Take a long look inside any large company’s IT infrastructure, and you will find a complex, sometimes convoluted mix of resources, both physical and virtual. There is a public cloud platform or two, likely a private cloud, plenty of on-premises servers and an assorted assemblage of applications connected in various ways.
How did it get like this? Was every decision and every connection carefully planned out – aligned perfectly to deliver a business service with laser-like precision? Chances are, it was not. More often than not, decisions are made based on immediate needs that make sense today but may not tomorrow.
One of the primary decision drivers is cost. Everybody wants to be budget conscious. So they choose platforms and pathways that save a little for a while, but might end up costing more in diminished productivity over time.
Another decision driver is data location. Companies need responsive applications, and the distance between the apps and the data matters. When data gets separated from applications, performance gets impacted, so organizations end up running their apps near their data. But data is effectively unmovable. Once it is planted, it sets down roots like a tree, so applications that need access to the data tend to be near the platform where the data lives.
The facts are, IT environments grow in fits and starts, and platforms often get shoehorned in odd ways. The choices organizations make can saddle them for years to come. Therefore, creating the right mix of resources is crucial to putting an organization on a path for success in the future.
The Key Factors
Assembling the right mix comes down to three factors: asking the right questions; analyzing the impact of app and data placement; maintaining consistency in the process. And to set those factors in motion, you need two things: organizational buy-in and the help of a good technology tool.
Start with the organizational buy-in. When a company embarks on a cloud project and brings in outside resources to help move it forward, it needs to create a central “office” to serve as a focal point for the undertaking. A Cloud Business Office (CBO) handles this function. It coordinates all key decision-making and communications for the cloud program – both inside and outside the company. The CBO also establishes the guidelines for the right mix of apps and data and the placement of those resources.
Having a CBO establishes a mechanism to ask the right questions to help make the choices that create the right mix for a particular client organization.
What are the right questions?
First, we must ask the questions that will frame the business objectives of the company. For years, cost was the overriding factor – and in some cases, it still is. If a company wants to be a competitive, low-cost provider, it needs to create a mix that both delivers value to the market – and keeps its own costs low. If a company has other objectives in mind – speed to market, escalating M&A activity, global expansion, being a differentiated leader in its industry – it might make different decisions about how it wants to sculpt its cloud program.
Second, we must understand what “guardrails” a firm needs to enforce. In theory, a client organization can pick whatever platform it wants – AWS, Azure, Azure Stack, OpenStack, bare metal, etc. In reality, a particular company may have limits imposed in ways that exclude some of those choices.
- Security and compliance – Are there security regulations, compliance rules, country-specific rules or state rules regarding data limits and the choice of locations? Consider data residency issues between countries and even states. The impact of placing the data in a highly regulated data privacy country could be devastating to the success of the program, and potentially to the company.
- Culture and organization – How skilled is the workforce, and how culturally ready is the company to shift from one platform to another? If the organization is used to Azure Stack, and has no experience on Google Cloud Platform, it might tilt toward Azure if it wants to expand on the public cloud. Speed of deployments based on skilled staff is a core principle of any program.
- Process and governance – How disciplined is the client company in terms of process and governance? Can IT make decisions and force developers and communities to adhere to those decisions, or is the process ad hoc? If teams are not aligned – whether it be for technical or political reasons – the speed of deployments is greatly reduced.
Understanding the business needs and the guardrails imposed on an organization starts to provide clarity around how the organization will structure its mix of resources.
Different Mixes for Different Situations
There is no optimal formula that suits every client company. The right mix for one organization will be different from the next. One firm may have the exact same app portfolio as another, but it has different business goals and different guardrails limiting its choices.
There are over 40 factors to take into account when making decisions on the best mix of platforms and services. Cost, of course, is one. Others include performance, latency, risk, data needs, network connections, architectural considerations and security.
One key question is, just how important is each individual business goal or guardrail to a particular organization? Again, each company is different. So, when the CBO starts debating the merits of one scenario vs. another, it needs to weigh the value of each factor against others. Does the company value performance over cost? Is it willing to pay a little more for better latency or a slightly better customer experience or end user experience, and sacrifice cost for elasticity? Is it willing to pay more for this, less for that, make sacrifices here to deliver optimal performances there?
Decisions about complex mixes of platforms and services ultimately get made by people, following intense analysis and lengthy debates. But technology tools can also play a role in the process. With so many factors in play, and so many nuances to consider in each individual company’s situation, CBOs are turning to tools that can apply some order to what can often be a chaotic exercise.
In our client engagements, we use automated IP to help you quickly determine your right mix. The process applies a weighted score to each business factor, guardrail and other consideration raised in the discovery process. This delivers a numerical component that can provide clarity to the decision-making process. If a customer is willing to sacrifice on cost to achieve optimal performance, those factors are calibrated to their proper levels. If the client values security above all else, they can dial up security and dial down other factors.
The results generated are directional in nature and provide a consistent framework to ask the important questions. They can help identify both low-hanging fruit and top opportunities. If you look at 5,000 applications, we can help provide justification to keep 1,000 on-premises, shift 2,000 to a private cloud and prep 2,000 more for transport to a specific public cloud. You can build multiple business cases that propose different mixes of services that steer toward particular business outcomes.
We all need help. Using automated IP is a great first step to provide consistency to your vetting process and decision tree for data and application placement.
No one succeeds at their cloud program building on an ad hoc basis. Adding resources as they are needed with no comprehensive plan will only lead to confusion and failure. There needs to be a process in place to determine the right fits for your particular organization. Working with an organizational construct like a Cloud Business Office and automated tools, cloud projects can and do succeed.