While there’s nothing new about the concept of cloud, so much of cloud is new. In truth, cloud ideas are constantly evolving, but sometimes reality comes from the experience of actually doing as opposed to listening to what everyone else is saying. Beyond the false perceptions, buzzwords and noise, cloud’s benefits are considerable – and I think that’s a great reason to write a helpful article on the matter.
Cloud is a preferred platform for most organisations. It’s almost omnipresent – at least, that’s how it feels. And it has dramatically changed most of products and services in our society: how we work, what we drive, the devices we wear, and more importantly, how we pay and manage our finances.
As a result of all this change, cloud is rarely straightforward, if not confusing. It feels to me like the quote by Dan Ariely about big data that went viral, works almost as well for cloud: “Big data is like teenage sex; everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.” So, I believe it’s important to uncover the realities of the situation – and there are some key learnings that can help us do this.
Demystifying the famous five cloud preconceptions:
1. The dark horse of 'as a service'
Of the three core tenets of cloud: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), typically infrastructure is the least favoured by organisations.
It maybe because, through its name, it’s closely compared to technology that organisations want to move away from – namely on-premises infrastructure. It’s more likely that it is perceived to be something that requires more effort to implement and maintain.
However, this position misses the opportunity to take advantage of cloud native IaaS, which is great for more dynamic types of workloads, such as those used in ecommerce (the benchmark cloud use case). More importantly, it misses a potential and immediate cost saving through any system that needs to be switched off when not in use.
Top tip: Assess all the ‘horses’ and don’t simply discount IaaS as the outsider – it’s entirely possible to benefit from the outset.
2. Sometimes new is better
For a host of reasons, most cloud conversations start by defining goals to modernise apps and re-write old code. Alternatively, some organisations work to move old apps into their cloud environment via containers. However, the most successful changes come from updating the underlying business process.
In my view, organisations can often benefit more by deciding to achieve their objectives in a new way, with an entirely new application for the purpose. This is because, in most cases, it’s far simpler to rip out an old app and replace it with a new one – as opposed to trying to un-pick something without the intrinsic knowledge of how it was built, or which has been heavily customised.
Softcat’s CIO, Rob Parkinson, commented:
“Whatever the reasons, modernization needs to be driven by the business, not by the IT department and it requires you to balance an investment in time & skill from both as key stakeholders. From the outset, ‘rip and replace’ might sound aggressive, but the balance of effort can easily swing to favour this and could be an ideal approach if a current application isn’t meeting an organisation’s objectives, for example, its past its ‘use by date’, maintaining it has become too costly, the business process is over complicated, or the original architect or developer has long since left the business.”
Top tip: Question if ‘rip and replace’ is really too extreme for your organisation and think more long-term about adopting something new to modernise your process, culture and then technology last.
3. Lock in is everywhere, deal with it!
Lock-in is perceived as being an issue relating to the era before ‘as a service’ or consumption-based commercial arrangements. Traditional partners would sell 5 and even 10-year outsource agreements to implement and manage the keys to an organisation’s kingdom, often also developing bespoke solutions that only they knew how to manage.
While many organisations see multi-cloud, or the ability to move things between clouds, as a way to avoid being locked-in to any one provider, it’s not that simple. Data grows, and so do workloads – and they become more complex. The result is yet more ‘lock-in’ because if it’s neither easy nor efficient to move data, the surrounding applications or users are stuck.
Top tip: Avoid making decisions purely for the purpose of avoiding lock-in, because it will likely happen anyway. Instead, ask yourself and your partners to think about how you’ll exit if and when needed. Plan for this a little upfront and manage it accordingly when the time arrives.
4. "Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
The People, Process, Technology framework has been around since the 1960s, so it’s a well-worn concept that technology alone does not solve all problems. However, many organisations still rely on the technological solution, and assume just by architecting and using it correctly that their goals will be achieved.
I would go further to say that the technology is, in fact, the least important part of that old triumvirate – and that culture and the operating model are bigger priorities. Why? People make technology work, and its people that define culture. If these elements aren’t aligned to the needs of the business, the technology simply won’t deliver.
Top tip: Work across the organisation and acquire full stakeholder buy-in to what you want to achieve. Everyone needs to be on the same journey, all pulling in the same direction, together.
5. Sustainability is the new currency
For a long time, sustainability was just something that organisations stated as a commitment with no real action. However, things have changed. For cloud, and for most technology domains, the key aspects that influence decisions have traditionally centred around cost, risk, security, and performance – but sustainability is set to become the new, dominant-decision making metric.
There’s a widespread awakening to the fact that sustainability is a serious business, and one that everyone needs to be involved in. In this context, sustainability is dominated by the green aspect and the need to reduce carbon footprints, but in a wider sense, sustainability includes diversity, equality and ethical business practice. It simply can’t be ignored.
Here’s some further insight from Softcat’s CFO, Graham Charlton:
“Perhaps more than most, the IT industry needs to lead the way towards a net zero future. As technology and its place in society proliferates, the requirement for it to be sustainable becomes paramount. Manufacturers and customers must both embrace this reality or face obsolescence”
Top tip: If sustainability isn’t something that’s affecting your decision-making, it should be – and the sustainability credentials of the organisations you work with should be scrutinised too.
Cut to the cloud
While I’ve identified what I believe are the five most important lessons to learn today, there are ultimately many more. Cloud is so often clouded – and it’s up to us to seek clarity by cutting through and focusing on the reality of the situation.
Offering a myriad of advantages for organisations of all sizes, clearing the air is certainly worth the effort. As someone who’s spent many years of my career enabling transformation and witnessing the positive changes that organisations can make thanks to cloud, I can tell you that the sky really is the limit if you keep your feet on the ground.