The sky's the limit

Posted on Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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By Andrew Cochrane
Solutions Architect

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Multi-cloud is far more than a technology trend or a specific product you can buy from a vendor, it’s a gravitational pull to operate your IT function and your organisation in a new way. When achieved, it can be a large factor in the competitive advantage for your business. However, operational challenges are where organisations often struggle to adapt; support teams, in many cases, end up with a blend of cloud and legacy processes due to moving back to the “way things have always been done”. Let’s explore some of the common operational challenges and advice on how to best address them.

Unless your business started in recent years, you will not have been born in the cloud. Your IT systems will have a proportion of technical debt and the processes may still be designed around a business model that was fit for the pace of life before the cloud era. Multi-cloud demands agility and freedom to choose the most appropriate platform based on your requirements whilst providing consistent delivery and management. Certainly easier said than done!

Taking the business on your cloud journey

Understanding your organisation, the drivers, the key differentiators for your vertical and how technology can enable this, are fundamental in moving to multi-cloud. IT needs to be seen as a partner in this journey, not just a cost centre or a service provider. Having a seat at the table, so to speak, means that when strategy and planning takes place, technology, more than ever before, becomes the fundamental cornerstone of the discussion. This isn’t a new concept, but something organisations and IT professionals have struggled with for years.

So, how do we address this? Unfortunately there is no silver bullet, but below are a few tactics we would suggest: 

· Senior sponsorship: if you’re not at the table yet, find the person who can understand technology and influence senior leadership for you. Be the spokesperson for how technology is defining the cutting edge, show that you're ready to deliver against this and outline the benefits.

· The quick wins: more often than not, traditional IT approaches are lengthy and cumbersome. Once we have an opportunity, we want to prove our credibility and ability to deliver means this isn’t always the case. Look for some quick wins, find a technology or process you already have but can utilise to a greater extent in the cloud, then deliver against it.

· Minimal viable products: you may not (yet) be in a DevOps world, but utilising an MVP approach can be very valuable. Build in agile product delivery to gain traction and keep momentum, which will challenge some of the stereotypical thinking that IT needs weeks or months to build something. Try and build a pipeline-style delivery model as soon as possible and it will influence the lens on which IT is perceived by the business.

· Don’t just keep the lights on: this is an important responsibility; we must keep the systems running. Look at where you can shift responsibilities, automate or simplify the responsibility of staff members. In turn they can engage, build relationships and understand the business which will add a great deal of value. Oh, but also make sure you do keep the lights on

Code is king: application modernisation

Sorry infrastructure people, but we live in a world where code is king. To be honest we have for a while, it's just more overt now than ever before. Applications solve problems, introduce new ways of working and streamline legacy processes. Infrastructure is needed to run this efficiently but is an underpinning foundation and it needs to be frictionless. Some of the primary areas to focus on when considering application modernisation include:

· Loose coupling: wherever possible when re-architecting an application, ensure it is loosely coupled. This allows for the different components of the application to be aware of each other, but not depend on one another. This eases development, updates and deployments cycles. However, be cautious as this can present data challenges, so it's important to address the underlying data as well as the application.

· Tooling: selection of tooling is critical, to get the appropriate level of functionality whilst also simplifying as much as possible. Areas to consider in this space are data management, application development and delivery, infrastructure delivery, monitoring and management across platform and application as well as automation and orchestration across the environment. 

· Abstraction: this can be applied through several different lenses, and looking at this from an infrastructure platform perspective can be a vital first step to multi-cloud. Whether it be virtualisation, containerisation, PaaS or serverless, aim for the ability to deploy a workload in a consistent form no matter what the underlying platform is. Whether it be private cloud or public cloud, we want to deploy the application with the same tools and with a consistent outcome.

Automate, automate, automate

As already mentioned a few times in this article, automation and orchestration can play a pivotal role. It frees up staff time, delivers in a consistent manner and can amplify your ability to scale. But it can be confusing to decide where and how to automate and it seems as if every product says they have this today.

Review where automation is key for your business and the workflow it will follow. Is it in pockets or is it woven throughout your processes? This will help the decision on whether you use the built-in capabilities within each product or if you want a heterogenous automation and orchestration layer that can span applications, infrastructure, end-user, cyber security and more. If it’s the latter, then exploration into a dedicated middleware is usually a smarter choice to bring together and automate across the entire environment.

Consider how you buy

It’s important to consider how you are going to buy all of the products and services you need? Procurement transformation is an important area to consider, so the need for month on end contract negotiations and tender processes can be reduced. Moving to an OpEx model is part of this but leveraging a framework so you can procure products in a standardised fashion with quick delivery (and revocation when needed) is just as important. The use of marketplaces, value add partners (yes, like Softcat!), OpEx consumption models and financial models will need to be reviewed and in place to remove any slowdown imposed on the technology enablement whilst maintaining cost, compliance and risk management standards for the organisation.

Streamline your strategy

Operational efficiency is the key to a multi-cloud success strategy, to your business and to enable IT transformation. However, in many cases it is the most challenging component to get right. To get it right, you will need to investigate the business, technical and operational objectives of the project as well as explore the technology, people and processes behind the business. Softcat are well placed to assist our customers on this journey through our proven 5 step process of discover, design, deliver, operate and innovate. Alongside this we have a wealth of internal expertise as well as relationships with key technology partners across multi-cloud.

Read more in the series

First instalment: The future’s cloudy (but bright)

Second Instalment: Hidden clouds

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