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    Articles

    Considering The Cloud? Think Of These 7 Things First

    We are all told that the cloud will be a cure for our problems. Cheaper, faster and better. You may be considering the cloud too. “But how would I actually implement it at my company?” – you may ask.

    I know that the decision is difficult. For that reason, I wrote this article. I will tell you the 7 things you MUST know when considering cloud. Want to choose wisely? Read carefully!

    Key points:
    • Should I move to the cloud?
    • How should I prepare for the process?
    • How to make the right decisions regarding the change?

    This post has originally been published on Jul 26, 2018. It has since been updated for better readability.


    Here you can watch a video summarizing the key takeaways from this article:

    Everybody is talking about the cloud

    Some people are going even further and skipped it altogether. Now it is all about AI, the blockchain, and virtual reality.

    There are so many new technologies and features that you don’t even notice them around you. You don’t know how others can keep up with the changes and how they apply them to their business.

    Feeling alone on your cloud journey?

    Don’t worry! You are not. Many organizations are still exploring and evaluating new technology. They’re struggling with the same things as you are.

    I decided to put my CTO hat on and share with you 7 things I’ve learned the hard way about the current state of cloud and organizations. They are based on working with dozens of our customers around the world but also speaking with peers and experts from other companies.

    Have you already adopted the cloud at your company? If yes – keep reading. Even just scan it and then share your opinion. Were you following the same directions when considering the cloud? That knowledge may be very important for others.

    To make this article even more useful, I will also share some practical steps you should take within your business to get ready. Changes are coming, so be prepared.

    #1: Not in the cloud yet? Start small!

    You may hear that everyone is doing cloud, but you haven’t yet made the move. Your organization needs to get started but there are tons of projects to take care of, and you don’t know if it is even worth considering.

    Suddenly, someone complains about the performance of your e-commerce site. Or the cost of running the document management system. Perfect! You’ve heard that cloud will solve it: cheaper, faster, better. Containers are the solution for everything! Let’s jump on that!

    You have just defined the perfect recipe for disaster and put the cloud project on hold for the next year.

    Sign up to our newsletter and get more advice to help you on your cloud journey directly from our CTO! Sign up

    With the cloud, always start smaller

    If you’re new to the cloud, don’t hop on the train with your most significant cargo on the first trip.

    There are at least several vital ingredients for success missing. You won’t yet know:

    • The services, vendors and their platform capabilities
    • How to build and operate the cloud and how it is different from the existing solutions and the way you delivered
    • If you have the appropriate skills within the company, and the right experience
    • How to evaluate the exact cost of building and running your cloud. With consumption-based services, expenses can quickly get out of control.

    Should you stop and do nothing? No! You just need to choose a smaller project. Don’t try to learn on your biggest or most critical business system.

    There are plenty of opportunities for trying out the cloud, for example:

    Marketing

    Your marketing department needs to run a short campaign. They require a way to host landing pages and to communicate with users over different channels including mobile messaging. You can use something like Azure App Services, Logic Apps, a security service such as Azure AD B2C and services like Twilio and build a PoC of it!

    Hardware

    One of your servers is ending its life. You need to replace it. Wait! Maybe you can move it to the Azure IaaS, and in the process:

    • Establish your first subscription
    • Learn how to build a solution
    • Determine how it is priced and how to operate it.

    Backup

    You’re wondering how to provide backup and disaster recovery capabilities for your organization. Azure Backup and Site Recovery is something which might help you here. Evaluate it.

    By the way: are you wondering what to do with old Windows 2008 systems still running and going out of support? You can extend your support window by moving them to IaaS and then think about how to upgrade them.

    In an excellent book, Ahead in the cloud, I read about the superb rule of 2 weeks. The premise is, if you need to migrate something on-premises to different hardware or data center, see if you can move it to the cloud or re-write/ re-configure it to another service within two weeks.

    If the answer is yes: Do it!

    #1 Key takeaways:

    • Start small, don’t use your central business system for your first cloud project
    • Pick something you can deliver to production within 2 weeks. Then do it
    • Look for opportunities in new projects or the maintenance cycle – this is where you can find the low-hanging fruit.

    #2: Grow the talents in this area

    It sounds good: our first project. But we don’t know the cloud. Let’s hire someone who does and will teach us.

    Here’s some hard truth: there is not that much talent with real skills in the cloud out there.

    Many try it, many play with it, but still, people with actual knowledge are not that common. And there’s another aspect to note: the cloud attracts mostly developers and people with mixed skills. They might not be the right choice for your current environment.

    But here’s the twist – you already have the right people. They are working for you right now. Specialists who know your organization and your operations. Your employees, analysts.

    You want to have the best cloud engineers for your company: grow them. And you will also keep them for years as they will have an exciting job.

    People attending a data visualiztion workshop

    Workshops and training sessions are a great way to gain the necessary skills!

    How to grow cloud skills?

    Start your “Cloud Center of Excellence”. Don’t make it big.

