You’ve done it. You’ve made your critical business services accessible on the cloud! Much pomp and circumstance as you raise your celebratory glasses in unison to a job well done! Fast forward a few months and you start to scratch your head and ask, “What did moving to the cloud actually gain for us anyways?” For so many of us, we are blasted with messaging from industry experts, our vendors/partners, business management, and even customers that we need to move to the cloud. Consultants are constantly peddling their services saying, “We can help you move to the cloud.” The fact is, it’s a pretty loose definition of what “the cloud” actually is. Let’s take a closer look at this conundrum.
To be fair, moving to the cloud is a unique journey that each business must define on their own based on corporate objectives, risk tolerances, business strategies, etc. However, it is important to understand what the cloud really is and why a business should move to the cloud. The more we understand, the better we can predict the results a business should expect to receive from a specific cloud deployment. The goal of this article is to help us better understand this cloud mumbo jumbo.
What is the cloud?
If a survey were performed of random people on the street, most people would define the cloud as the internet. Although purists would scoff at this generalization, the populous equates these two as synonyms. Therefore, it is common to think that by simply connecting computers/servers and other IoT devices to an internet connection, one has achieved success. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, doing so has simply made their lives worse. Let’s call this the cloud connectivity misconception.
If the cloud is essentially the internet, then servers connected to the internet must be cloud servers or cloud computing, naturally. Or are they? Would you consider servers in your on-premises or private data center (which are most likely connected to the internet in one form or fashion) as cloud servers? Cloud computing is not the location of servers but rather what is done on those servers. Cloud computing is a verb and not a noun. Let’s call this the cloud computing misconception.
Does connecting IoT devices to the internet mean they are now cloud enabled? They are called the internet of things after all. We can now access our video cameras, control our thermostats, remote start our cars, and even answer the door from our smartphones! How much better can life get right? Is the cloud essentially the promise of remote access? Let’s call this the remote access misconception.
With the proliferation of AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud as cloud infrastructure providers, companies can now move their on-premises applications to elastic cloud servers and get rid of their costly data-center infrastructure. This concept is called rehosting or lift-and-shift. Does rehosting your services in AWS or Azure mean you are now cloud enabled? Let’s call this the server rehosting misconception.
We can summarize our misconceptions about the cloud into cloud connectivity, cloud computing, remote access, and server rehosting. Why do we have this confusion? A lot of the cloud confusion originates with consumer products, where simply connecting an IoT device to an internet connection suddenly provides remote control or remote access to that device. Nowhere is this truer than in the security and home automation industry. Consumers love their Ring doorbells, their Nest thermostats, and their home automation. A more familiar/relatable gimmick in the business world is the idea of providing a remote desktop to give access to business services from anywhere in the world. Since when does a business truly care about these things?
The consumer vs. the business
I think we would all agree that the needs of the consumer are not the needs of the business. As it relates to data networking, the lines between consumer technology best practices and business technology best practices are blurring. However, there are fundamental differences between the needs of the business and the needs of the consumer. Where the consumer cares primarily about experience, accessibility, and convenience, the business cares primarily about cost, security, availability, agility, and efficiency.
These key differences should help shed light on what moving to the cloud as a business should look like. Notice that the word “accessibility” is not a primary care of the business, yet it seems to be the first feature that is demonstrated and promoted when moving to the cloud. Although access is nice and convenient, it alone is not a business reason to move to the cloud. There is more cost and time savings that can be realized when one truly moves to the cloud for the right reasons and in the right way. IT professionals have a responsibility to educate and demonstrate what moving to the cloud should look like for a business. What is the promise of the cloud if correctly deployed? Let’s take a look. The cloud promises the following:
Lowering cost of ownership
Simpler disaster recovery
Work from anywhere
Gateway to business intelligence
A well architected cloud service is built on a zero-trust architecture making it inherently more secure than your corporate network. Firewalls and anti-virus systems are no longer enough. The rapid proliferation of ransomware should be a wakeup call to this reality. Cyber security best practices now require identity and access management (IAM) at the application and data levels to truly be resilient to the current and future sophistication of cyber-attacks. For more information on this, please read Part 1 and Part 2 of my Blog post entitled “Who Are The Bad Guys Anyway?” Be Secure!
Top CIOs and IT Directors rank operational agility as a top driver for cloud adoption. Today’s businesses must be quick on their feet and with technology being at the heart of every business, the technology must be flexible. Gone are the days when technology decisions and roll outs could take years and changes could take longer. Technology architectures must now allow for the best-in-class software services to integrate as true cloud services and be implemented quickly and securely. I believe we would all agree that the business needs and processes of today will be different tomorrow. Our IT systems need to be easily adaptable to this modern business reality. Be Agile!
