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08 Mar 2018

Why a big bang approach to cloud may be best avoided

Dr Chris Folkerd

When looking at the best cloud solution for your business, always start from a clear understanding of what your objectives are. It’s easy to get seduced by ‘cool technology’, and start wasting precious time and effort playing around with things that aren’t going to deliver business benefits.

Once you know what you want to achieve, look for technology and innovations that will help you achieve your objectives.

It is also important to understand how new technologies complement your existing technology stack. Unless you’re building an entirely new environment from scratch, it’s likely you’ll have multiple existing systems you need your new technology to integrate with. Picking the right technology can make your life easier, and help you deploy faster. Also, be aware of vendor lock-in!

The cost conundrum

Hosting solutions that allow a flexible working environment while maintaining security are becoming a business priority

A big proven benefit of cloud hosting is also speed to market, or “time to value”. Essentially what this means is that by having infrastructure available on demand, you can develop, test and launch new innovations much quicker than if you had to deploy traditional IT infrastructure every time you want to launch something new. Getting to market first with a new innovation often delivers significant competitive advantage, and so is an important consideration for any business.

The ability to cope easily with spikes in demand, or unplanned growth, is another major benefit of cloud hosting. The Black Friday phenomenon strikes fear into the heart of IT managers all over the world – how do you cope with a single day with 50x or 100x your normal traffic, without spending a fortune on infrastructure that lies idle for the other 364 days of the year? The answer lies in cloud hosting and having infrastructure available on demand, ideally automated and based on your application being integrated into your hosting provider’s APIs.

Another advantage of the cloud is security. Employers should appreciate a connection between a more flexible working environment that incorporates multiple employee-owned devices and an increased risk of data breaches. With new EU data protection regulations set to be enforced in May 2018, hosting solutions that allow a flexible working environment while maintaining security are becoming a business priority.

With cloud-hosted desktops, lost or compromised hardware no longer poses the same security threat, as your data is not stored on your device. This extra layer of protection ensures that critical data is only stored inside the data centre, where it can be more easily managed, protected, and recovered.

What are the pitfalls to consider?
  • Be clear on your objectives / “start with why” to use a Simon Sinek quote.
  • Pick technology that integrates into your existing technology stack, otherwise you could have a hard time trying to deploy and end up going slower rather than faster.
  • Don’t try to move everything to the cloud in one go. Pick a small, isolated application or workload and start with that. Test, get it right, and then move onto the next application. A big bang approach can often be a recipe for disaster!
  • Design for failure – assume that any piece of your infrastructure could disappear at any moment without notice; how would your application cope with this? Cloud native applications are designed to be self-healing, which means that the application itself can seamlessly adapt to the loss of infrastructure components with no human intervention needed.
  • In line with the above, older applications simply weren’t designed with cloud hosting in mind. For example, a 20-year-old piece of accounting software was probably designed to run on a dedicated server, not integrated into a set of cloud hosting APIs with ephemeral virtual machines that may disappear at any point. You shouldn’t just lift and shift this kind of application onto a cloud hosting platform and cross your fingers.
  • The one-size-fits-all approach to cloud computing leads to compromise. Unless a cloud solution is tailored to the needs of individual customers, businesses that select these platforms find that they are restricted in what they can achieve. Ultimately, one-size-fits-all clouds hinder growth. The lack of flexibility reduces the ability to evolve a solution and increases costs by forcing businesses into paying for an inefficient solution. Eventually, such a platform could lead to a costly and complicated data migration forcing the business to move to a different platform altogether when it inevitably outgrows the solution.
  • Finally, businesses often fail to adapt their operational processes to account for the move to cloud hosting. In order to maximise the returns that can be achieved, it’s just as important to have the right processes in place as the right technology. This is the drive behind the move to DevOps movement, which is a new approach to IT management that advocates a seamless integration of the traditionally separate development and operations functions within a business.
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