Making smart cloud choices in uncertain times

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Cloud is often portrayed as the easy solution to today’s business challenges – the one big shift that saves costs all round. Many believe that, when it comes to cloud, any choice is a smart choice. Here we discuss the realities of choosing the right cloud for your business, and why one cloud does not suit all needs.

“Cloud” is a generic term that covers a plethora of technology offerings including software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data and, to a degree, mobile app capabilities. Today, compute power is more affordable than ever and can be rented, not bought; this changes the shape of innovation and development capabilities.

Moving to the cloud is not always as simple as people think. Not all applications have been, or can easily be, moved to a pure-cloud model. No one particular cloud offering suits every need and application, and no one vendor offers the panacea. So, in reality, we continue in a world where mixed platforms (SaaS/PaaS/Iaas/virtualisation), mixed cloud and mixed-form factors (on-premise, hosted, cloud) all co-exist.

Organisations should take time to select the technology combination that allows their end-user to access the application and relevant data where, when and on the device they wish to, through an easy user experience. To that end-user, what happens in the background is irrelevant.

Flexibility and adaptability with a hybrid strategy

Many businesses are hoping to attain a compute offering that is more effective in terms of commercial models, flexibility and adaptability to the needs of today’s customer, and speed of innovation. With this comes an inherent need for enterprise-grade security, openness, reduced vendor lock-in and the ability to decommission as much legacy cost in data centres as possible.

The majority of workloads today still run in a legacy model, often due to the challenge, cost and complexity of repurposing them to take advantage of new offerings. Some remain because of a perceived lack of security and compliance in the new world. Once the decision to move an application to a cloud platform has been made, the next step is to assess the balance of effort to value in each lift and shift or re-platform model. After that, the business must decide which cloud offering to select: one that it has used before, or a new solution that is most appropriate for this workload’s specific requirements.

When considering a move to the cloud, most companies begin with a directive to select between one of the leading cloud platforms, often based on the vendors they were familiar with. Many are choosing a hybrid multi-cloud approach, led by the application’s specific needs, demands and optimisation possibilities. This echoes what we saw in latter days where we mixed vendor platforms of Unix and networking to achieve the required outcome.

Portability comes with open technology

Public cloud providers promised the attractive perception of “portability” – the ability to switch between vendor offerings if and when customers choose. The truth is that it’s only easy to move if customers utilise platforms (be it a re-platforming of an application or a lift-and-shift to a hosted model) at their most surface level. When they start to delve into fuller capabilities they quickly embed their application code into the platform’s APIs; this is where application and data tie-in begins.

Vendor lock-in has long been touted as one of the major drawbacks of using cloud. Proprietary APIs and technologies mean it can be harder to implement a multi-cloud model and, should the business then decide to move away from a specific provider, it can result in a lot more work to refactor applications to work within multiple clouds.

The market is witnessing a rapid growth in hybrid and multi-cloud for these reasons. Much as in the past, today there is a need to mix cloud vendor offerings and yet maintain portability and low cost to get data in and out of a platform.

Many businesses now see the benefits of open-source cloud capabilities and the ability to abstract their cloud selection from application and data layer tie-ins. Open-source technology provides greater portability and can eliminate lock-in to an extent. It also enables rapid innovation and provides additional flexibility on top of anything a single cloud provider could offer.

Through the use of open-source solutions, businesses are able to build now and move later if they choose to. There are many benefits: the backing of a global community of developers with a similar goal of openness, maximum commercial advantage and freedom from vendor lock in. Businesses also gain a greater security layer, with any exposure radically fixed by a passionate audience of enthusiasts.

Open-source technology platforms such as RedHat OpenShift further strengthen this mantra. They can be deployed, either as-a-service or manually, on any cloud, offering the flexibility to build once and deploy anywhere using the same set of tooling and processes across cloud and on-prem.

Preparing for the unexpected

Companies around the world have been forced to make extraordinary shifts in the way they conduct daily business in recent weeks. Many have been caught out by the shutdown, finding out too late that critical systems such as contact centre telephony and collaboration tools were not in place. We can expect to see a fast review at board level in late 2020 for a raft of new digitalisation projects by businesses determined to be more prepared in future.

In uncertain times, businesses need technology platforms that enable, not hinder, flexibility anywhere, anytime, when working at the flip of a coin. As they look to embed an effective cloud strategy, they should prioritise enterprise-grade security, openness, reduced vendor lock in and the ability flex resources and costs.

If you’d like to learn more

  • Watch: IBM experts and clients discussion and shared tips on how to accelerate your transition to cloud and build with cloud during this difficult time. You can listen to the recording here.
  • Join: Interactive discussion with senior IT peers and cloud experts from Omdia and IBM for a series of 2 interactive sessions delving into some of the key issues facing the modern enterprise when formulating their cloud strategies.

Industry Cloud Influencer & Board Member Cloud Industry Forum

Tom Naxton

Watson & Cloud Platform Technical Sales IBM Global Markets - Cloud Sales London, United Kingdom

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