Pushing the cloud to the limit, with UKFast’s Chris Folkerd
Wed 18 Mar 2020 | Dr Chris Folkerd
We talk to the UKFast director about the UK cloud landscape and how companies can maximise efficiencies, protect critical data and ensure cloud costs are kept under control
Chris Folkerd is Director of Enterprise Technologies at UK cloud hosting company UKFast. Conceived in the bedroom of a tiny flat just off Manchester’s Oxford Road over twenty years ago, UKFast has grown into a multi-million-pound business which, via its five UK data centres, hosts the critical infrastructure of a raft of big-name organisations, including Chester Zoo and the NHS.
As UKFast is such a pivotal figure in the UK cloud market, the company provides a useful barometer of the state of the nation’s cloud investments. Folkerd described the UK cloud market “as vibrant” and told me that strong uptake has now matured to “wholesale adoption across the board.”
This adoption is translating into greater maturity, he said. Companies are increasingly asking about containers and security, and have become more clued up about service providers and compliance obligations.
“People are asking a lot about what containers are, how they can benefit business, or if the business is a bit further along its journey, how containers can be implemented alongside, or as an alternative to, traditional virtualised platforms,” he added.
When it comes to security, Folkerd said customers are asking more questions about the security of UKFast’s underlying architecture and infrastructure, and how they can go about reinforcing the security of their applications.
Despite growing maturity, Folkerd cautioned a lot of customers are still failing to get the most from cloud investments. He said enthusiasm about cloud should always be tempered by aligning adoption to business goals.
“We like to keep customers focussed on achieving the end goal, rather than having a specific piece of buzzword technology they want to adopt or adopting lots of different services just because they’ve read that they’re the next big thing,” he said.
Another issue is that many companies are not picking cloud billing models that fit their needs, whether fixed monthly cost or elastic scaling.
While initial calculations may appear cost-effective, businesses can end up spending a lot more than initially planned when load and utilisation are factored in. For instance, if a customer on a PAYG model experiences rogue SQL queries which get stuck in a loop on a database server, it could cost them £50,000 overnight.
“Making sure you pick the right providers means doing your research and working in consultation with them to choose the right technologies and then writing your code in a way that efficiently utilises those resources,” Folkerd added.
“There are lots of different ways of doing things in the cloud and it’s about making sure the one you adopt works for you, does what you need and is the most efficient. Having the right technology platform makes a big difference. It sounds obvious, but businesses get it wrong on a regular basis.”
Another key piece of education Folkerd has for businesses is ensuring the cloud software stack is optimised for the hardware it sits on.
The first risk is efficiency. If hardware and software are not in sync, it can lead to wasted compute resources. It’s not just about cost, but security, too. Folkerd said it’s crucial organisations have a full-stack view when developing in the cloud and work closely with providers to plug any gaps.
“We always say security is a partnership. You can be sitting on the most secure, world-class infrastructure, but if your code is weak or poorly written, hackers will get in. Having a partnership around security, around resource provisioning, around technology and around APIs will help you get the most out of your platform.”
Despite the rising popularity of cloud-native development and deployment, to take advantage of cloud’s potential in the coming decade, Chris said it’s still vital that organisations maintain a broad range of tech skillsets.
“The popular skills at the moment are around serverless compute for rapid, dynamic, scalable applications and DevOps,” he said. “But at the same time, probably 80 percent of the code base out there isn’t cloud native. So it’s really a spread bet across the entire tech spectrum.”
One of Folkerd’s key messages for end-uses is around what he calls “catastrophobia” – mitigating the dangers of outages with disaster recovery and ensuring applications are designed with high-availability in mind — whether that’s local site in the event of hardware failure, geographic resilience, or for performance capabilities when serving customers in different locations.
“There’s a lot of different strategies out there and lots of different vendors offering different solutions. Have a chat with our UKFast team to make sense of the different options best for you.”
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