    Here is the recipe for a quick start:

    • Get three people from different departments or skill sets together, e.g. developer, infrastructure administrator, and networking specialist
    • Put them in the same room and assign them a task. A real task – like pushing the first server to a cloud IaaS or building a PoC landing page for your marketing based on PaaS
    • Give them a fixed (but realistic) time frame and set the goal of putting it to production.

    Hey! You’ve just put together your first cloud team. Now, give them the resources to learn:

    • Start the first subscription and take advantage of free tiers of cloud offering. Every vendor has them. Did you know about Azure Free?
    • Buy a Pluralsight and A Cloud Guru subscription for them. Let them learn
    • Let them go to some conferences and meetups. There are plenty of people to learn from, and there are most likely some groups and meetups in your area.

    Now you’re on your way to building your dream team and long-term, satisfied employees at the same time.

    #2: Key takeaways:

    • Your best specialists are already hired. They just need the opportunity to learn
    • Build a cross-functional “Cloud Center of Excellence” and give them a real project to deliver
    • Set a time frame, and give them resources to learn – there is plenty of knowledge online
    • Create a PoC with deployment to production
    • Share the lessons learned with others within the company. They will join in!

    #3: Savings don’t always mean lower costs

    What you will hear from vendors and consultants is: cloud is less expensive! Let’s jump on it, save money and revel in it.

    You are after your first deployment, moved your primary server to the cloud, and got your first bill. And here comes the question:

    Where are my savings?

    It is not true that the cloud will always be cheaper in monetary value. A server in the cloud might cost more than your existing hardware. PaaS services in your solution are usage-based. If you use them a lot, there might be a large bill at the end.

    The cost-effectiveness of the cloud does not come from direct savings. Instead, it might translate to:

    • Lower operational costs to run the service because of automation
    • Quicker time to deploy the service even on IaaS because you might not have to wait for those servers to arrive
    • More service deployments per month and a speedier time to market for your services and apps
    • Less time spent on implementation with your valuable people focused on the new things instead of solving deployment issues.

    Based on the already mentioned book Ahead, a typical organization might see their costs reduced by 30% but it is expressed in total value, with operations and deployments.

    You need to define your definition of cheaper, and you need to measure it. That last thing is important – if you don’t have a way to measure it, how will you know if you are getting there?

    Measure your KPIs

    Don’t try to figure out some complex system for it. Make it empirical. Find an easy way to capture the current state and track changes and their direction. Things to measure might vary and might cover for instance:

    • Time your team spends on deployments
    • The number of deployments for an app per month
    • Time of service outages because of maintenance and deployment tasks
    • The time it takes to onboard a new service.

    One more thing. This one is important! It is hard to expect things to be better if you keep doing them in the same way.  If you want to benefit from cloud deployments, you need to learn to do them in a cloud-appropriate way.

    A note on DevOps

    Have you heard the word DevOps? Great! Me too. Too many times in different contexts.

    Whatever it means for who is saying it, it is an operating model where you automate your operations and make them part of a process. They’re not separate tasks from development.

    The first task for your dream team (see #2): Even if it is a single server they’re deploying, they have to automate that process. It needs to be deployed, configured and operational without manual interaction. Make it a challenge!

    #3 Key takeaways:

    • Being in the cloud doesn’t mean you will pay less on a direct bill. Think and define your benefits and definition of “cheaper” or “savings”
    • You will not know if you are achieving savings if you don’t set your metrics. Define your KPIs, find a way to measure them
    • From day 1. and from the first project, make sure to adopt a new method of building, deploying and operating solutions. Old ways won’t work in the cloud
    • Even if you are starting small and doing a proof-of-concept, think about how to build your cloud environment and how to measure and assign costs to projects/departments. You will need it later.
    Still unsure about the cloud?
    See our customers’ success stories

    #4: Evaluate, build and iterate

    Are you following all the vendor announcements? Do you know all the services and improvements?

    Every cloud vendor is building more and more services as the demand grows. There are more and more options, services, possibilities.

    You look at the videos from the latest Build or AWS:ReInvent, and you think – wow. This is cool. Let’s do this.

    Hold your horses! Remember, cloud is a living thing. Vendors build and deploy it on the fly.

    If there is a new service and it has a promise of solving your issue, don’t just go ahead and implement it. It might not be what you need. The goal might be harder to achieve than it seems, or it might cost more at your scale than you think it will cost.

    Even if a service is serverless and is part of Platform as a Service (PaaS), there are still servers and interfaces behind it. It might have its limits. Or the solution might need some configuration and development.

    Not everything you hear from vendors is as perfect as it seems. Don’t accept the solution just as it is. In the end, you will develop, maintain and operate it, even if it is serverless and PaaS.

    Think about the support, costs, operations, and deployments.

    Does it mean I should stop considering the cloud?

    Nope, but you need to build your process for evaluation and tinkering with it. By now you should have a way of evaluating it:

    • Start small with a real case project (#1)
    • Assign your cloud excellence team to assess the service (#2)
    • Find your way of operating and measure it for your use case (#3)

    Keep yourself informed and make the process empirical. Evaluate, build, iterate. It should be your mantra when it comes to cloud services and technologies.

