Moving to the cloud is a key moment in the journey of an enterprise, so it’s well worth identifying clearly what there is to gain and what should be kept in focus during the process and afterwards. Information overload can be a problem, so here are three things to keep front of mind:
Speed is the most compelling benefit of a move to cloud
A mindshift is required to make the most of the move
Be intentional in your relationship with your cloud provider
Here we explore those three points in more detail.
Moving your enterprise to the cloud means significant investment, with new cost structures to understand and new relationships to manage. So what will the return on that investment look like? Computing and storing data in the cloud is often framed, at least initially, in terms of improving costs, for instance through being able to scale up and scale down computing resources quickly.
However it’s the offer of increased speed of execution — and the competitive edge that brings — which is the most compelling reason to move to the cloud. It’s worth emphasizing that this can’t be fully achieved by simply moving your computing off your data center and over to the cloud — a so-called “lift and shift”. Wider changes are needed to fully gain the benefit of speed.
But, if the move to the cloud is accompanied by a broader mindshift in the way your enterprise uses its computing resources, then the stand-out benefit should be clear: “The biggest benefit of the cloud is speed - speed of innovation, customer growth, product and feature releases and feedback cycles,” said Dan Lewis-Toakley, a Thoughtworks senior consultant.
Cloud providers offer a range of tools which have been developed specially for the cloud environment and help developers work faster and more productively. This means, for instance, that new digital products can be scoped out, created and brought to market more rapidly.
The tools themselves, of course, don’t simply remain the same. Working on a cloud provider’s platform gives access to updates of the tools, and to new tools as they are released. This helps your developers stay ahead of — or at least keep up with — the market by innovating and refining your technology rapidly, and helps them respond to competitive pressures.
A move to the cloud also means access to the cloud provider’s security features, which helps to ensure fast responses can be made to security threats. The cloud providers, due to their size, have the budgets to hire the volumes of tech security talent required to protect digital assets in the face of new threats — something that even large enterprises may struggle to do.
That ability, in the cloud, to rapidly and automatically scale up computing resources can also significantly boost an enterprise’s speed of execution. It helps to ensure that new projects can move ahead more quickly and gives the company the flexibility to grow at speed.
These benefits, though, can’t be fully realized by just moving your unaltered applications to the cloud — which shouldn’t be seen as simply an alternative hosting facility. The cloud is a significantly different computing environment to using traditional data centers and consequently a “mindshift” is needed to realize the full benefits.
This mindshift means a comprehensive change in how you think about your digital operations and hardware resources, together with a new perspective on the costs and relationships your enterprise has in these areas.
“Cloud infrastructure is fundamentally different from on-premise infrastructure; you have to think about what you do and how you architect your applications. Often, a legacy modernization approach is needed to realize the benefits of a move to the cloud,” said Rebecca Parsons, chief technology officer of Thoughtworks.
Importantly, given cloud computing’s elastic capabilities, computing resource can be automatically scaled up on demand, beyond what a single data center can provide, and back down again. But applications built to run in a data center may not have the ability to take advantage of this elasticity in an efficient way. This means that, if left unchanged, the applications may not work optimally in the cloud environment, may not be able to take advantage of the features and may also incur unnecessary costs.
“The application has to be developed and architected to take advantage of those features,” added Parsons, “and the ability to be elastic isn’t free — you probably didn’t design your application to be elastic when you were running your data center. Once it's properly architected and developed, sure — then it can be elastic. But it takes work to get most applications to the state where they can be elastic.”
Parsons and her team advise that the “moving-to-cloud-mindshift” should also involve stepping back, looking at your business requirements abstractly and thinking about how to best realize them using the feature and function set of the cloud platform that you are choosing. Often it’s here that a digital transformation partner will be brought in, to help the enterprise make the move to cloud the transformative success it should be.
Digital transformation partners are likely not just to look at the technical aspects of the move, but also support broader change in the enterprise. The best performance in a cloud environment is also likely to mean upskilling relevant staff and hiring experts into new roles to help you, and ensuring that the benefits of cloud are effectively communicated throughout your enterprise. While cloud providers are often helpful in terms of managing costs, a digital transformation partner can also advise on how costs are structured and managed in the cloud.
Moving to the cloud means paying for usage on-demand, and while this offers flexibility, a downside is that you can rapidly run up a big bill if you’re not careful. “Controlling cloud costs” was the top obstacle in the way of enterprises trying to make the most of cloud, according to an IDG survey of technology decision-makers last year.
