What is your Cloud Strategy?

Hello Again,

It is a new year and a topic worthy of writing started to form in my head through the holidays. In the past year and a half, I have discovered that it is extremely challenging to write original content. For those of you who do this on a regular basis, you have my utmost admiration.

In this entry, I will share some thoughts on why you need a Cloud Strategy and how to go about adopting a hybrid cloud approach. In a future post, I will share some approaches to a relatively easy application migration to the cloud.

As part of my new role as a Cloud Strategist,  I spent a large part of 2019 advising decision makers at various enterprise business on adopting the Cloud model. I have visited many customers over the course of the year and Cloud Adoption or Cloud Migration were some of the common themes that the key decision makers were pondering over. Over the course of many white board sessions, many hours of contentious discussions and back and forth view points and based on a lot of reading, I came up with this white board for Cloud Strategy. It isn’t meant to go into significant detail, it is meant to help you formulate a high level plan.

When I first started, I wasn’t really sure of the function of a Cloud Strategist. When I read the Gartner Report: The Cloud Strategy Cookbook, 2019 it served as validation that such a function is needed. The report further validated what we were advising customers.

Any migration conversation starts with the 6R’s of migration which was also originally published by Gartner as the 5R’s, in 2011. Every IT decision maker has a Cloud mandate. In many cases, they even have a mandate to exit private or on-premise data centers. That much is certain. What isn’t clear is the path to do the same, especially to the people lower down in the organization who will eventually own this task.

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Start with the WHY?

In other words, what is the expected Business Outcome that is expected from this mandate. In majority of the cases, it falls under one of two categories.

  1. Cost savings ($)
    • Cloud Agility, Flexibility, Scale to drive down cost of supporting the business
    • Data Center consolidation/Evacuation
    • Migration of workloads
  2. Drive business innovation
    • Cloud EcoSystem to support faster development cycles
    • IT as a business enabler

It is important to communicate this widely across the organization that will support this endeavor.

Migrate to VM form factor? Container?

The first task at hand it to identify if all new development will go to cloud and if it will use Cloud Native technologies such as containers, micro-services, managed services, serverless functions, alerts, monitoring and management functions that are commonly offered by every big cloud vendor. There are very few reasons to not go this route for new application development. Here is a sneak peak into the evolving eco-system.

That leaves us with how we can take the current monolithic applications to the cloud.

There are even some options to containerize existing VM applications and drop them in a public cloud provider in a ‘fat container’ format. GCP Anthos is one such solution. While one can argue that there are inherent benefits to this approach i.e. IT team no longer manages OS, patching, availability of these apps; this approach is more risky and less beneficial than adopting true cloud native approach which may require a complete redesign of the application.

Which TEAM will support this?

Digital Transformation first starts with People, then Processes and lastly the Tools. It isn’t that the tools are not important, but the mindset of the People needs to be adapted to thinking very differently.

The Fellowship of the Cloud Council

Most customers who successfully adopted a transformative approach started with a Cloud Council. This is a hybrid team that consists  of team leads with varying expertise in networking, security, storage, virtualization etc. This team typically reports to the project lead and could potentially report into the VP or CIO to provide updates. The task for this team is to create a standard framework or template, which will meet the requirements set forth by this team. It is important that the members in the Cloud Council team function as one Hybrid Team and communicate relevant information to their own teams and continuously drive the projects assigned to them. It is also required to constantly communicate changes. Chaos reigns supreme during any kind of transformation. By bringing along the team, everyone in the IT organization is motivated and understand how their role is a critical part of the larger effort.

In House Cloud Expertise

If specific public cloud expertise is lacking in house, it is best to bring in partners who specialize in this area. This provides a valuable function – to learn from the missteps of others that have been supported by the partner.

Needless to say, the choice of partner is very important to the success of the project. Do not naturally assume that any existing data center focused channel partners are default options. Cloud Adoption requires a different mindset, dare to reconsider which partner will suit your needs best. It is time to put existing partnerships to the test. Many organizations fail in picking the appropriate partner, dooming their project from the very start.

If a cloud provider has been decided, a paid sales engagement with the cloud provider is also a very good approach, atleast initially. If that choice is yet to be made, the Cloud Council needs to consider various aspects such as

  • Workload requirements and nature of workload
  • Developer skillset and requirements
  • Eco-system of cloud provider
  • Vertical that the business is in and any impact the cloud provider choice may have – e.g. are they considered competitive to your core business?
  • Existing relationships with vendors

Next up is to socialize the Cloud Framework across the teams. The Cloud Framework must be treated as a continuously evolving framework and defines specific guidelines and boundaries with respect to Security, RBAC, Identity Access and Management, Monitoring, Alerts, Visibility. In addition, well defined response procedures and workflows must be highlighted.As the adoption curve increases, this document will evolve.

Start Small: Fire bullets before Cannonballs

It is of utmost importance to start small. What that means is to allow one IT team to lead the first migration effort, rather than have the whole IT organization jump into a dev-ops mindset and making radical changes. This will lead to confusion and result in a lack of motivation among large teams. Legacy companies especially need to be aware that not all dev-ops practices will naturally fit as it would for a SaaS provider and it may need a lot of tweaking to be relevant.

Lastly, define the success criteria. This is an important metric to have before the start of the actual migration. Some benefits are harder to quantify in the short term. For instance it is harder to quantify savings from moving a couple of VM’s from an application. Criteria should be defined accordingly. 

In Part 2 of this blog, we will delve into the different phases of migration.

PS: Hat-tip Prabhu Barathi @prabhu_b for reviewing my work and providing me valuable feedback.

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