A Reality Check on “Everyone’s Moving Everything To The Cloud”

By | August 24, 2016

A recent CIO editorial by Bernard Golden regarding the future of private cloud spurred some interesting commentary in my network. The pushback seemed to focus around the viability of the term “private cloud”. These individuals are well-respected thought-leaders in cloud with significant experience guiding senior IT executives transition to modern architectures, so I decided I’d engage them in a discussion regarding the future of self-managed infrastructure as a whole.

There’s a class of individuals, myself included, whose job it is to advise and recommend direction in Enterprise IT. In this role, we live in a bubble of sorts. I believe most of us understand the realities of Enterprise IT very well, but we also have a good handle on next generation architectures, their value, and how to migrate current IT environments to these next generation architectures. We understand the constraints of public cloud environments as well as other as-a-Service offerings. However, being outside of the day-to-day operational demands of the business, it’s easy for us to “see the light” more easily than someone who is confronted daily with typical Enterprise IT demands.

This bubble also means that we need to check ourselves from time to time against reality and question what we consider to be the optimal solution for businesses. For me, this meant engaging what I consider to be some of the most intelligent and knowledgeable individuals on cloud computing and Enterprise IT. Individuals who also meet with key senior executives in IT on a daily basis to discuss their goals to engage in discussions about balancing the vision and reality.

What ensued was a lively discussion that uncovered realities to balance the hype for businesses migrating to the cloud.

The Participants

The list of individuals I asked to participate is a real Who’s Who in cloud computing: Randy Bias (@randybias), Reuven Cohen (@Ruv), Tim Crawford (@tcrawford), Bernard Golden (@bernardgolden), Sam Johnston (@samj), Tom Lounibos (@Lounibos), George Reese (@georgereese), Christian Reilly (@reillyusa), Glen Robinson (@GlenPRobinson), Chris Swan (@cpswan),  Mark Thiele (@mthiele10).

The Discussion

The initial ask was to provide two pro and two cons for businesses to continue investing in their own managed infrastructure (data centers or co-location). As the conversion ramped up this group was also requested to provide their insights in businesses moving “whole hog” to the public cloud.

I’ll summarize the responses to the initial request first.

With regard to support for businesses needing to continue to manage and continue investing in their own infrastructure:

  1. Data Gravity (scale of data to voluminous to easily migrate the apps and data to the cloud)
  2. Security
  3. Emerging scalable solutions (e.g. Hyperconverged)
  4. Lack of equivalent SaaS offerings
  5. Significant integration requirements
  6. Lack of ability to support migration to cloud
  7. Vendor licensing
  8. Network latency
  9. Transparency
  10. Avoid Lock-In

With regard to support for business exiting infrastructure/data center management activities:

  1. Operational costs
  2. Availability of skilled workforce
  3. Better capital management
  4. Difficulty in providing elastic scalability
  5. Agility
  6. Perception of being considered pro-data center
  7. Limiting innovation
  8. Poor imitation of public cloud experience
  9. Poor capacity management / resource utilization
  10. Avoid extremism

Interesting, huh? Across a large enough population of really talented and experienced individuals emerged ten reasons for each position. You can argue the viability of certain ones, but all-in-all it’s an interesting outcome given the hype about companies moving to public cloud and CIOs all claiming they’re looking to exit the data center business.

I reiterate one of Tim’s messages, “IT is complex!”. We should know by now that there’s no silver bullet solutions, but attempts to buy them have ended in failure time and time again. And, yes, the message that the future world will be a hybrid one is starting to become more prevalent. Yet, there’s still a growing perception that self-managed data centers/infrastructure is a bad thing and businesses should have a strategy for exiting their current investments. Of note, the answer doesn’t have to be “public cloud”, a reasonable solution is to offload this to a managed services provider.

Notables

If you’re looking to learn from the best, here’s a set of quotes taken from the discussion thread. It’s an incredible resource chock full of knowledge and experience from some of the world’s most knowledgeable IT experts.

