4 things you need to know when building a cloud-first strategy

26 Oct 2021

Image: © Lakee MNP/Stock.adobe.com

HPE’s Paul Meehan talks about some of the key points for businesses to bear in mind when moving to a cloud-first strategy.

Cloud technologies have taken centre stage for many enterprises in recent years and adoption has skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic.

Data from Synergy Research Group suggested that enterprise spending on cloud infrastructure services ramped up aggressively in 2020, growing by 35pc compared to the previous year and reaching almost $130bn.

But while many technologists have spoken about the benefits of adopting a cloud-first strategy, the reality is not as simple as turning on a light switch.

Cloud technologist Paul Meehan has more than 25 years’ experience in IT and seven years’ experience specifically in cloud. He currently works as the hybrid cloud advisory lead at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Ireland.

Here, Meehan talks about the major considerations that businesses need to keep in mind when it comes to building a cloud-first strategy.

Cloud-first does not mean getting rid of all legacy systems

While moving to the cloud could be the right strategy for many aspects of an enterprise, it’s important that leaders manage their expectations about how much they can move to cloud.

Earlier this month at VMworld, Adam Selipsky, the CEO of AWS, said some workloads will never move to the cloud. Meehan agrees that there will probably never be 100pc public cloud adoption.

“Applications running at the edge are now becoming more sophisticated, driving increased revenue for our customers, and better user experience for customers of our customers. In these cases, much of the data processing happens at the edge, far away from cloud or on-premises,” he says.

“The well-informed are using all the solutions available including software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service, but also modernising their on-premises solutions.”

Meehan also says that while many large international businesses can often consolidate their data centre footprint and use cloud as an “expansion valve”, most Irish businesses don’t have that luxury and will need to retain local hosting capacity.

“If you do need to retain your data centres in a hybrid model, you should use them in tactical, strategic way. For example, if you use a colocation provider today that has a network service with links to Azure or AWS, you could use their services to gain high-speed access to cloud, as part of a hybrid strategy,” he says.

Beware of becoming unconsciously hybrid

Since moving 100pc to the cloud will not suit a lot of businesses, a hybrid strategy will often be the best option.

However, Meehan warns that if the transformation is not properly thought through, there is a danger of becoming what he calls “unconsciously hybrid”.

“In this state you can’t achieve your goal of 100pc public cloud adoption and end up managing both worlds side-by-side, without being fully prepared for that outcome,” he says.

“I recommend an alternative strategy called consciously hybrid. If you follow the analysts and talk to other companies further along the road than you in their cloud journey, you will discover this as the likely end state of your cloud journey. Once you acknowledge this, you can plan accordingly.”

Your operating model is a critical component

The next area businesses should focus on, according to Meehan, is their operating model. He says that due to the “paradigm shift” between traditional on-premises technology and cloud technology, the way IT is delivered must evolve in line with this.

“We sometimes hear folks at our customers who are tasked with driving cloud adoption tell us their business leaders believe they now have cloud. In fact, there is a minimal footprint deployed just for initial testing, and the teams know they are missing the governance and revamped operating model needed to keep things under control and compliant, based on their specific industry,” he says.

“If you do not evolve your operating model, you could end up with duplication of common services such as monitoring, patching, logging as it is likely you will double up on these systems.”

When it comes to evolving your operating model for a cloud-first strategy, Meehan says some practical considerations include thinking about where you keep logs for security audits, how you monitor assets on premises and in the cloud, and what guardrails you need for different applications with different compliance or risk profiles.

Cloud strategy KPIs may differ to traditional IT systems

While uptime and availability were the some of the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) in traditional data centres, new KPIs are coming into play with the growing adoption of cloud, particularly when it comes to sustainability criteria.

“There is a big push to reduce carbon emissions, especially with the focus on the circular economy, but agility and modernisation are key drivers and KPIs associated with cloud adoption,” Meehan says.

He adds that it’s important all stakeholders are on the same page when it comes to understanding these KPIs and how they will demonstrate the positive impact a cloud-first strategy can have.

“Think of the finance department who typically paid for infrastructure using capital expenditure. For them, a bill from a cloud provider is hard to interpret, especially if the workloads have not been mapped to business units.”

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Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com