The difficulties of building a cloud strategy and how to solve them

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Cloud deployment is a topic that is moving up the agenda for most organisations, made attractive by its promise of huge gains in collaboration, scalability, flexibility and cost. 

IDC predicts that at some point this year at least half of IT spending will be cloud-based, reaching 60 per cent of all IT infrastructure, and between 60 and 70 per cent of all software, services, and technology spending by 2020. 

But this move into the cloud is rarely strategically-driven. It is typically tactical, and often in response to events. For instance, if an application requires replacing or the IT team suggests a particular function would be better conducted from the cloud, then cloud technology is deployed to solve that discrete and individual problem.   

This delivers benefits to a point, and the business will typically congratulate itself on the project being cost-efficient compared to the past. But this ‘point solution’ approach is actually creating cost, inefficiency and competitive disadvantage compared to the alternative – the creation of an all-encompassing cloud strategy.   

The devil you know 

There are two equally important starting points for a cloud strategy. Naturally, the first of these is the business’ long-term objectives. Fundamentally, how can the cloud and its capabilities be aligned to the requirements of the business over the next five or more years?   

Determining this is a complex task that requires expertise in cloud adoption and provision which is often unavailable in-house. Many in this position would turn to their existing network of software and hardware vendors for support and advice. But these providers are hardly neutral advisors – their preoccupation is understandably with selling their own equipment (even if on-premise) and long-term licences, rather than helping the business find the genuinely best fit strategy. Many larger organisations are also locked into a constant process of five-yearly renewals from their hardware provider. The constant nature of this cycle can make breaking it seem all the more daunting and wasteful, creating a further barrier to a strategic cloud deployment.

The second starting point is data management. This has always been a critical consideration for businesses, though it has been brought into sharp contrast by recent GDPR headlines and the penalties it will bring. Many software and hardware vendors will claim to have baked data management and privacy principles into their portfolio. The truth is that most – despite their claims – will not have incorporated data management in their services ‘from the ground up’, undermining their ability to provide strategic guidance. Even fewer are sufficiently equipped to provide the tools and guidance required that will assist the customer in its ongoing observance of its obligations.   

So where does a business turn for independent consultative and practical support?   

Avoid the pitfalls with honest, objective expertise    

If the two core considerations for a cloud strategy are the business’ objectives and data privacy, the most suitable advisors are independent cloud service providers steeped in data management.   

The inherent long-term focus of cloud service providers makes them well-placed to provide guidance on how to use cloud technology to support long term goals. While dozens of suppliers fit this description, only very few can truly accommodate the second requirement of data management.   

Just as with the hardware and software providers above, most cloud service providers consider themselves to have sufficiently addressed data management through their basic service provision. This is despite not having built their infrastructure with data privacy as a key requirement from the outset. In the worst cases, they may address it through an optional add-on service, revealing just how distinct data management is from their core approach. They may be rare, but seeking out cloud providers with a genuine track record, focus and expertise in data privacy will ultimately result in the creation of a practical, effective and long-lasting cloud strategy. 

First decisions 

Once such a partner is found, the first decision to make – from which all others will follow – is whether the company should adopt a public, private or hybrid cloud approach. 

But over the last few years, many providers have pushed incorrect and self-serving definitions into the market for what was previously well-understood industry standard terminology, making prudent cloud strategy decisions even more difficult. 

The public cloud is where businesses’ data is stored in and accessed from multi-tenanted infrastructure environment – no pre-identified or specific equipment, just an agreed share of what is available from the supplier. In contrast, private cloud is, strictly speaking, where a business relies upon wholly-owned, dedicated hardware whether in their own data center or in a co-lo facility.   

However, many hardware vendors have been marketing their long-standing on-premise infrastructure as private clouds. This infrastructure may be private in the generic sense of the word, but being on-premise, it is by definition not cloud – and certainly not cloud in the technical sense. 

Once the truth of the definitions is understood, hybrid cloud is also undermined. If hybrid is a combination of public and private clouds – as many providers suggest – then it is merely a combination of standard unspecified public cloud virtual machines, alongside the on-premise ‘private’ equipment. In other words, this form of hybrid cloud becomes some public cloud service link to on premise infrastructure. Whereas true hybrid cloud is a strategic blend of two or more of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS – far removed from what many providers would have the market believe.   

Once businesses have reached the realisation that a bottom-up, tactical and piecemeal approach to their use of cloud is no longer appropriate and a wider strategy is necessary, it is only the start of what can be a complicated journey. The usual network of suppliers is typically not fit for purpose for advising on cloud strategy due to potential conflicts of interest and a lack of experience in the fundamentals of data privacy.   

It is hardly surprising that for many businesses, the term cloud strategy conjures up memories of disagreement and bungled implementations. Independent cloud service providers with a history in data privacy are however best placed to navigate business successfully through this maze and deliver a prudently-designed cloud strategy that fits the wider objectives and supports your data management obligations. 

Julian Box, CEO of Calligo 

Image Credit: TZIDO SUN / Shutterstock