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'Systemic Agility’ is key to enterprise survival

(Image credit: Image Credit: TZIDO SUN / Shutterstock)

The demand for cloud infrastructure in the United Kingdom, like in many other countries, has seen an unprecedented surge. As schools, offices, shops, and restaurants shut down to battle the pandemic, cloud-powered applications have come to the rescue, solving challenges and offering solace. Customers have rapidly embraced digital channels as screen times surge for people of all age groups and data centres struggle to handle the spike.

Although the country is among the frontrunners in cloud adoption in Europe, its percentage of IT spending on public cloud services continues to be lower at 10-11 per cent. Many of the leading cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure have seen unprecedented demand and have also exhausted their reserved capacities in certain use cases. This reveals the preparedness to handle surge and provides an opportunity to relook at business continuity and relevancy in this new normal.

Why cloud-native design is critical

As nature puts enterprise systems and business models to the test, we are witnessing ‘Darwinism’ in play. With businesses reimagining a post-pandemic future—drawing out battle cards and figuring out the art of the possible — it is quite evident that enterprises with native ‘systemic agility’ stand a greater chance to lead and grow exponentially in the new normal. The strong will become stronger and the weak will deaccelerate to rest.

Recently Tim Cook, Apple CEO and Gartner in their public statements said that the global economic recovery will follow a V–curve! As enterprises look under the hood, I believe that the fastest ones to recover will be digital and specifically cloud-native businesses designed for systemic agility. That’s because such enterprises can exponentially scale operations on a real-time basis and deliver superior customer experiences despite traffic bursts on digital channels. Over the past two months, I believe that Amazon, Netflix, and Zoom have added an estimated USD 400 billion in combined capital, at a time when markets have been decelerating. What’s more, leading banks that have gained systemic agility, have also been able to handle demand bursts seamlessly.

Magical as it may sound, the answer lies in the holistic systemic agility that percolates into business models, operations, value chains, and programmable platform foundations. This, in turn, enables organisations to rapidly release products and services and drive real-time digital experiences.

To achieve systemic agility, enterprises must move applications to the cloud to elastically scale on a real-time basis. However, many enterprises have recreated data centres on the cloud, denying businesses the benefits of scaling, while incurring untenable costs. Such enterprises have achieved marginal efficiencies but lack systemic agility. To get ahead, these enterprises must take into consideration a few factors. In the following sections, I share a few tenets for consideration, which help enterprises to achieve systemic agility.

Build your programmable infrastructures

From a technical foundation, when it comes to programmable infrastructures, containers have become the de facto ubiquitous substrate to accelerate business growth. This is especially true of Kubernetes. A hybrid, multi-cloud path with Kubernetes offers a great choice to improve the speed and resilience of legacy enterprises and drive systemic agility.

One of the key reasons for the increased adoption of Kubernetes is that it supports and orchestrates application containerisation like no other technology, making it best suited for the 12-factor microservices app design models.

The Kubernetes platform also ensures that development teams need not restrict operations to a single software language or operating system. With unified control planes, teams can transfer applications seamlessly between private and public clouds and virtual machines.

This open-source cloud platform enables enterprises to embrace composability, driving agility, and productivity. Enterprises can now deploy applications more easily while minimising infrastructure costs. As a result, enterprises can take applications to market faster, scale easily, and drive greater efficiencies.

Among the leading enterprises that have migrated to Kubernetes is Lyft. The American ridesharing company initially hosted its applications on popular virtual computers, but it was unable to meet the unexpected increase in demand on occasions, such as popular boxing events. That is when the enterprise decided to shift its applications to a more scalable platform – Kubernetes.  A new age bank like Monzo can rapidly ramp up its customer base through cloud-native foundations on Kubernetes. This mobile-only digital bank uses Kubernetes to host microservices and control outbound traffic. Among others, British Telecom, Bloomberg, and News UK are leading the adoption of Kubernetes in the UK.

Develop engineering practices around Kubernetes

Adopting Kubernetes is just not a toolkit refresh project. It is a strategic initiative to pivot business models by devising robust cloud-native engineering practices. Enterprises that have successfully adopted cloud-native design patterns, engineering practices in their operations, by laying out foundations on programmable Kubernetes infrastructures, have been able to bring in systemic agility. These organisations have focused on developer productivity, decoupling software development from IT infrastructure, codified their day 2 operation with deep automation, and can now rapidly deploy apps within days and scale their operations efficiently. 

The sudden bursts of customer interactions to digital channels have had limited impact, as the system design – microservices and the programmable infrastructures, seamlessly and are only helping them become dominant.

Plan your journey with K8s

Today, the path to Kubernetes adoption needs to be structured and well planned. Enterprises of all sizes must have a clear action plan when it comes to migrating to Kubernetes. When Spotify decided to migrate to Kubernetes from Helios, the company spent almost the entirety of 2018 addressing core technology issues. Today, its Kubernetes platform handles several services, including one with its highest volumes, which takes over 10 million requests per second.

Kubernetes is a relatively new platform and enterprises migrating application workloads to the cloud must consider several parameters. For instance, Kubernetes does not natively offer the deployment of highly available clusters out of the box. It must be configured by an administrator. Development teams need to build paths to production, which are highly observable, resilient, available, and drive SLAs for users. They will also have to simplify networking through pod-to-pod and pod-to-outside configurations and integrate with SDNs (like NSXt)—a mandatory critical capability.

With several companies now contributing to developing open-source Kubernetes, there are several options including opinionated paths with Cloud Foundry Foundation (CFF), upstream Kubernetes (CNCF), or Kubernetes distributions with any of the hybrid or cloud provider. A well-informed path to unlock value by adopting cloud-native modern practices will help enterprises to untether development from infrastructure constraints and leverage capabilities from the cloud.

By 2022, Gartner predicts that more than 75 per cent of enterprises worldwide will deploy containerised applications. In my view, this means that enterprises will look to increasingly partner with hybrid multi-cloud solution providers and specialist SIs to accelerate the adoption journey and drive systemic agility on Kubernetes. Solution providers with Kubernetes domain experts are far and few between. They are also expensive. Besides, as this is a new technology, experience plays a key role in navigating the constraints around Kubernetes deployment.

In summary, enterprises need to take definitive decisions to accelerate digital transformation initiatives, reimagine digital and remote-first business models, and migrate experiences (like delivering remote wealth advisory services, digital-only contracts, asset lite service models, and more). This is where a strong Kubernetes foundation powered by cloud-native engineering practices will empower enterprises with systemic agility.

Sriram Krishnamachari, Associate VP, GTM Product Leader - Cloud Platforms, Mphasis