Cloud computing is rapidly becoming ubiquitous. The change is driven by a spread of unarguable advantages, ranging from speed through security to access and user experience. Underlying these benefits are the facts of cloud computing: remote hosting and as-a-service implementations of everything from software to infrastructure means you hire out tasks to experts, instead of trying to build an in-house team that can compete with Salesforce and Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.
However, many companies that made the switch to cloud struggle. They’re aware of the benefits, but they don’t always fully accept the degree of change that has to take place within the organization. Often, they’re building on a background of ‘IT last’ — an in-house team dedicated to maintaining infrastructure that hasn’t been strategically updated in years, employees who don’t fully embrace the need for change, maybe even a C suite lacking the technical expertise to select the best options.
If you’re considering moving to the cloud, or you’re already there but you’re not getting the results you’d hoped for, there are things you can do. While it’s important to be aware of common mistakes — more on this later — it’s more vital than ever before to seek the expertise to guide you through migration, and to optimize your cloud implementation once it’s up and running. If you’re planning to move to the cloud, or if you already have and you’re dissatisfied, there are better choices than ‘repatriating’ your applications back to on-site data centers.
The expertise you’re seeking is tough to hire for. You might not want to hire.
Before we jump into those, let’s briefly go over the advantages of cloud computing, to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Why the cloud?
Compared to traditional data centers, owned software and hardware on-site, cloud offers:
- Efficiency: get work done faster, without worrying about infrastructure, overheads or maintenance
- Flexibility: Scale services to fit changing needs including expansion, contraction and new projects. Access the same services from anywhere with an internet connection
- Strategic value: Access the most innovative, powerful and versatile applications and technology, for the price of a subscription, not a purchase
- Reduced costs: cloud implementations are often much cheaper and require no capital purchases or surprise maintenance costs
- Security: Cloud computing, when it’s implemented correctly, is more secure than on-site equivalents, with virus protection, firewalls, patches and backups managed automatically
Switching to the cloud should put best-in-class tools in your hands for predictable subscription fees, with maintenance and updates covered by providers.
Cloud migration is a complex, tricky process. There are two basic ways to do it. One is the ‘lift and shift’ approach, in which extant applications and processes are switched to the cloud without otherwise changing. The other is a more thoroughgoing digital transformation that lets companies reconfigure their internal processes, applications, structures and business strategy around the opportunities cloud computing offers.
Whether a company chooses one or the other, or an approach that’s somewhere between the two, migrating to the cloud successfully relies on a mix of experience, insight and strategic planning that’s tough to do if you’ve never done it before.
The best way to avoid the pitfalls is to work with an experienced partner that can work with you to structure your cloud migration. Look for a partner that can consult with you on your business goals, seeking not just to clarify those you already have, but to identify potential new avenues for growth and efficiency arising from cloud-enabled capabilities like machine learning that you may not have considered.
Optimizing cloud implementations
Cloud optimization involves analyzing and configuring cloud resources that power applications, infrastructure and workload, to maximize performance and resolve issues arising from underprovisioning, and minimize waste from overprovisioning.
Cloud implementations that haven’t been planned and organized well often have a poor fit with the company’s requirements: you might be carrying higher-priced subscriptions for applications, with performance strangled by insufficient bandwidth. At a more strategic level you might be using two or three applications to fulfill a function that can be done well by one, provided it’s the right one.
Moving your processes, applications and data to the cloud means you don’t have any permanent commitments: you can move from one application to another, or one infrastructure to another, by changing subscriptions. In theory, this is extremely simple, though in practice it can involve significant skill to manage without downtime or data loss.
Again, this is a process best managed by working with experienced professionals who have both business and technical expertise. Most in-house teams don’t have this mix of skills. Additionally, few have extensive hands-on experience managing a sufficient variety of cloud-based business infrastructure and applications to meet the changing needs of a growing business.
Making sure you get the best from your cloud computing
Cloud computing should be the number one choice for businesses. And it is — when they can get it to work. But 90% of CIOs have experienced failed or disrupted data migrations, and 74% of businesses have moved applications back onto on-site infrastructure after a failed move to the cloud.
Businesses get disappointing results from their cloud migration or implementation when they make the move with insufficient attention to strategy, security, basic technical requirements, the potential for failure, and growth.
Gartner defines cloud strategy as ‘a concise point of view on the role of cloud within the organization,’ which should be ‘a living document, designed to bridge between a high-level corporate strategy and a cloud implementation/adoption/migration plan.’
