As organizations undertake continuous improvement initiatives, an obvious focus of their attention is the cloud. The cloud is the ultimate expression of continuous improvement: cloud providers are constantly improving and passing their savings and new products on to you, and then your company can leverage those improvements in its own initiatives, infrastructure, and products.
Besides, it’s likely that your competitors are leveraging the cloud to be more flexible and have a less costly IT infrastructure, so that they can gain a competitive advantage in your industry.
But as the cloud economy matures, questions arise about the role of IT in this new world. This article addresses some of the questions I’m asked most frequently.
If my company goes “all in,” will we still need an IT department?
Yes, but they may not realize this at first and could be scared that their jobs are in danger. Be patient with them as they make the transition to the cloud—there are many moving parts, with many macro and micro decisions to be made.
You will still need your IT personnel to deal with employee computing resources. You’ll also need people who can manage the interactions with the cloud environment: monitoring performance and constantly looking for areas in which to make more improvements, save more money, and positively affect your company’s bottom line.
Take the opportunity to “de-siloize” your IT group—you have some very intelligent and committed people hiding in your back rooms. Let them contribute to your products in direct and meaningful ways; let them help shape your business.
Can my company’s use of the cloud evolve? What are the choices besides “all in”?
Your company’s use of the cloud will absolutely evolve, no matter where you start. There are white papers galore on how to approach the transition. The simple answer is that you can move a little at a time. Choose a stable piece of software (or a stable functional area) and run it concurrently in the cloud and on-prem. When you’re sure it’s okay in the cloud, dismantle the on-prem version.
Note that there are some use cases where it may make sense for you to leave some of your compute load where it is, for example, due to banking regulations. Or you may have a software package that is so elderly it just won’t run in the newfangled cloud (but maybe you can containerize it—not the subject of this article!).
There are various hybrid approaches, where you use some mixture of cloud plus on-prem. All the commercial clouds support high-speed connectivity, which allows your existing data center to communicate directly with your cloud facilities.
If I put my stuff in one cloud, can I export it or move it to another cloud?
This is fairly straightforward, at least for commercial cloud providers. Note, however, that you often get charged most when exporting data.
Currently, there aren’t a lot of use cases where it makes sense for a company to be transferring data among various clouds, but this is changing in some sectors.
What about security?
It’s fascinating that people worry more about cloud provider security than their company’s or their data center’s. I tell people, “If I can touch your server, you aren’t secure.”
All the commercial cloud providers make security their number one job. They have hardened facilities, they rigorously follow security protocols, they endure the security audits to become certified, and they have specialized personnel who spend their days worrying about security.
To you, security may feel like a parasitic cost. But to the cloud providers, it is a competitive advantage that they can amortize over a customer base of millions of users. Thus, it is in their best interests to keep upping their security game and to amass as many industry certificates as possible.
If you tried to duplicate their security measures, it would cost you many person-months, with key resources being redirected off their mission-critical projects. You would also need to spread your IT infrastructure across multiple hardened locations. Is that really a project you want to take on?
How can the cloud provider do all this?
Commercial cloud providers have multiple locations across the globe, can buy optimized hardware at scale, and can fine-tune the operations of their data centers. In other words, they have mad skillz when it comes to taking advantage of economies of scale.
Being among the biggest sites on the Internet, a cloud provider can grow or attract the best talent. If they want to stay in business, they are always looking to improve pretty much every aspect of their operations.
But wait. Is the cloud really secure?
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that the only perfectly secure computing resource is the one that’s switched off and disconnected from the Internet.
Assuming that’s not what you want, remember that the cloud providers are doing everything they can to remain secure. But you still bear responsibility for making sure you are using strong passwords, following your company’s security protocols, and adhering to the security regulations in your industry.
Are there other risks in moving to the cloud besides security?
Of course! As Niccolò Machiavelli said, “Never was anything great achieved without danger.”
I’ve seen organizations face various challenges when moving to the cloud; such as:
1. If you move everything over without optimizing for the cloud (called “fork lifting” or “lift and shift”), you may not see the advertised cost savings.
2. Some parts of your business may be based on software that is so elderly/legacy that it just can’t run in the cloud.
3. I’ve seen companies start to make the move and then stop, which results in confused and angry employees. You don’t want to spend money training your competitors’ next hires.
4. I’ve seen companies just jump in and start moving, which can hurt morale and cause other problems. Here’s a tip: Make a plan!
But the cloud can be turned on and off so easily. Are you sure it’s secure?
You can set up your IT infrastructure to take advantage of scalability (the “turning on and off” to meet demand). That includes making sure that only trusted programs and humans are accessing only the computing resources they should, all up and down the stack.
How can I get help figuring out whether the cloud makes sense for my company?
Conduct your research using multiple sources; for example:
1. Every commercial cloud provider employs architects, offers training, participates in conferences, and has a wealth of information on their website. They also publish blog posts, articles, and YouTube videos about their products and services.
2. You may be able to find a Meetup that focuses on the technology you’re interested in. You’ll hear from experts and can compare notes with other users.
3. Look for a consultant, even to spend just a few hours with. Cloud providers often include lists of experts on their websites.