15th January 2019

The aim of this article is to provide some realism to the cloud messaging that has been delivered over recent years. The ‘Cloud First’ strategy that was being investigated by many businesses and adopted by some is disappearing and being replaced with a ‘Cloud Appropriate’ strategy. What we have seen is that a lot of the ‘Cloud First’ strategy push has come from board level or senior management without any real understanding of what transitional requirements and impact, cost and potential disruption that means to the business other than the ‘promise’ of future cost savings. Many of these strategies stem from hearing a peer or competitor has already adopted this approach, therefore ‘we should be also’. The reality is though, a lot of the detail regarding the journey to get there or the actual costs and day to day operational changes on how to adopt a ‘Cloud First’ strategy have not been thought about up front.

Today’s public cloud hyperscalers such as Microsoft Azure, AWS and Google provide a variety of platforms and services to deliver IaaS or PaaS to businesses globally, however most businesses are not in a position to simply transpose their current applications, processes and services into these hosted platforms without significant rearchitecting. Not too long ago the public cloud message was firmly about moving all your existing workloads to the cloud and let the supplier worry about the infrastructure. If you didn’t, you were behind the curve because everyone else is or already has. The reality is though, simply taking workloads that were running on premises as is and running them in the public cloud is considered by many the wrong way to do it.

You won’t get the benefits of automation, resilience, scaling or cost saving by doing this. Systems such as large file servers, domain controllers, line of business application servers that are always running and consuming constant and consistent resources tend to cost significantly more to run in the public cloud and this excludes consideration for application interoperability and interconnectivity requirements, securing access and threat protection management.

In short a “simple” pick and lift isn’t an option that will return the desired benefits.

Let’s look at an example of what ‘Cloud Appropriate’ may mean to you. I am sure you have heard of Office 365. Office 365 offers an alternative solution to on premises workloads such as e-mail servers, SharePoint servers as well as offering additional value with tools like workplace collaboration in the form of Microsoft Teams, Skype, task automation with Microsoft Flow and so on. This is a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, born in the public cloud, that can take full advantage of the infrastructure that underpins it and really does deliver business advantages such as mobility for users to work from where they need to, with access to their applications and data securely and enhanced communications internally with video calls and IM services as well as to customers and external contacts.

Cloud appropriate would also be systems that usually are largely idle and consume a small amount of resource, however at times must spike to accommodate huge workloads. Think retail or online betting. An average mid-week night requires small resources however the night of a title boxing match or a championship event sees millions of users hitting the system in a short time window. Accommodating this huge resource spike privately would be hugely expensive, so having the cloud scalability works here due to the majority of the time the system uses very little resource therefore costs very little to operate.

So where does that leave us?

Public cloud isn’t a panacea for offloading a full infrastructure easily and at a reduced cost, yet, it may get there in time. You still need to manage and secure your systems in the public cloud, the providers don’t do that for you so system administration isn’t going to disappear overnight. The reality is, it’s a hybrid world out there. Businesses are consuming a mixture of public cloud SaaS, IaaS and PaaS systems as well as retaining private on premises infrastructure for those workloads that are best suited either financially or technically. Ultimately a move to a public cloud will only be made if it yields a strong business advantage or a strong cost saving having factored in all the transitional costs.

Public cloud is certainly a revolution but for many businesses evolution of their existing IT infrastructure may better serve their needs. Hyper Converged Infrastructure is a fitting example of the evolution of a traditional on premises architecture comprising of networking, compute and storage. The services being offered are the same, but the footprint in terms of space, cooling and power consumption is lower whilst offering greater levels of performance which ultimately offers better value to the business.

In summary, a move to the public cloud does make sense for many businesses for certain services and will deliver flexibility and cost savings but it is rare that a business can move wholesale into the public cloud.

Cloud appropriate is understanding how systems operate and inter-operate, the user processes around them, the cost of transitioning to the cloud and the real appreciation of the benefits the cloud delivers. Cloud appropriate also means understanding what needs to stay on premise and investing in the right new infrastructure that is cloud aware and integrated.

Further reading.
CRN and IDC: Why early public cloud adopters are leaving the public cloud amidst security and cost concerns.
https://www.crn.com/businesses-moving-from-public-cloud-due-to-security-says-idc-survey

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