Pets Versus Cattle: Why Thinking About Infrastructure Isn’t Enough

cloud infrastructure

12 Sep Pets Versus Cattle: Why Thinking About Infrastructure Isn’t Enough

If you’ve been paying attention to the cloud conversation over the past few years, you’ve likely heard the phrase “pets versus cattle”. It’s often used as an analogy to illustrate the advantages of hosting your business’s applications via the cloud rather than using more traditional on-site servers, but there’s more to it than that says Hostworks’ technical guru Phil Kunze.

As with most analogies, “pets versus cattle” as a concept is an oversimplification and can miss some crucial details if applied too broadly – particularly for organisations switching from an older “pets” set-up that may use legacy technology to a more modern cloud set-up. Here’s a quick guide to illustrate how this can play out in real life.

Pets Versus Cattle In Theory

The idea goes something like this: IT departments have traditionally treated servers as “pets” – that is, they are lovingly nurtured, nursed back to health when they get sick (stop working) and given affectionate or amusing names.

This part of the analogy makes a lot of sense – servers are a proprietary (and typically expensive) physical resource. As the main repository of an enterprise’s precious data, you can understand why IT departments might cherish and coddle them.

The rise of virtualisation and cloud computing, however, has fundamentally changed things. Hosting via these methods, so the analogy goes, should be thought of more as managing “cattle” – servers are basically identical to each other, live in some far-off “barn” (the cloud) and when one develops a problem, it’s easier just to get rid of it and get a new one.

Pets Versus Cattle In Reality

The reality is not so simple.

Say you are the CTO of a medium-sized travel agency that sells discount plane, cruise and train tickets. Business has been good, your firm has been growing and you decide to switch your booking system (with minimal changes) to a cloud-based computing infrastructure to keep up.

However, because there was a lack of resiliency built into your cloud infrastructure, you find that rather than making your life easier, the opposite occurs. Bookings fail unexpectedly, records go missing. Vacations are not booked, customers are upset and business gets taken elsewhere.

In this particular case, the resiliency lost when you switched to a cloud-based, shoot-em-when-they-get-sick server set-up was not compensated for at the application level and with the right service governance.

Even when working with the cloud, businesses still need bake resiliency into the software design itself. This seems to be the part of the pets versus cattle approach that is often overlooked.

The Takeaway

The key lesson is that all environments exist to deliver a service, and this should be the focus at the core of every IT department. Organisations need to understand that they should not think of virtual infrastructure in the same way as on-premises infrastructure, and instead focus on delivering excellence at the application level.

Less effort coddling our infrastructure is a good thing, but the point we’re trying to drive home is that organisations are drastically increasing the number of computer networks they use. If one system administrator is used to manage a hundred servers before, now that same administrator can manage thousands.

Decreased dependency on physical servers means that businesses can spend and focus less on the hardware, and need to think about how to deliver end value to customers. Why? Because computing hardware is losing its value, and the software and expertise to run these machines are becoming more valuable.

If you plan to move to the cloud, the services of an experienced guide who can help you work through those details is invaluable. At Hostworks, we are specialists in exactly that. If we can help or if you have any questions, drop us a line.

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