In the rush to public cloud, businesses could be making big mistakes

In December 2019, Cloud Industry Forum research indicated that 34% of workloads resided on the public cloud, with 38% remaining on premise. The coronavirus outbreak is likely to have moved this balance in favour of public cloud among businesses, with containment efforts leading to a rise in remote working and increased demand.

According to one survey of IT leaders by Snow Software, 82% have ramped up their use of cloud in direct response to the pandemic with 60% saying their use of off-premise technologies had continued to grow since then. In the same study, 66% said they would continue to increase their overall use of cloud for the foreseeable future, and 45% of respondents said they planned to accelerate the pace of their cloud migration plans.

The rapid shift to public cloud technology is unlikely to be a major surprise. However, the speed with which adoption has risen does indicate that there is a high probability that many of the deployments are likely to be sub-optimal. The primary reason for this is that much public cloud adoption has been executed through a lift and shift approach.

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Lift and shift-type migrations will, for many companies, seem rather attractive, and while it’s true that these migrations aren’t particularly intensive and are the least risky to pull off, most businesses who go down this route will probably be making a mistake in the long term.

Simple technology choices, speed of execution and lower risk are appealing factors in the lift and shift approach but there are a number of financial factors that are often overlooked and are significant enough to undermine a business case or, in more extreme circumstances, see organisations reversing their approach and shifting back to on-premise solutions.

One example that is often overlooked are data egress charges from the cloud. Hybrid solutions are extremely common, with only part of an infrastructure migrated to the public cloud. Where the migrated systems then transmit data back into the on-premise solutions, data egress charges can rack up quickly.

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Many businesses will also underestimate the operational risks of running their workloads on the public cloud. Infrastructure held on the cloud has to be managed in a different way to when it is on-premise or even held in a managed service provider cloud. A failure to optimise applications when moving to the cloud often forces the business to replicate architecture from on-premise for the cloud. As a consequence, the organisation is deprived of a singular view over their environment, slowing the ability for IT staff to identify and respond to any problems that may occur – a drain on time and money for the business.

In the economic turmoil of the coronavirus crisis, businesses cannot afford inefficiencies such as these. A more considered approach is needed, and as we emerge from the initial turmoil and panic, we now have the time to consider optimising the approach we took to meet the immediate need.

People, process, technology

Public cloud is, at the simplest level, technology. It is but one part of the ever-present formula that applies to any IT decision. That formula is the need to consider people, process and technology, and to parse the formula in that order. Whilst most organisations understand that to properly benefit from the public cloud without the disadvantages, they will ultimately need to refactor what they are putting there. This is, certainly, a time-consuming process – but it will be worth it.

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Businesses must weigh up the return on investment (ROI) of the application to the organisation, considering the time and cost of refactoring, against the predicted benefits of having a fully cloud-optimised application at the end. Analysis like this will help inform decisions about the best refactor process for the organisation, whether it is a complete refactor of large portions of the code or a more slimmed down process with a shorter delivery timeline.

As in every digital transformation, people will need to be put at the centre of the migration. Teams need to be restructured and reorganised in IT to reflect the different way of working. There will need to be more of an emphasis on change management to help navigate the transition, and more provision for service management to keep crucial lines of communication with public cloud service providers flowing.

Making this investment early will create significant long-term benefits for the business. Programmes and applications will now be able to maximise the benefits from cloud-native features, cutting down on the costly performance and operational issues created by the simple lift-and-shift strategy.

Ultimately, the business case should be guiding all decision-making about the public cloud. Businesses are asking the wrong questions about their journey to the public journey. Too many are still simply asking, “how can I get there” and not “why do I want to go there”. The company will benefit from that period of reflection about migrating to the public cloud, and a full analysis of what specific areas of the business would benefit. If the business need is not there, there are a wealth of other options available: even with the dramatic changes ushered in by Covid-19, many applications are most at home on technologies like mainframes.

Written by Simon Ratcliffe, principal consultant at Ensono

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