Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

Cloud technology in new conditions: alternative solutions

The Russian economy desperately needs sanction-proof solutions, with a quick and mass transition. These solutions must be created without using libraries and frameworks that could be subject to sanctions, and operate with or without access to servers outside Russia.  This process is specific for every segment, including cloud technology.

Who uses clouds and how

Maintaining a proprietary data processing center at the level of major providers is very expensive. Beside purchasing servers, it is necessary to organize fire safety, CCTV systems and access control – and hire a team to deal with these tasks. And if a business needs more servers, an existing data center cannot be expanded. A new data center will have to be built. Therefore, it is only reasonable for companies in this industry and holdings with their own IT crews to have proprietary data processing centers.

Therefore, most companies turn to cloud service providers to reduce a significant part of their IT budgets and be more flexible and mobile in managing the IT landscape. The following services are most popular in Russia:

  • Installing a client’s servers in a data processing center. The service provider connects the equipment to its own infrastructure, provides security and maintenance. The downside of this approach is that the client still has to deal with all hardware issues.
  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) means renting computer equipment on which a client can install any software and apps. The service provider is in charge of updating and setting up a virtualization platform.
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service) means renting app development and launch tools, including database management systems, sand boxes and testing services. The cloud service provider is responsible for hardware and for updating and setting up the solutions used by the client.
  • Managed services means an opportunity to design, on the basis of a designated cloud installation, a unique infrastructure that meets the client’s needs in terms of functionality, security and external integration. The client is not bound to a specific provider’s service and can independently pick solutions that suit their objectives best.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service) providing software on a subscription basis. The user cannot download the service in its entirety and essentially rents it. SaaS is convenient for companies with no long-term planning that pay for software when it is necessary, without spending their budgets on expensive licenses.

In fact, this sequence reflects the evolutionary path that the businesses have gone through with their IT infrastructure. A company buys a server and realizes after a while that it is unscalable, and they rather need a virtual platform. They implement a virtualization platform, but it is not flexible enough either, and the company goes to a data center. After some time, they shift to platform-based services, which are even more convenient in managing the infrastructure. So companies eventually came to the conclusion that PaaS solutions provided by public clouds were the best option.

What changed with the sanctions

Until last spring, Russian companies mainly considered large foreign public clouds such as Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Their motivation was quite simple – the level of services they provide is incomparable with those of Russian providers. For example, Amazon offers more than 250 services; Yandex, 20%-25% of that. The functionality they offer is also very different, and generally inferior in terms of accessibility and reliability. Therefore, companies often opted for microservices architecture. They moved their systems to the cloud and used platform-based services only.

The difficulties that arose after foreign providers restricted Russian users in spring 2022 in fact marked the start of Russian business’s technological degradation. Global companies suspended their development projects and hastily began to deploy local infrastructure in the hope of separating Russian subsidiaries from the head office. With no chance of buying licenses and using more recent solutions, for example, new Microsoft products, companies are going back to the tech stack from 5-7 years ago.

Russian businesses began to move away from popular global public clouds to on-premises solutions or domestic public clouds. Hardest hit were the companies that previously used unique services delivered through Azure or AWS: they had to rebuild the entire architecture of their apps.

Cloud service providers in Russia are facing a similar problem: they experience a lack of licenses and hardware. Obviously, until efforts are taken to establish parallel import of servers and equipment, even major players are going to see a high amount of failures, while the availability of resources will be decreasing.

Despite many Russian companies having revised their development strategies and halting some IT projects, cloud migration remains an urgent task, including because of the willingness to reduce capital costs on a new infrastructure – and here they will be facing certain challenges.

Avoiding transition difficulties

Companies often see cloud migration as deploying applications in their previous format. This approach fails to consider geographic remoteness, as well as characteristics of each individual hosting server and various opportunities. This results in miscommunication, while migration turns into a small disaster for business.

To gain positive migration experience, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

1. Collect information thoroughly. Ask providers about the functions the cloud service provides and ways to use them to meet your own needs and processes in the company.

2. Remove redundant options. Out of many variants, you need to choose services that your business actually requires.

3. Carefully test applications in action. Testing the solution ‘in a vacuum’ is useless: you must check the way users work with the application after cloud migration. No matter how carefully IT professionals test the characteristics of the IT landscape, only operational load will make it clear whether the system meets requirements for availability and fault tolerance. Due to most of the technology stacked in the provider’s hands, problems could arise without duplicating data channels and fine-tuning network connectivity.

The cloud service provides undeniable advantages, including the ease and simplicity of deploying and folding applications. Unlike the purchase of servers and their technical equipment, a virtual environment does not require large capital expenditures: you can try any cloud service and opt out of it in case it does not fit.

What awaits us in the next couple of years

Providers are facing an influx of Russian companies that can be roughly divided into two groups. The first one includes those willing to leave foreign cloud services, realizing they will face the unavailability of necessary capabilities when dealing with certain issues. The other one involves those complaining that they can no longer upgrade their own server hardware or obtain proper technical support, which has led to companies moving to a service model and looking for providers.

In addition, purchasing equipment in the current conditions is a complicated, risky and expensive task. For instance, providers order some components through cross-continental transfers, having to wait for months rather than weeks. This poses risks to clients as well. Out of desperation, companies may choose to purchase used servers, which only increases risks of failures.

Also, parallel imports impose restrictions on warranty conditions: foreign manufacturers will simply fail to promptly replace equipment or components. As to providers that have substantial equipment stocks, the situation also involves massive risks. Sadly, these are the realities of the coming years amidst persisting geopolitical tensions.

Obviously, companies will suspend their technological development. The services previously provided by Azure and AWS are particularly relevant for product development companies; these players will now be significantly outperformed in the technological competition in the global market.

As to end users, we are already observing a gradual transition from Microsoft products to alternatives in all areas, ranging from office applications and operating systems to databases and video conferencing platforms. Some will probably choose to migrate to older IT solutions.

By Alexander Kolesov, Director of Cloud&Infra Department, iiii Tech (Four I-s)

Previous ArticleNext Article