Scaling Infrastructure in the Cloud: Scale Up or Scale Out?


One of the most attractive benefits of cloud computing for companies is the ability to scale their IT infrastructure.  Scaling, in the context of the cloud, refers to a company’s ability to adapt its IT resources to meet changing demand.  The cloud allows companies to scale data storage, networking, and processing power using their existing infrastructure, with minimal disruption and downtime.

In this blog, we are going to examine two common methods for cloud scaling: scale up and scale out.  We’ll explore indicators of a need for scalable solutions, the difference between the two options, and important considerations you need to keep in mind when making the decision.

Signs it’s Time to Scale

If you’re currently operating in a on-premise server or cloud environment, there are a number of scenarios that can drive your need to scale your network’s capabilities:

  • Performance: The first and most obvious symptom of a cloud infrastructure in need of expansion IT resources is performance. If your website is hosted on an overtaxed server for instance, load times can be negatively affected. Studies have shown that 46% of users don’t revisit websites that perform poorly and just a 1-second delay in load time can reduce customer satisfaction by 16%.
  • Maintenance Requirement: Perhaps your server is performing great, but your network requires some sort of maintenance work. If you only have one server, maintenance equals costly outages. Scaling additional resources can dedicate one node to do the maintenance while another handles the workload.
  • Seasonal Fluctuations: If you operate in a market that sees significant seasonal changes in demand, scaling can help you temporarily add resources to meet it and remove them when they’re no longer needed.
  • Development need: If your company is undertaking a significant development project with a dedicated team of programmers and developers, spinning up additional cloud resources to dedicate infrastructure capacity to that team can help to ensure the rest of the business resources don’t take a hit.

Scaling Up vs. Scaling Out

The cloud provides companies with the ability to be nimble from an IT infrastructure perspective. As resource needs change, you can quickly adapt. But there’s more than one way to do it.

Scaling up refers to adding additional resources, like memory, hard drives, and CPUs to your existing physical server. Scaling out, on the other hand, refers to adding additional servers to the system to spread the workload across more machines, increasing capacity and performance.

Scaling up is often the solution of choice for meeting seasonal demand. It is also an ideal solution for organizations with a relatively small dataset, who don’t expect that data to grow exponentially in the next three to five years. It involves fewer resources and is typically the less expensive route to take.

If you are managing data for a larger organization with 30 terabytes or more of backup data or are expecting significant growth in the years to come, scaling out is the better option.

Depending on the resources available in your organization, you may or may not be able to dedicate someone to manually monitor usage and make scaling decisions in real time. Autoscaling allows your cloud environment to anticipate surges in business activity or unexpected traffic and take action automatically. Autoscaling is more typical in large enterprises, where the cloud is harder to manage because there are more resources housed in it. Smaller companies with less dramatic fluctuations in demand are usually able to manage scaling manually.

Risks and Challenges of Scaling Without the Cloud

As available technological capabilities grow, the volume of resources needed to support them grows as well. It’s important to consider the business impact of not having enough resources available when you need them. If you’re currently managing everything with on-premise servers, you’re likely already seeing some of the limitations. With a cloud-based infrastructure, upgrades that used to take two to three months to complete can be done in a few clicks of a mouse.

The decision of how to scale for the unique needs of your company is an important one. You must take into consideration what you need from an application perspective and the strengths and weaknesses of various cloud providers to avoid overpaying for resources you don’t or won’t need. Business priorities change over time and sometimes seemingly unrelated decisions can affect your needs. It’s important that you continuously monitor shifts in demand for cloud resources, and adapt accordingly to ensure you’re getting the maximum ROI from your investment.

Which Scaling Direction is Right for You?

Applied Technologies works with clients to evaluate the performance of their  data storage and compute infrastructure, understand challenges and issues they are facing, and present options tailored to overcoming them. We then partner with companies like NetApp, Cisco, VMware, Unitrends, and Veeam to develop a solution to help clients scale their infrastructure from where they are with their cloud capabilities to where they want to be. If you’re ready to explore a more scalable IT infrastructure, contact Applied Technologies to get the conversation started.