“Don’t leave the water running” is a simple piece of advice — to be cost-efficient in the cloud you’ll need to optimize your digital operations, for instance by switching on and off environments that don’t need to be used 24/7," said Mark Richter, Thoughtworks Head of Cloud Operations, adding: “In a modern, agile, development process, you’re going to have development environments, test environments, staging environments and production environments. They don’t all have to be running 24/7, 365 days a year, because developers sleep at night. So you can turn down some of these environments when they are not needed.”
Many cloud providers and third party vendors offer useful features to help you be cost-efficient. With scale-to-zero, if your applications are architected in the right way, then costs are minimized when they have very little to do. Automated resource scheduling also helps to manage costs.
Be aware that, on moving to the cloud, the group of people who make purchases changes. It’s often engineers, using a pay-as-you-go model and therefore bypassing finance and procurement, who action purchases — which can decrease visibility of spend. Also, with many thousands of product SKUs and a pay-as-you-go model, it can be challenging to allocate and explain costs — and this is even more difficult when using multiple cloud providers.
To make the most of cloud, and optimize costs, a high-quality account hierarchy and tagging system is essential — this addresses the challenge of allocating cloud costs to business units, teams and products. It’s customer specific, so cloud providers don’t do this out of the box.
That’s not an exhaustive list of what a mindshift might include — but hopefully indicates the breadth of new thinking and changes required to succeed with a move to cloud.
As noted above, moving to the cloud can bring great benefits to an enterprise - such as increased speed of execution, access to rapidly-scalable computing resources and an improved ability to innovate. However it also brings an important new relationship to manage — your relationship with your cloud provider.
The key to getting that relationship right is to manage it in an intentional way and to give appropriate weight to long-term considerations. This will help your enterprise to avoid drifting into a dependency you’re not comfortable with — or, alternatively, to willingly accept some as the price of using the services you’ve selected.
From enterprise to enterprise, the mix of benefits and risks involved in the relationship with the cloud provider will vary. Many start-ups are cloud-native and access to cloud is a key part of the business plan — it helps to ensure speed-to-market and the agility required to win market share, both of which may be crucial to the company’s survival.
Some larger, well-established enterprises may see things in a different way. This might mean architecting their most business-critical applications such that they can be more easily moved between cloud providers and using technology which helps portability, such as Kubernetes or Anthos. Or it could mean giving consideration to using multiple cloud providers and taking advantage of the different features they offer. Companies in industries such as banking and insurance may need to actively avoid dependence for regulatory reasons.
“There are all sorts of issues that can crop up in long-term vendor relationships that might mean buyers want to move around — perhaps in five years you want the cloud provider to put a new data center in your region, but it’s not priority for them, or you just don’t feel you are getting the service” said Scott Shaw, a Thoughtworks Head of Technology, adding: “or in five or ten years there may be another option that is better and if you are completely entangled with your provider, then you are not going to be able to take advantage of that innovation.”
Cloud platforms often offer a very attractive developer experience, which in turn makes your developers more productive — but this is an example of where the downside could include unintentionally increasing dependency. “Using the cloud provider’s services makes developers more productive,” added Shaw, “It’s so easy, if you’re worried about getting things done quickly, to just use the cloud vendor services — but that entangles you very deeply with the cloud vendor and makes it really hard to move.”
There are, of course, pros and cons to enabling portability between cloud providers. On the pro side, maintaining the ability to move computing to another cloud provider reduces dependency. On the con side, achieving portability can mean giving up some of the benefits of speed-to-market, low development costs and developer productivity.
Shaw continued: “You need to make a deliberate decision about how much you are willing to invest in particular workloads to maintain portability — and you need to assess this on a workload-by-workload basis.” He added that doing some re-working when moving between providers is fine and that preparing for zero-cost portability is almost never warranted.
In setting up your relationship with your cloud provider and looking at these questions, it helps to have a digital transformation partner on board who will put your long-term interests ahead of the interests of the cloud provider. That partner should understand why you're moving to the cloud and what benefits you hope to achieve. It should also help you design a strategy for moving to the cloud that supports you in building the skills, processes and technology assets necessary for cloud success.
Digital transformation partners can also advise around the question of whether to use one cloud provider, or more than one. There are various ways in which more than one cloud provider can be used, for instance to reduce dependency, or to take advantage of different features from different providers. Many enterprises already manage relationships with more than one cloud provider, whether intentionally or not. Some companies have ended up with more than one cloud provider due to M&A, making visibility and management of the various relationships more challenging.
Moving to the cloud brings a range of transformative benefits to enterprises. The most compelling of these is not cost savings but speed of execution
Cloud is not just an alternative hosting facility. Success requires a mindshift and an understanding of how best to take advantage of cloud’s benefits
Be intentional in your relationship with the cloud provider. Don’t unconsciously slip into dependence without properly understanding the benefits and the risks