Cost or agility: What is cloud's true purpose?

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Organisations are switching to cloud at a faster than ever pace and with this change key business questions have emerged.  Are we using the best vendor?  Are we getting premier service levels?  Do we get a volume discount?  Cloud has many upsides - fast access and more importantly faster time to market—which gives true competitive advantage. Perhaps the most obvious is the benefits to development teams and the fact that cloud gives direct access to the latest, greatest technology. The cloud gives dev teams the ability to design and architect new environments, as opposed to being saddled with “maintenance mode” — what Gartner has now coined mode 1 in a bi-modal world.

However, behind the attractiveness of cloud and the efficiency it creates is the inevitable growing cost.  When the bill comes in at the end of the month and contains unexpected line items, this harsh reality can water-down many of those gains.

Rackspace and Microsoft debated the first goal advantages of cloud with Forrester analyst Bill Martorelli in a recent podcast. Agility and speed are certainly top of mind during their conversation, but business proof and resulting value are key questions that need addressing.  I’m sure it’s screamingly obvious to you as you read this that any type of technology investment needs some proof of value or demonstrable return. 

The real question is, how to go about proving that value and how patient do you have to be?  Added to that challenge is the fact that cloud is a pay-as-you-go asset so finance teams are now presented with an entirely new model or new way of assessing any return.  It was much easier in the old days when you acquired the asset and just amortised it over the lifetime of said asset.  Whether you pick three or five years it was a pretty easy adjustment on the spreadsheet.  Different cloud services have different unit prices, vendors charge differently and by the way, prices fluctuate widely, even from a single vendor.  Finance needs to take a new accounting course to even keep up.  Cloud is still relatively new.  The consumers of cloud are still figuring it out!  That of course doesn’t give finance a whole lot of confidence when it comes to efficiency, let alone being frugal.

“As you architect for the cloud, you often feel like an orchestra director satisfying many internal and external customers”, stated our very own chief architect, Dan Hunter, during this podcast.  On the one hand, you have to satisfy internal business stakeholders such as the product teams, while at the same time you must have an eye on external customers that are relying on that app or environment you are running in the cloud. 

Security, uptime, and performance are the most obvious concerns.   If you are leveraging the latest cloud services, you are under constant pressure from all stakeholders to get it done faster.  The good and the bad about cloud is that many have come to expect it to be completed sooner and you continually have to balance quality and speed.  “Adhering to standards doesn’t even really exist.  Many are feeling their way as they go.  Containers and micro-services are all fairly new technology capabilities to improve portability, performance, and scale” and often it feels like trial and error.  If you are architecting your way to the cloud, don’t feel alone.  I encourage you to listen to this podcast and you may learn from others in the same boat.

Regardless of how many services you are running in the cloud today, the likelihood that the number will rise is pretty certain according to recent survey results from summit where 92% are using public cloud today with 95% claiming increased usage.   If you ignore the cost equation, you will be in for some rude awakening and it will certainly stir things up internally with your finance team and line of business owners.

Scale-out just doesn’t happen fast enough, especially if you are trying to be more cost effective. Leveraging cloud services, you get a lot of technologies immediately available, but it is cost prohibitive to do it “properly” and so you have to be more agnostic where you can, say, deploy to an internal or private cloud.  “Generally speaking, cloud maturity is lacking in some areas.”  It would be wonderful to be much more portable and move applications to truly achieve hybrid. The benefits of the cloud—agility and competitive advantage – must not be set aside if your business is diligent about how they consume services. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand.  You must show value and a return on your investment but you also need to figure out a way to show business agility. That takes patience and rigour around how you control as you go.

Recall the dark ages when you had to provision or rather acquire services to be installed in your own data centre. Remember how long those cycles took?  Now, consider the speed and agility by which you can develop today without having to look at a physical storage rack ever again.  By applying more rigor to your cloud services consumption and architecting for the long-haul, efficiencies will pay off.  The end game is all about business agility and you cannot afford take your eye off that target.

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