    Your people will love this approach.

    #4 Key takeaways:

    • Don’t take vendor promises and service descriptions for granted. You need to evaluate them in the context of your organization
    • Use your Cloud Center of Excellence to assess and onboard new services you think might be useful
    • Learn the limitations of new services and the ways to build, deploy and operate them. There might be catches to them
    • Evaluate, build, iterate.

    #5: Focus on solutions

    Do you remember the time when to address a problem we would just buy a product off the shelf? Then it was a never-ending cycle of upgrades and learning of its limitations.

    Here’s the hard truth: when it comes to cloud platforms and offerings, there are no products anymore – there are solutions.

    Of course, you can buy a SaaS product. You can still buy some products to address the simpler needs.

    But when it comes to solving a problem with a cloud platform you will quickly learn that:

    • It consists of multiple services and interfaces which, applied together, build a solution
    • The solution typically requires some development and integration. It might be possible to leverage the platform for it but still – expect for it to happen
    • To maintain it, you need to learn how to efficiently build and deploy it.

    That is why your teams should always be cross-functional and why you should expect some development to always happen in your cloud projects.

    It is not about deploying ready products. It is about building from active components.

    #5 Key takeaways:

    • Your team should consist of people with mixed skills, including developers and operations specialists. This applies even to more recent solutions delivered by vendors on top of cloud services
    • Expect the need for development in every cloud project
    • Prepare yourself to handle things like source control, continuous integrations, and deployments within the organization. If you have not done it yet – time to learn it.


    DevOps can be very helpful when it comes to organizing your cloud development processes

    #6: Business is eating IT. Good!

    Have you heard that “Software is eating the world”? It is true. In our space, what is happening is that “Business is eating IT”.

    Sounds like a catchphrase? Yeah, I thought so. Here is an explanation.

    Business is faster right now than ever before. Some years ago when your company wanted to deploy a new service, they would come to IT and would ask for it. It would trigger design and procurement processes, hardware purchasing and so on.

    You know what will happen right now? If there is a need, your business will find a partner in some consultancy or a development company, use its magic credit card for procurement (yeah, I know it is not that easy), and get it done.

    Is this really happening?

    It is. We’ve had a few examples like this ourselves. Business decided to go directly to cloud technology vendors because IT was too slow solving the problem.

    There are lots of vendors already doing it for you.

    My point here is that if you are in it, you are in the best position to be the business partner for your organization. You don’t have to be afraid of it.

    It seems like people didn’t lose their jobs because of the cloud. It is actually the opposite – their number grows if a company embarks on this journey.

    What you need to do is learn how to experiment, operate quickly and deliver faster on the business needs. Have you read my previous points? That’s how you get there!

    #6 Key takeaways:

    • Talk to your business about their needs. You are the best-suited partner for them
    • Don’t try to block them with statements like “we don’t do it this way”. They will find a way to go around you
    • Use your Cloud Center of Excellence and new operational skills to deliver faster.

    #7: Know where you are headed

    The time will come when you will need to decide where to move. Should you:

    • Build something?
    • Do it on-premises or in the cloud?
    • Select an infrastructure or a PaaS deployment?

    I’ve been in a couple of situations where after learning all the options and possible solutions, the customer was stuck, unable to make decisions.

    Why? It was not about lack of information or uncertainty about costs. All the data was at hand.

    It was inertia caused by the lack of compass – and not asking themselves the right questions.

    How can you define your direction?

    You need to find out what your objectives really are. For instance:

    • What do you want to achieve at the end?
    • Can you define your approach to services?
    • Are you clear on what your core business is and what is not?
    • How about long-term decisions: what should you do as the organization, what to grow internally, and what to outsource?

    These are not easy answers to find, and they require some thinking.

    A hard fact – no business consultant will tell you what to do. It is you who knows your business and you who has access to all the people with the knowledge of your company goals and directions.

    There is one key takeaway here

    You need to know your direction to make decisions, and not just make them because “others do it this way.”

    Be the Challenger!

    How to find your direction? It is not easy, and it is a process. But you can take a look at some good content as a starting point.


    Keynote: Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones – Simon Wardley, Researcher, Leading Edge Forum.

    Summary

    And here we are! 7 things to note when considering the cloud.

    I hope it made for a good read for you. Follow our blog for updates on this topic as we guide you through your cloud journey.

    If you have any questions, I would gladly hear them and try to answer them. Post them under this article in the comments section.

    Do you have your own lessons or critical takeaways? Remember – there are plenty of people still looking to find out how to do this. Share your thoughts here, so they can benefit from them.

    Key takeaways:
    1. You don’t have to move to the cloud just because everyone else is. You can try out these services on a small, non-critical business system first to see if they can work for you.
    2. Gather plenty of advice and research on the cloud (starting with the points above) and prepare your people for the change if you decide it should happen. You can follow our blog for updates, we will share plenty of useful information on these pages.
    3. Make sure you know what you’re about as a company. Work out where you want to go and what you want to achieve. It’s the only way to find out if the cloud can actually help you and how.
    Ready to learn more about us?