  1. Sadly, I’ve run across two business leaders recently who believe that the cloud is fragile and concerned about security and the grid going down (yikes!).”
  2. I’m not of the camp that believes all roads lead to Public Cloud. It is one of many tools that an organization can leverage in their arsenal. If we do move everything to these three (from the myriad of existing data centers…or internal providers), we will in-fact be building a house of cards. A perfect target for malicious and disruptive activities too
  3. I suspect we’re picking on some philosophical differences in our believe of where things end. If you believe that all roads end with Public Cloud, you will have one perspective. If you believe in a more complicated (and I hazard to use the word hybrid) reality, then you will have a different response. There is both an opportunity component and a time component.
  4. I’ve heard:
    1. Come hell or high water (heard it’s a great movie) we’re just going to move everything regardless of what it takes
    2. We’re going to keep primary applications in house and secondary ones in public cloud
    3. We’re going to use a retirement approach as apps are grandfathered out their replacement is “cloud first”.
    4. Little to no public cloud
    5. All on AWS
    6. , etc.. I’ve heard each of the above from good sources, along with the indication that this wasn’t a one-off sentiment.
  5. There has never been a good “monopoly”
  6. Moving “all” to public cloud is a tough nut to swallow for most. There are a significant number of hurdles that the average IT organization must overcome before they can safely and successfully make that kind of move; Is there a well-defined value to making an immediate move? Do we have the internal resources to accomplish the move while not significantly disrupting on-going operations and development? Can we justify having all our eggs in one basket? If we don’t put all our eggs in an AWS or Azure basket, how do we safely, securely and efficiency manage a multi-cloud portfolio?
  7. There are modern organizations that have already spent over three years in attempting their move of “all” to a specific cloud provider and they aren’t done.   Where there is less understanding among customers is what their future looks like when they no longer own any of these traditional infrastructure based services. Will they be beholden in a bad way to a less than benevolent dictator? Will changes in service quality affect their ability to effectively support their customers? Can they have confidence in their ability to manage costs? In other words, “we’ve moved the brain out of the body, do we really know everything we need to know about how that will work long term?”
  8. I expect that the long term is higher order abstractions that run 90/10 on public/private systems and are relatively standardized such that businesses can focus on where business value is in their IT supply chain.  Meanwhile, some folks will always need to go their own way because they are pushing the envelope (Hi DropBox).
  9. In regards to ability to deal with scale IE keep it staffed, the hyper scale guys will suck up all the talent, think data gravity but more like “skills gravity”. Can they handle the scale IE number of machines/facilities, these guys are good at what they do because of awesome amounts of focus on the supply chain
  10. I’ll put this out there……. Who wants to be the CIO who signs off the next PO for a new DC?? Isn’t this just career suicide?
  11. Here’s my issue with modern DC & enterprise-focused software today. Excluding Salesforce and Amazon, most of the major enterprise players today built their software and systems 25+ years ago in an age where security was an afterthought (at best), the internet didn’t exist within the context DC operations and the majority of employees didn’t have or need access to company resources 24/7.
  12. For mission-critical systems that are built on “iterated upon” architectures and technologies – and require extreme integrations with existing internal and external systems, investing in modernizing or adding HA/DR capabilities (yes, I’m looking at you Aviation & Retail Banking) is also (IMHO) a perfectly valid reason to spend $$. In many cases and many industries, there are simply no SaaS solutions to purchase, and moving to public cloud IaaS could arguably make systems even more complex to operate. The risks are simply not worth it.
  13. Think about all the compute power across just the Fortune 500. Now take all of that and dump it on Amazon, Microsoft & Google. Are we expecting too much from them? Will they be able to handle this? Can they staff enough people to run data centers large enough to continually deliver elastic resources to this audience?
  14. You have to hire high-skilled IT talent in a low-value activity and are prevented from spending that money on talent in other areas that could improve your business outcomes, e.g., application developers
  15. Most CIO’s (I know) are pragmatists, while they have a view on the “horizon” they are tactically mixing and matching their DC strategy “service by service”.
  16. Like any real estate, it’s location, location, location for datacentres. Think of them like gated communities; you want to have great neighbours you can interconnect with, not ones you want nothing to do with, nor an industrial estate with a small number of large wholesale footprints, and certainly not an empty estate. You should look for carrier-neutral facilities with plenty of telcos, as well as internet, cloud, financial, and other exchanges.
  17. You can hug your servers. Regulators like that, but change is the stroke of a pen away (and coming soon to a jurisdiction near you). Gartner reckon “no cloud” policies will be gone within a few years.

Summary

I have to admit I was completely surprised by the level of participation in this thread. This particular group is very busy with their daily business activities and was thoroughly pleased with what we were able to create. I am grateful they took the time to add their knowledge and experience to this query. Their Twitter handles are all listed above and I highly recommend you follow.