When your teams can access critical applications anytime, from anywhere, from any device or operating system, they’re able to do more together and do it better. Not all of these critical applications have to come from a single software provider and they no longer need to be fat clients installed on a Windows PC or Server. In today’s cloud-enabled world, software providers can deliver fully featured software services via a simple web browser and/or mobile app. Software can be modularized to allow workflows to change on a dime and be delivered to employees automatically the next time they login on the web browser. Even better, web applications can be a part of a larger ecosystem of best-in-class cloud service providers that allow your business to be agile and do more. Be an enabler!
Lowering cost of ownership
This should come as no surprise—it costs more to keep technology running then it did to buy the technology in the first place. I don’t know why we keep overlooking this fact but for some reason we do until the technology starts failing and we have to keep dumping more and more manpower and money into keeping it alive. When I think of this concept, I’m immediately reminded of painful system maintenance experiences I have had over the years for various business IT systems I have supported.
Usually it goes something like this: I would be notified that a critical security patch or feature is needed which would require updating a specific software application. Innocent enough, right? “I should be able to get that done fairly quickly,” I would tell myself. I start the update and I’m notified that the current operating system version also needs to be upgraded for the patch to be installed. So, I now set out to update the OS only to find out that the OS update is not compatible with another software application on the PC or server or, heaven forbid, the hardware itself is not compatible with the OS update. What started out as a free software patch that should take me a couple of minutes to apply has now taken days and cost me a significant amount of money. Multiply that across an entire business and you never want to take a software update ever again!
In today’s cloud world, everything should be delivered via a web browser, eliminating fat clients and the need for on-premises servers. Stop wasting time maintaining software versions, OS versions, server hardware, etc. Make sure the cloud service is delivered via browser and quit maintaining fat clients. Be future proof!
Cloud computing cuts out the high cost of hardware and running your own data center. When you think of what it takes in cost and expertise to provide both high availability, high security, and high scalability on an on-going basis, you realize you are spending a rather large portion of your overall company budget on IT. Why not turn your IT expenditures from unpredictable and often insufficient capital expenditures into predictable and scalable operating expenditures. Unless you are in the business of cloud infrastructure or cloud software services, why are you spending a good portion of your budgets being what your core business is not! Unless your core business is a cloud service provider, why are you running and staffing a data center? Reduce your cost of ownership!
Cloud infrastructure providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud have more fail-over redundancy, auto-deploy, backup, and recovery services and solutions than any single company can justify having on its own. With backup and recovery being such a big time and expense all while being nothing more than a necessary evil, why try to do it all on your own? This headache can be avoided. Trust me, you don’t want to be messing with it. Don’t recreate the wheel!
A well architected cloud service speaks a universal language common among other best-in-class cloud service providers—RESTful APIs, IAM, OIDC/OAuth, JSON, secure server-side communication, client-side run-time environments, etc. This means that businesses can easily implement cloud services with little to no deployment and integration friction.
Another added benefit of a well-architected cloud service is the ability to quickly and easily turn on and off access to business services to third party partners or contract service providers. You no longer need to involve IT, open firewall ports, establish risky VPN connections, or require fat client software to be installed. Work together!
Work from anywhere
Don’t be limited by your computer or OS. Don’t be limited by where you can work. Don’t be limited by the version of client software you are running. If a user loves Windows, let them use Windows. If a user loves Mac, let them use Mac. Better yet, save yourself the money and begin using low-cost browser only PCs like the Chromebook. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself!
Gateway to business intelligence
All of this ultimately leads to the big BI—business intelligence. How is your business doing? What is its health? Are there insights the business can gain to improve its efficiency and effectiveness and competitive edge? Is there data available in aggregate that can shed light on information your business would never have been aware of? Business intelligence is the next competitive advantage any business that wants to be relevant in the next decade needs to have. Be in the know!
Cloud service providers to the rescue
Does the thought of building and maintaining your own well-architected cloud service(s) sound daunting? It should be! Building a cloud service from the ground up is both costly and time consuming. However, if it is done correctly, it will take your business to the next level and provide everything the cloud promises. Anything short of this is simply moving your problems from one data center to the next data center (cloud hosted or on-premises). Is that what you really want—to just move your problems around with no relief in sight? Cloud service providers is the better way that, in the long run, is more cost effective and faster to deploy.
There are many cloud service providers out there that provide the various software services your business needs to operate. They host it, they secure it, they update it, they keep it running, they improve it, they keep it relevant. What’s even cooler is that most of these cloud service providers work in the new “transformative economy” where business transparency is first and foremost and cloud solutions are engineered with direct input from the customer. This means that you don’t have to do it yourself. Focus on what your business does best and let other experts (cloud service providers) do what they do best. Together, you can make IT in your company more secure, more agile, more cost effective, more integrated, and more collaborative while preparing your company to move to the next level of business intelligence.