale for its new data center. According to Twitter's Engineering Blog, "Twitter will have full control over network and systems configuration, with a much larger footprint in a building designed specifically around our unique power and cooling needs. Twitter will be able to define and manage to a finer grained SLA on the service as we are managing and monitoring at all layers. The data center will house a mixed-vendor environment for servers running open source OS and applications."
Implication for the Cloud
It isn't surprising that rapidly growing companies like Twitter and Facebook have reached a point where it pencils out to have their own data center. But what are the implications for cloud computing - something that promises infinite scalability?
And more importantly perhaps, the justifications given by Twitter and 37Signals for building a data center or moving to a colocation facility are less about cost and performance than they are about sufficient controls. Are public cloud providers doing enough to offer their enterprise customers with the flexibility and control they want?