At a time when the media presents sensationalistic views that skew reality, it’s critical to stop and assess what is being presented. Unicorns are great, but they’re mythological beasts. Can you learn from them? Sure. Can you be them? Perhaps a better question is, “should you be them?” The following sums this up best in response to releasing the draft of this entry for review:

“What we’ve done here really demonstrate the “It’s complicated” statement, which is the truth of the matter. The “Netflix poster child” for cloud adoption is not representative of most others cloud journey. The low hanging fruit are on the cloud, now the real work begins. (not to undermine the great work the early adopters did)”

6 thoughts on “A Reality Check on “Everyone’s Moving Everything To The Cloud”

  1. GotThomas

    This is a great discussion.
    I think the reality for the near future is hybrid options. Companies will start to strategically migrate workloads to the cloud to test the service out.
    We have come to depend on cloud services in our day to day lives – Apple Cloud, Netflix, Amazon, Gmail and we don’t even hesitate to use these services. It will take a while for corporations to reach that level of security. Plus – when Netflix is down, you can’t watch a movie and you’re irritated, when a company is unable to reach their data and resources it can be quite costly.

    I would add the following issues for and against “moving everything to the cloud”
    For keeping control of data centers:
    – Network connectivity still isn’t ubiquitous, what happens when a high level exec is somewhere they are unable to access important data and resources? Or what happens during a network outage?
    – IT Pros are hesitant to move “all-in” to the cloud – what happens to their jobs? If all data and resources are ‘lifted and shifted’ to the cloud, what will current staff do? An answer to this is that it frees these IT Pros up to be more forward thinking instead of having to be fire fighters putting out fires.

    For investing in the cloud:
    – For most companies it is not their primary focus to manage data centers. They manage data centers because they have to, being able to outsource the data center frees up budget and resources to be focused on other issues.
    – Cloud service providers have the expertise on staff to create a solid infrastructure that scales, that would be costly for individual organizations to employ.

    Again, I don’t see it as an all or nothing process, but a gradual migration of data and resources.

    Reply
  2. Richard

    Very interesting article.

    the sentence “Who wants to be the CIO who signs off the next PO for a new DC?? Isn’t this just career suicide?” is also translating a trully reality.
    We get a lot of pressure on CIOs falling in some kind of frenzy that the architect has to deal with.
    This pressure is also in all the levels of the company.
    Business today is also pressured in the same way. That’s why I’m also surprised by the position of the SAAS in your article. SAAS offering is probably too weak but it takes more and more substantial market share.

    Question could be to wonder what the position of the IAAS will be in the next 10 years and wondering if it makes sense to go in IAAS.

    Reply
  3. Robert Fox

    Fascinating topic and discussion! All comments are qualified responses and there is no “one” right answer. It is highly dependent on size and type of organization, and also the amount of invest vs. potential savings which has to be considered here. All indicators point to one critical point: qualified and competent IT resources (people) – there is a finite amount of experienced professionals on the open market – and all industries are vying for these “good” resources. It’s hard enough to find them, even harder to get them to join – and hardest to keep them!! Most forget a simple point, even when you “outsource” a chunk of your IT – you absolutely need to keep qualified and very competent IT professionals in-house to manage the outsourced partner and keep them “straight”!!! Technology is simply a tool – a very powerful one at that, but only in the “right” hands!! To take advantage of IT you need to marry the best skills with the best technology . . . . and you get great results! The power lies in the people, not the technology alone . . . . Unfortunately, most companies fail in finding, acquiring and maintaining that talent! Even the cloud providers have the same issues (with IT talent that is!) – That’s my two cents, looking forward to the other responses to this interesting and challenging topic!

    Reply
  4. Alec B

    I think the reality check is that public cloud offers a price for performance and – if really a cloud offering – better scalability than what any one organisation can offer to themselves. As I T Professionals, we can come up with all kinds of rationalisations to make ourselves believe that the way we have done things is still the way to do things.

    Is everything moving to the cloud? Of course not. Should more move than has already? Most assuredly so! Do organisations have to do so keeping in mind the risks and concerns raised above? Absolutely.

    Extreme positions are sometimes required to get people’s attention. After that, some rational thought and acceptance of reality (hopefully) moves us forward. Fear, uncertainty and doubt rarely yield benefits, nor does over sold promises.

    Reply
  5. Tim Coote

    Is there an expectation gap on how fast and how far public cloud adoption is likely to go?

    Cloud based applications have different architectures to traditional applications, and the median lifetime of an application is 7 years. It is likely to take at least a couple of lifespans for all reasonable candidates to move to the public cloud.

    Few IT groups have provided visibility to the business on how their costs work, so it will take stories of concrete savings to get to the business heads to challenge IT’s point of view. Typically, ~35% of IT budgets are wasted, but moving to the cloud requires some new investments.

    Since public cloud makes valueless many existing skill-sets and relationships, moving is a big organisational challenge – even if the benefits are clear.

    Reply

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