Be Cloud-First, or be Left Behind

Take a moment to think about your network and the applications being used by staff in the company.  How much of that technology is cloud-native or has a cloud component?  Ten per cent, a quarter, half, or maybe more?  Whatever the answer, in almost all cases, it will be higher than it was five years ago and likely more than two years ago. And if not, then it’s time to think seriously about the importance of being cloud-first.

Cloud platforms from providers, such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft, have proven to deliver a level of security, resilience, raw compute power and expertise that no one but the largest enterprises could hope to build. Even if they could, the geographical reach, ongoing innovation, investment in tech talent, and affordable price points that today’s cloud platforms provide would be almost impossible to match. 

Applications, too, have made their mark, whether it’s productivity suites such as Office 365, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)-based versions of popular server platforms, or CRM solutions like Salesforce.  Most software vendors already offer a subscription-based cloud version of their applications.   

The on-premises model of technology is being superseded by the cloud, and whilst it may not be possible to get every application an enterprise wants as a cloud offering, in most cases, it is just a matter of time.

Evolution towards cloud

For enterprises, this evolution in the way technology is delivered creates a challenge. Do they embrace the cloud and go ‘cloud first’ or continue to maintain and invest in the on-premises infrastructure they already have? While it’s important to recognise there are specific characteristics that define the way industries embrace technology and every business has a tempo of its own, the evolution towards cloud is universally applicable.

Many enterprises have been operating with hybrid models, but increasingly on-premises applications give way to cloud offerings. This means that whilst hybrid models have helped companies dip a toe in the water and experiment with the cloud, this is not the endgame. Vendors want customers on the cloud version of their products, and in as little as five years, most software solutions will only be available as a cloud service.

The onus is now on enterprises to embrace cloud-first and move away from the traditional on-premises model. This seems like a tall order, but cloud-first does not mean ripping everything out of the server room tomorrow. Transitioning between on-premises or hybrid versions of products is now much easier than it was three or four years ago, where the process could be quite painful and require specialist skills.  Vendors have worked hard to develop the migration tools and support teams to make it a lot easier – precisely because they want their future in the cloud.

Getting to cloud-first

Going cloud-first starts with accepting that the on-premises technology and IT skills in the company today, either are, or will become, a technology debt in the next five years. Businesses that do not adopt a cloud-first strategy will find themselves burdened with outdated infrastructure and huge maintenance costs and only able to look on as their competitors become more agile and innovative. That technology debt will keep growing over time as the gap between the haves and have-nots widens, making it even harder to play catch-up when there is no choice but to transition.

Cloud-first means giving fair consideration to whether a cloud solution can be a suitable replacement for any new or existing on-premises solution when it aligns with an upgrade cycle, project, or business imperative. There will be situations where it is not the right choice yet. If a cloud-native solution is not going to work, then decision-makers need to understand how long the on-premises version will be supported and maintained, what the vendor’s plans are for migrating the service to the cloud, and how easy that migration will be for them as a customer.

The speed and approach used to replace on-premises technology with cloud solutions will be unique to each business’s size and circumstances, its applications, network architecture, and its business strategy. But there are some things that companies can do to make sure they are ready to capitalise on cloud technology at the appropriate moment:

  • Zero-trust security strategy: The adoption of zero-trust security models is one of the most effective ways to protect a business against hackers. Hybrid working practices, distributed workforces, and the use of cloud technology alone have made it essential to protect employees, devices, apps, and data wherever they are located. Every interaction between these elements must be authenticated, and the minimum level of access should be granted at any time.  
  • Formalise the strategy: The business case for going cloud-first needs to be evangelised across all teams, departments, and the C-suite. Everyone must be onside to make the strategy effective. Formalising it and communicating through the business is critical to success as individual applications and resources move into the cloud.
  • Architecture inventory: Enterprises can only move what they know they have. Resource modelling and discovery tools can help to shine a light on every detail of the company’s architecture, so it is easier to plan and understand where refresh cycles sit. No company should assume they already know it. There is always the chance that undocumented alterations or ‘temporary’ fixes have been made, which could have catastrophic effects on deployment efforts in the future. Importantly, this is not a one-off exercise, the reality of an IT infrastructure is that things will keep changing, so this exercise should be revisited consistently. Using automated tools can make this a very simple exercise.
  • Plan, plan, and plan some more: Depending on the size and complexity of the business, the speed and approach taken for a cloud-first strategy will be unique and on a timeline that fits that business goals and IT refresh cycles. As business goals and priorities change, it is important to keep the IT strategy closely aligned with them. This, combined with the discovery phase, will help to identify any risk inflexion points and determine how best to mitigate them. Some systems may be too risky to move without running them in parallel first, for example. Though this should only ever be a temporary solution: maintaining two systems over time always leads to a delta between them that can cause any number of problems. 
  • Talent and skills: The skills required to deploy and manage cloud systems are different to those for on-premises. They are also skills that are in short supply in the market. Enterprises must consider how they will attract the right people or invest in upskilling the existing team.  Not everyone will want to learn new skills. Ultimately organisations need a strategy for building the team that also delivers a cloud-first strategy, and it’s worth investing time and effort to get it right. 

Planning a cloud strategy

The future of IT systems is cloud-first. For many companies, this might be an uncomfortable reality to accept, but setting up a strategy and planning for the future now will minimise the technical debt in the organisation. It will lower CAPEX costs and provide the level of flexibility, scalability, and resilience required for modern business. And it puts enterprises ahead of the game.

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