There is an old expression that identifies Cloud 9 as an ideal place that is big and comfortable, where you have no worries, everything is great, and tomorrow will only be better than today. Whatever Cloud 9 refers to, it is not Cloud IT or the cloud migration process. Cloud IT in its many confusing and overlapping iterations is big, however it is not a place with no worries where everything is great and tomorrow only gets better. If you are working “in the cloud” today, you know the frustration, confusion, anxiety, and cost that comes with Cloud IT.
While cloud services have evolved greatly in the last decade, they still require informed decision making, active management, cost evaluation and monitoring, as well as new security tools and practices, cross-cloud integrations, and talented people to ensure your organization achieves ROI from your cloud choices. Too many first-time cloud journeys are filled with stories that sound like this; our first cloud active directory implementation was hacked in less than a day, and things only got worse from there. Unfortunately, this is the sort of story that comes from asking the former server engineer to go do that cloud thing. Cloud IT is different not just in process but in kind. Cloud IT is a different kind of IT.
To highlight how different this kind of IT can be, I will try to answer the wrong question that leads many Cloud IT implementations to long and dark days filled with stress, data loss, and huge bills. The wrong question is – which IT Cloud is best? That is the wrong question because there is no answer, at least not one universal answer. The only legitimate answer to the best IT Cloud question is, it depends on your specific organization needs today and in the future. All cloud services come with positives and negatives. Determining which cloud or clouds meet your organization needs requires an honest and thoughtful evaluation which requires you to pay attention. Attention has a cost, you must focus and be thoughtful. When making a strategic decision of this magnitude, the least expensive part of this journey will be your attention, but the attention you pay up front will pay you back one thousand times in the future.
As a Cloud IT attention primer, you are likely trying to choose between Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft’s Azure. Beginning with the A’s, AWS and Azure, you might ask yourself if your Cloud IT goal is just offloading current data center operations or is your Cloud IT goal to transform how you achieve information delivery? If you are offloading and your current infrastructure is 90% Microsoft, why wouldn’t you choose Azure? If you are offloading and your current infrastructure is 90% Linux, why wouldn’t you choose AWS?
Beyond offloading, if your Cloud IT journey includes transforming information delivery, you might ask what can any other provider offer that compares to AWS and their continually growing menu of data transformation services? This is typically where GCP enters any evaluation process. Google Cloud Platform has great cloud offerings and fortunately this decision usually comes down to one question; are we a Google organization? If you are, you immediately answered yes, which might mean GCP is the right cloud for you. If you are not, then why would you add transforming your organization’s culture to a list of Cloud IT objectives?
Beyond the cloud vendor decision and as you begin your move to any cloud, or try to improve your current cloud ROI, here are seven points to consider. While this is not intended to be a comprehensive list of cloud considerations or actions, this Cloud 7 list can help you determine a better direction or help you get back on the right path to successfully delivering your Cloud IT objectives.
Informed Decision Making
Cloud IT success requires knowledge and understanding beyond the sales pitch, marketing promises, and three customer testimonials. Prerequisites for success moving your compute, storage, applications, or any service to a third party requires training and consulting. In the project management world, there is an acknowledgment of the unknown unknowns which is the precise lens required before making your cloud decisions.
As cloud services have emerged and evolved, they have become more complex and some have become complicated. Knowledge is the best tool you can acquire to navigate your way through the complex and complicated offerings from modern cloud providers. Even the simplest and most straight forward modern cloud providers, those that offer only private cloud solutions, add layers of options and features and timing and costs, and supports and… well, you get the picture.
Stepping into the cloud world without first learning about that world and finding an experienced partner to guide you is almost as bad as posting your social security number, annual salary, home address, and credit card numbers on public blog. You do not know what is going to happen, but you can bet it will not be good. Take the time to train yourself and your team before you start your cloud journey. Moreover, if you have already started your cloud journey and it is not gong well, pause long enough to learn. The investment you make in training and an experienced partner will pay for itself in days once you align your cloud ROI.
Talented and Well-Trained Teams
Whether the big brains required for your cloud success are internal full-time employees, contractors with specialized skills, or limited engagement consultants, you need talented people before moving to the cloud. Moreover, if your current cloud operations are not going as planned or worse, they are failing to meet minimum organization requirements, look at your talent. Do they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to meet this information technology challenge?
The talent required for cloud success is not the sever engineer who has been monitoring the data center for 10 years. While that engineer has contributed to the organization’s success in number of known and unknown ways, enabling cloud success means more than doing old things in a new platform. Cloud success requires doing new things with your data to turn it into usable information that converts cloud fees into cloud investments so that ROI becomes more than a term, it becomes an active measure.
The talent to drive ROI then becomes a question of build or buy, or in the case of IT knowledge do you develop it in-house or do you rent consultants? As an IT and organization leader who has suffered bad cloud deployments and benefited from good cloud deployments, I prefer to do both, develop and rent. Renting talent with a teaching component in the contract while educating and retraining in-house talent allows the organization to start sooner and provide a path to ongoing success. Here are some ways to get started with Cloud IT training.
Unlike the servers of the past three decades where you purchased, configured, and then mostly just patched them for five to seven years, Cloud IT requires minute-by-minute management. While the thought of minute-by-minute management may seem like overkill, or it may seem scary to think about how you would do that, the reality is that in just one minute you can spend your entire monthly cloud budget if you just ignore your cloud. Moreover, in less than one minute a hacker can steal control of your entire cloud environment and charge you any amount they want to charge you to get it back. Alternatively, the hacker could use your cloud to do their hacking which can destroy your online brand and security reputation, which you will never know until the damage is done.
