Cloud computing is now synonymous with the digital agenda and has evolved to become conspicuous more by its absence within a business or organisation today, than by its presence.
In fact, between now and 2022, Gartner projects the market size and growth of the cloud service industry to eclipse that of the overall IT services industry threefold,1 as it establishes itself across all manner of organisations and sectors – from schools and healthcare, to banks and the government.
But what do we mean when we talk about a ‘cloud-first approach’ and why should it be a key consideration when seeking technology solutions?
In fact, what we mean by the term ‘cloud-first’ (if we take a business approach, rather than a technical one) is the policy that a business develops in response to challenges identified as part of a strategic review of technology needs. This could be anything from spend control and slow time to market, to inability to scale and meet demand.
Deploying a cloud-first policy can reap a number of benefits and is something the UK Government chose to implement in 2013 when they introduced it for all their technology decisions2.
But cloud-first doesn’t mean cloud-only. It simply means that organisations should take an informed approach to technology solutions, ensuring that cloud solutions are considered first, before exploring other options.
Once you’ve committed to a cloud-first policy, it is from here that you can develop a series of actions to execute within your business, which will address the challenges identified during your strategic review.
Implementing cloud-first isn’t always easy though – no matter where you are in your cloud journey – so here are some of our tips to help you along the way.
One of the first things to consider is what ‘flavour’ of cloud is right for your business.
From traditional on-premise through to infrastructure and service, platform and service, to software and service. The difference between these boils down to a key question.
How much are you going to look after, and how much do you want the cloud vendor to look after? The cloud pizza model helps to understand the differences between each option.
When you’re on premise (OP), you’re buying your own ingredients and making your own pizza from scratch.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is where you buy your pizza in the shop, but you cook it at home in your own oven.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) is where you take pizza delivery, and by the time you’re in software as a service (SaaS) you’re eating out.
Once you’ve established what sort of cloud platform will suit your business, you need to think about the move to cloud itself.
It’s important to recognise that the cloud lives outside of your existing estate.
You need to understand the volume of workloads that will move to the cloud, and the impact this can have on connectivity.
How will you address provision around the bandwidth necessary to make the data centre and cloud work, how will you make it resilient, yet connected and accessible?
Unfortunately, there is no magic button which allows you to move from legacy data into the cloud. A ‘lift and shift’ mentality should be avoided as it’s unlikely this will deliver the benefits that the cloud can give.
Older applications weren’t architected to take advantage of the cloud – they were built to provide a solution for your business at a particular point in time.
Your architecture therefore needs to directly support the cloud if the benefits are to be realised.
It’s a brave new world and without a strong governance you could risk ending up with a sprawling solution which is badly planned and financially unsound.
Teams need awareness of the commercial impact of their actions and how this differs from working in on-premise.
Having an effective governance framework will help to avoid any unwelcome surprises. This doesn’t need to be War and Peace – it should be pragmatic and lightweight where possible.
Whilst a long way down the list, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t important.
This is one of the key areas of change to be aware of when taking a cloud-first approach.
Your threat factors will change, and you really need a team of experienced people who understand this area and what the key challenges are here.
Taking on cloud is not just a technical challenge, it’s a budgetary and internal communication challenge too.
The main point here is the importance of finding a metaphor to explain something which is essentially very abstract and difficult for stakeholders within your business to understand.
This is vital in order to get them bought into the key concept of what cloud actually means to them, and to lobby for the investment you in need in order to deliver on the wider business aims.
Large organisations tend to be geared around capital expenditure (capex) and this is probably the model you used with your classic data centre, where there were large capex spends every few years.
However, you need to build an operating expenditure (opex) financial model, otherwise things can get out of control very quickly. This will help your finance team to understand what sort of volumes you expect and how this will change throughout the year.
This involves teamwork – business and finance teams, sales teams and IT all working together. You can’t just deploy something to the finance team and expect people to look after it.
Historically, you nurtured, cared for and cured your legacy data centre, but with the cloud, if something goes wrong, don’t invest time in diagnosing a problem with a single node. This is an ineffective use of resource.
There are similar products even within the same cloud vendor, where their implementations can be different, so it’s worth understanding what those differences are.
They might not affect you at all, but call them out, make sure that people understand them, especially your tech teams as we’ve seen these trip people up in production – the worst possible place.
So, we’ve identified the challenge and developed a policy to address it, what you need now is a coherent set of actions to execute as your cloud-first policy.
This is what we call planning the journey and it’s very distinct from planning the policy itself. It’s important at here to recognise where you need to ask for help, especially if it’s your first or second iteration around cloud-first.
Talk to your peers and learn from their mistakes so you don’t make your own, and most importantly, get professional advice. It will reduce risk and save you money in the long term.
And remember, always question what you’re doing – ask yourself whether you’re addressing the challenges your business faces, or whether you’ve got a bit too excited about shiny new tech. The latter will lead you astray with disastrous financial consequences!
Written by Mike Openshaw, Sector Director