Cloud computing; it’s just a load of vapour you know.
Are you excited about Cloud? I’m not and here’s my reasons why.
The other week, during a discussion with a client, I was described as a ‘veteran of the IT industry’. Now heading towards my mid 40’s, I was unsure whether to take this as a compliment reflecting my knowledge, or as an indicator that the years of working in the industry had taken its toll on my once youthful looks. It was at this given point that it struck me, “maybe my ‘youth-fading’ knowledge and experience would be of interest to a wider audience”.
When I started in the industry, terminal sessions and mainframes were the norm, and the possibilities for IT were exploding with PCs, desktop applications and networks, all in their infancy but opening up new possibilities of enabling data manipulation like never before. Over the years we have seen all these evolve, but what strikes me about the last 25 years is how the same fundamental approaches are cyclical. Just like my kids are now buying the clothes that I used to wear as a teenager, the IT world has a habit of taking an old concept and seeking to recreate it with a new label.….one of the latest being the Cloud!
‘Cloud’ then and Cloud now - what is it to me?
Cloud is simply another name for centralised service. Other ‘new’ Cloud buzz words have come and gone, all in some way or other meaning the same thing as those now attracting ubiquitous Cloud tag: ASP, SaaS, CaaS and not forgetting the ‘virtual’ tag, the list goes on. The oldest ‘Cloud’ like service probably is your telephony service provider; many readers might recall BT’s ‘featurenet’, one of the earliest implemented private Cloud services. It was developed to replace local telephone systems with a simple wire and phone to your desk; allowing centralised integrated voice functionality, removing the need for on-site equipment, and incorporating future flexibility to meet business needs.
It soon became apparent that one of the challenges with these early ‘Cloud’ services was the lock-in factor; businesses were encouraged to throw away their own solutions in favour of a centralised service, with the promise of standardisation, reduced operating costs and increased control and flexibility. Many organisations soon discovered the ‘one size fits all’ mentality was not flexible enough for their changing needs, and then trying to break open the private Cloud to integrate new services, it became apparent how extremely expensive and in some cases impossible to exit; these challenges still remain today as they did then.
For many organisations the quick wins, in terms of cost savings, centralisation etc., were of value and the same applies to Cloud services today. We should learn from the past however, that there is never a free lunch. A cheaper implementation may well mean a more expensive transition or migration in the future. A reduction in on-site infrastructure costs could mean a significant reliance and increase in network costs. A quick fix in new capability as standardisation today could well mean less innovation and flexibility for workgroup specific specialisiation in the future.
The way in which we can access these Cloud services may have changed, but the principles and the underlying benefits and disbenefits to suppliers and customers still remain the same.
Assumptions about the Cloud
During previous conversations with clients, often businesses assume a range of benefits surrounding a move to Cloud solutions and believe the following:
- “There is a reduced need for internal responsibility – the service is outsourced to experts so we will get more for less.”
- “We don’t need to worry about security as the supplier will have it sorted.”
- “The Cloud service constantly improves which means we don’t need to keep revisiting the service.”
- “The cost of ownership and the service fees are less than us upgrading and serving our own solution.”
- “We get the agility, reliability', adaptability, flexibility, scalability – all for ‘free’ with no need to spend anything.”
- “Access to specialist skills and expertise...this is their core business which means increased skills are available as the supplier specialise in this service.”
Whilst all of the above can be true, the important thing when considering the Cloud as part of your sourcing strategy is to clearly and honestly evaluate the benefits and disbenefits.
So what are the disbenefits of utilising a Cloud service?
There is often the assumption that Cloud is always cheaper due to the low initial costs. However, for each of the above assumptions, there are additional points that need to be considered when using Cloud, which may end up costing your business a lot more than originally expected. These points are as follows:
- A Cloud service is a generic service – like buying clothes off the peg, you may get a good fit, but you will only ever be able to buy what the shops decide to sell.
- Security can never be better than keeping your data segregated and isolated (ask our own MoD). Not knowing where your data is held, who is looking after it and how it is accessed, will always bring risks. Indeed many businesses have requirements for data to be held within certain jurisdictions. However, many Cloud services are not set up to deal with this requirement or be audited to validate.
- Every business has bespoke needs that are unique to them alone. The ‘one size fits all’ mentality to applications, means that compromises will always have to be made. Clearly the 80-20 rule applies and ‘good enough’ needs to be understood, but still there are likely to be compromises.
- Adopting a Cloud solution may bring a lower cost in one area, but could result in an increased reliance and cost to another, for example networking performance or reliability.
- Cloud to Cloud application migration is immature; how exactly can you move to a different service provider if things are not performing as expected and what do you move? Is it even possible to migrate your business without loss of service?
- Your business processes require bespoke IT service and support. Adding in an increased complexity in supporting multi-sourced services and multi-supplier coordination only increases service complexity. Is the supplier really geared up to provide the expertise and levels of response that your users expect? Is your IT service geared up to manage SIAM for multi-supplier services?
Clearly the assumption that Cloud is always cheaper needs examination. The cost to your business is not just about operating costs of one solution versus another, it is about making sure a fit for purpose service is delivered to users.
So Cloud isn’t worth considering – right?
Wrong! I believe that Cloud services are finally starting to open up possibilities and opportunities, which all organisations should seriously consider knitting into a holistic IT landscape. However, the strong caution from me is that there are no ‘quick fixes’. Here are my hot tips to help you see through the vapour:
- The sourcing of a Cloud service needs to be part of a cohesive strategy, setting out to source Cloud whilst ignoring all other options makes no more sense than completely dismissing Cloud options.
- Ensure that the evaluation is correctly aligned to your business priorities – it is not about replacing like for like; understand what is really important to the business. For example, is efficient and effective support key? If so, prioritise that in your selection.
- Confirm that you have a thorough understanding of your business requirements. Remember the flexibility you had to ask one of your team to quickly tweak something may be lost and will almost certainly not be as simple.
- Never set out to source Cloud. If suitable and possible, make your selection exercise one that presents the business needs and allow suppliers to build the best fit option, i.e. benchmark Cloud against traditional services.
- Look at the full lifecycle of the service and solution, not just the next step. If you are moving to a completely new way of delivering a function, be sure to understand how you transition into and exit from the service and its impact to your business operations and data.
- Service, service, service – delivering service to the business is reliant on supplier’s support capabilities. If it all goes wrong, you need to be sure that there is adequate support. Unfortunately in my experience, this is the weakest area of most Cloud providers’ offerings.
Conclusion - vapour condensed
So is Cloud sourcing suitable for your business needs?
If there is one thing that I’d like for you to take away from this, it is that it makes no difference what you are sourcing, the same principles apply:
- The key is to recognise business priorities in the short, medium and long term.
- Undertake a proper evaluation and sourcing strategy exercise to ensure Cloud and any other option is fairly compared.
- Do not get distracted by the hype of Cloud, make use of its benefits like any other sourcing option to best fit your business and situation.
The difficulty facing many organisations is pulling together all the options; knowing which way to go is not just a technical decision, it needs to be worked through with the business and IT in partnership. I truly believe every medium to large organisation will find a hybrid model of Cloud and non-Cloud services of benefit.
The key is to develop a thorough sourcing strategy which realises the potential of Cloud, while ensuring benefits and values that are required to enable business performance are not compromised now or in the future.
If this article resonates with you and you would like advice specific to your situation, contact Quantum Plus and we will be more than happy to help. Using our tried and trusted methodologies, our experienced consultants can carry out an unbiased assessment, offer feedback and facilitate solutions to getting your business to exactly where you want it to be.