Active management, minute-by-minute, is your first line of defense in any cloud and much like the talent decision, you can choose to rent active management or develop your people and buy the tools to do it in-house. Both can be good solutions, but you have to actively choose and implement at least one. As you consider active management begin by asking one question, what do I want to manage? If the answer is I do not know, that is fine because it helps you understand that you need to learn and gives you a starting point for new knowledge acquisition.
New Security Tools and Practices
Cloud IT is a different kind of IT that requires different knowledge, different understanding, and different thinking about nearly every action, setting, permission level, and check box available to the engineer securing your cloud. A move to cloud includes a move away from trust by verify security processes and practices to ensure you do not accidentally give users more permissions than their role requires.
The old way of giving too many permissions was to create convenient administrative collections of permissions and access levels called groups. While a group may still be useful in cloud environments, your security engineer needs to map every permission granted by that group to every user added to the group and not accept one singe extra permission. That is hard, it requires many extra steps, and most importantly it requires a deep knowledge and understanding of each security element as well as the job or role requirements. If that seems complicated, it is. Welcome to Cloud IT where just adding one new User ID to the environment can be a security event requiring hours of check and balance validation.
The alternative to new security tools and practices along with new information and access auditing is the creation of many doors for many hackers to own your cloud. If that seems scary, it should. The days of every help desk team member having access to any file, application, or internal resource, just in case they need to help troubleshoot, are over. Hopefully, that is a true statement even if your organization has not moved to the cloud. If not, an information and access audit should be a prerequisite for your cloud migration planning. Bad access and auditing practices can damage your organization without being in the cloud, however in the cloud the damage at Internet speed and spreads globally before you know it has happened.
One thing about modern cloud offerings is that there are so many to choose from. With Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platforms-as-a-Service (PaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and so on, the odds that your organization will operate in only one cloud environment are nearly zero. At the moment your organization chooses a second cloud environment IT complexity and complicatedness increase exponentially, yes by a factor of 10.
The easiest complexity example to consider might be access mechanisms e.g., user logins, that allow your end users or customers to move across multiple clouds without manually logging in to each one. Seasoned cloud engineers will yell at the screen to say OAuth 2 or some other cloud enabled identity service mechanism can do that for you. Those engineers are correct, and did you notice how your decision to add a second cloud service just led to a third cloud service for identity management. That is why Cloud IT is not just complex, like a car engine, it is also complicated, like biology or ecology. A choice or action in one cloud component can create unplanned outcomes across many cloud components for days, weeks, or years to come.
Cloud Migration Cost Evaluation and Monitoring
If you are moving to the cloud to save money, that is unlikely without a great deal of business process engineering. Cloud IT is expensive IT. One of the marketing points of early cloud offerings was spreading the cost of hardware across all users in a shared environment. The point was and is valid, if you do not need the hardware at the same minute someone else needs the hardware. Given the many organizations competing in the same time zones around the world and more organizations moving to cloud services by the day, the opportunities to share hardware costs are shrinking every hour.
Beyond an increasing cloud user base, Cloud IT pricing is different than buying, renting, or leasing hardware. For example, some cloud providers charge you every time you access your own data. Yes, you pay to move the data into their cloud, you pay to move the data out of their cloud, and you pay to look at (access) your own data because it is in their cloud. If that sounds expensive, it can be, which is why business process engineering and analysis needs to occur before cloud migrations so that you know the anticipated and realistic costs before you begin.
Unfortunately, many organizations perform a best guess for data movement, CPU needs, hourly network bandwidth requirements, and the dozens of other minute-by-minute fees cloud providers charge. Then at the end of the month they pass the bill through to the Accounts Payable team. This practice continues until an auditor points out that cloud costs are 10, 20, or 155 times more than in the original IT budget. By the time the organization understands the real costs of Cloud IT, change may not be possible.
To avoid cloud driven bankruptcy, you need minute-by-minute real usage and daily trend audits along with an active invoice reconciliation mechanism. Again, Cloud IT is not cheap. The types and extent of new business processes required to monitor Cloud IT do not stop at security permissions, workflow mapping, etc. The new work required for successful Cloud IT includes every piece of the organization including Accounts Payable.
The thinking and experience above includes the words scary, new, different, complex, complicated, minute-by-minute, and expensive. As I thought about writing this cloud article, those are the words I wished someone could have implanted in my head before my first cloud migration. The other words I would have benefited from learning were small steps.
Migrating to a cloud in small steps gives your organization and your talent time to move up the learning curve and identify the known unknowns as well as ways to mitigate them. Small steps allow you to adapt the implementation plan and learn big things from small errors. In other words, speed is your enemy when migrating to Cloud IT. You need to spend the resource called time to learn, adapt, and improve. The reality is that many of the bad things waiting for you on the other side of the Cloud IT wall, such as 1.000-fold increase in hacking attempts, fees that grow by the minute, and the diminished talent pool, can all be managed if you give yourself time to learn how.
No matter which Cloud IT provider you choose – AWS, Azure, Google, or a private label – mitigating negative Cloud IT outcomes requires new knowledge, new understanding, and new ways of thinking about how IT delivers organization outcomes. Beyond learning how to manage the complexity, security, and costs, Cloud IT requires a deeper knowledge of the organization, its goals, and the why that is driving cloud thinking.
Even in the modern Cloud IT world, understanding the organization’s desired outcomes will guide the build or buy decisions that organizations have always faced for IT. Many clouds offer tools to build new applications that are cloud native and some offer plug and play functionality to do things like workflow automation or data analytics with the click of a button.
Understanding why the organization thinks cloud services can improve ROI or generate new products and ways of working, is key to successful Cloud IT and achievable ROI. Then taking the time to learn the skills to deliver those outcomes will move your Cloud IT efforts to success much faster and more frequently. Action without knowledge relies on luck and chance for success. Do not leave your cloud success to chance.