Crucially, it’s not the same thing as a cloud adoption or migration plan. A cloud strategy isn’t a plan for moving to the cloud, it’s an understanding of why you want to.
All too often, goals are poorly defined or not clearly aligned with your business strategy. When that happens, it’s much more likely that you won’t get what you want, because it’s that much harder to structure your cloud migration process and implementation to match.
Integrated cloud and business strategy
Business strategy should take precedence, leading the choice of infrastructure, applications and processes. You don’t choose the job based on the tools. It’s the other way around. But when IT decisions are made in a disconnected way, the result can be failed cloud migrations or poorly-optimized implementations.
Business goals and decisions about your cloud choices should be documented as well as aligned. The problem most businesses have here is that they understand their strategic goals, but too little about the cloud. They settle for simpler migrations that move their existing processes and applications to the cloud, because there’s no one in-house who can talk knowledgeably about the new opportunities offered by cloud-based technologies like big data and machine learning. That’s how you miss out on opportunities for real transformations that transform your ROI at the same time.
Security should be a primary consideration when choosing a cloud strategy, but as late as 2020, 49% of businesses had not encrypted their databases. Cloud computing is actually more secure than on-site options, because you can use best-in-class encryption supplied by your cloud provider, keeping data safe at rest and in motion. Cloud providers house data in physically secure data centers with multiple failsafes and backups.
But cloud requires a different attitude to security compared to traditional data centers. If security hasn’t been a key concern in the past, and you don’t have sufficient in-house expertise in security already, moving to the cloud can leave you more exposed rather than less — one more reason why you should work with an experienced cloud consultant.
Choosing a cloud consultant
Choosing a cloud consultant isn’t quite the same as hiring out for other services, because you’re selecting someone to partner with you on something that’s core to your business and technically complex. So it’s different than hiring janitorial services or contractors.
What should you look for in a cloud consultant?
Can they explain it to you?
It’s easier to throw around specialized language than it is to get a non-specialist to understand using plain terms. Good cloud consultants can tell you what you want to know without resorting to technical jargon. Liaising with clients is a key skill in the job, so if they can’t or won’t do it, that’s a big red flag.
Have they done it before?
Just because it’s their first cloud consulting gig doesn’t mean they won’t ace it. But wouldn’t you prefer someone with a track record of success? Ask for case studies, references, and success stories, and just ask them how they solved similar problems to yours in the past.
...for businesses like yours?
Different industries, business sizes, and growth stages have different requirements from cloud. And you don’t want to have to explain the ins and outs of our industry’s specific needs, terminology and culture. The best cloud consultant for you can step on board right away, and already understands enough about your industry to hit the ground running and start learning about the specifics of your business.
What happens afterwards?
Some consultants offer guidance that’s so high-level it’s tough to translate it into action. Others are the opposite: they’re basically technicians, giving everyone the same small handful of solutions and then walking away.
What the two types often have in common is that after they’ve done what they do, you’re no longer their problem. They move on to the next client, and your problems are just that: yours.
Look for a consultant who offers ongoing support. If you’re migrating, look for someone you can call when something comes up later. If you’re looking to optimize a cloud setup you already have, look for someone who will be on your side for support, or when you need them in the future.
Cloud computing consulting from AndPlus
At AndPlus, we’ve been consulting on cloud computing for over a decade, with businesses of all sizes in multiple different industries. Whether you’re considering migrating to the cloud from an existing on-site system, or your cloud implementation isn’t delivering as you’d hoped, we have the experience and expertise to guide your business to success on platforms like Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, VMWare, and IBM.
Most importantly, we understand how to tie your business goals and technological requirements together, structuring your tech to meet your business strategy — while standing ready to show you tech opportunities you might not have considered.
We’re a long-term partner for business success, not a contractor — and a source of actionable advice, not blue-sky platitudes. So when you’re ready to take the next step, or you’re not sure if what’s happening should be happening, you can ask us. We’ll still be there.
- Cloud computing should deliver better revenue, better performance, and lower costs. When it doesn’t, the problem is in how it’s done
- Most businesses don’t have anyone in-house who has the requisite experience to run cloud migrations or to optimize cloud implementations. They need to go outside for help
- Look for a cloud consultant who can communicate with roles across your organization, has relevant experience, and won’t disappear and leave you back where you started