The future's cloudy (but bright)

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2020
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By Dean Gardner
Chief Technologist for Cloud

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On-premises, private cloud, public cloud, IaaS, hybrid cloud, hybrid infrastructure, SaaS, hybrid datacentre, PaaS, multi-cloud, co-location…the list goes on. If like us you hear a collection of these terminologies (and more) several times a day, they start to lose meaning. Yet, should we care what terminology we use, or is it just “buzzword bingo”. Are they interchangeable or do they each offer their own meaning? How do we align them to the direction of your organisation?

Clearer horizons

Although we don’t want to focus too much on terminology, it’s important to understand and differentiate between two key trends.

Hybrid Cloud: Hybrid is a blend of a private cloud and public cloud, however integration between the private and public clouds is minimal. Organisations can deploy and manage workloads on two (or more) platforms, but this is primarily from a compute and storage perspective. There is little interaction between the platforms, other than trying to simplify and consolidate management in as many places as possible. Hybrid was born out of an Infrastructure need to balance these two worlds together, simplify, and ease management burdens whilst reducing risks.

Multi-Cloud: The difference between hybrid and multi-cloud may seem subtle at first, but it’s a world apart in reality. Multi-cloud encompasses consuming private and public clouds still, but in a cloud-native application approach. Therein lies the difference, it’s an application-first perspective . Yes, it relies on a platform to run, but we want to be able to deploy, manage and move an application whether it is hosted on or across AWS, Azure, GCP, OCI and private cloud. It encompasses an agile methodology that puts the business and applications first, whilst wrapping the controls and governance required for development, operations, and cyber security teams to link in a flexible framework.

Ultimately, with multi-cloud we want to design and architect our solution stack once, then to deploy this on the platform(s) of choice in a consistent manner.

I’m driving but not sure where I’m going!

So, let’s start at the beginning: where is your business today; where do you want it to be; how does technology deliver the right outcomes that provide value and at the same time drive the business forward? Big questions that require some thought.

Making technology decisions and subsequent investments are now critical success factors to deliver the right business outcomes. Being able to move at speed is a key ingredient, but a range of areas need to be factored in, including risk, cost, security, and operational excellence. Focusing on those areas allows an organisation to meet head on the digital transformation agenda that can no longer be a simply a series of buzz words of potential. This is now a reality for all, where measurable incremental gains can achieve greatness and whereby the range of technology options as outlined above, when combined with the right mix, can provide a positive impact never thought possible.

But as technology and businesses become even more tightly entwined, there appears to be a lag in uptake for many. Is it a case that travelling down what appears to be a difficult road not worthy of consideration? Is it simply down to a fear of failure? Or is it a case of not having the capabilities to scale and adapt to change? We see all of these as potential potholes but when faced with increased competition, industry changes or environmental impacts, many businesses are forced to react which can deliver unwanted outcomes. Therefore, we believe the ability to adapt is even more important than ever before and inertia is no longer a viable choice.

We believe a business needs to be agile, strategic, and proactive as a way of aligning the various technology choices to deliver the measurable differences and the best outcomes. Clarity of thought and understanding the road ahead is the main objective; whilst providing a focus on the destination and working backwards from that point is the key to success. We believe there is a way to drive down a less treacherous road by working towards outcomes that are not defined by a platform or technology choice. By understanding your business first, those choices will become clearer..

Adapt and adopt: our top tips

To answer this question, we need to look at some of the reasons and use cases behind adopting any type of cloud strategy.

Data Privacy Laws: A key driver towards a multi-cloud world is data privacy, compliance and legal regulations. It might be that your data needs to reside in the EU for GDPR reasons, it must not leave China due to the local regulations, or it might be a CCPA in America. There is an ever-growing number of laws today that govern where and how data must be stored, which is a significant driver behind multi-cloud strategies.

Vendor Lock-in: Reducing the reliance on one single vendor is a noble objective and certainly a reason we see a shift to multi-cloud. Where this can be achieved helps to drive growth towards workload portability as the platform really does not matter; applications can be built based on what fits your requirements.

The Right Platform: Contrary to vendor lock-in, when choosing the right platform its capability is important, and this needs a closer look. This might increase the vendor lock-in but can allow organisations to choose the best in-class for each use case. This could be based on performance, reliability or because of a certain tool. It might be that a platform is chosen due to its leading managed database offering or its ability to process media in real time. Whatever the reason, the choice should lead to agile development and deployment of applications as part of the selection criteria.

Data Gravity: This can be a challenge within multi-cloud in terms of achieving portability, but it is also a driver towards a multi-cloud approach. We are all building up data silos which are usually complex and costly to move. So users, applications and services naturally gravitate to where the data originally resides, and this can lead to a multi-cloud approach. Organic growth of data that isn’t controlled is something to be careful of.

Workload Portability: Being able to move applications, workloads and data at will sounds attractive, but not many organisations reach this level of maturity as it is a difficult task to achieve. On the other hand, being able to deploy your solutions in a consistent manner is achievable and another driver for multi-cloud.

Business Value: IT professionals are being challenged more and more to add business value and help as our organisations digitally transform. For all of the reasons above, and being able to adapt quickly and focus on driving value back into your business, multi-cloud is chosen. Once you operate in this world it allows you to innovate and expand much quicker than a more traditional approach.

Competitive Landscape: Competition is a consistent threat for all and new companies emerge every month using technology as a key catalyst. Every industry is now touched by digital change and for those not investing in transformation, the business impact can be significant and catastrophic. This does not mean chucking the financial kitchen sink at a series of perceived problems, but building a robust business plan to achieve a competitive digital edge where technology can be used as a positive enabler for change.

To truly transform using cloud takes...

To truly transform and make a cloud strategy successful takes hard work, time, investment, education and a desire to evolve. Not all are easy to achieve, especially when day-to-day activities need continuous focus. Therefore, it needs to be a business-driven choice. Strategic direction is required to achieve digital maturity and this is where cloud plays a significant part. Transformation is built around the direction of business travel and encompasses platforms, applications and data as we have previously mentioned; it also requires the IT Professionals, business users and leaders in an organisation to evolve to accommodate new ways of operating and working.

Business frameworks need to be implemented; new styles of Development, Security and Operations teams working more closer together (DevSecOps); different types of user education; new tools augmented into the day to day; acceleration to automation and integration that touches all parts of the business and technology landscape; all are required to make it work. It can be a daunting journey, whereby a program of transformation must be achieved over a period of time, where all parts of the business are included and helped to drive towards the right business outcome.

Why Softcat for multi-cloud?

At Softcat we believe that cloud has a critical role in the journey of transformation and we work with our customers to evolve their digital maturity and simplify their technology choices in order to make that journey less daunting. We work with many of the vendors that provide the choice of platform or software that enables your organisation to move fast. We provide a comprehensive portfolio of services, solutions and transactional excellence, allowing your busines to focus on the destination to achieve success.

Read more in the series

Second Instalment: Hidden clouds

 Final instalment: The sky's the limit

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