The cloud is a strategic priority requiring skills that few providers possess
The cloud is a strategic priority requiring skills that few providers possess

Almost every business with ambition is addressing cloud adoption now, attracted by the real benefits in scalability, flexibility and cost.

IDC is forecasting that at least half of IT spending will be cloud-based this year, reaching 60 percent of all IT infrastructure. Their experts also believe that it will account for between 60 and 70 percent of all software, services, and technology spending by 2020.

Yet this move into the cloud is rarely driven by strategic considerations. It is far more likely to be a tactical 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 may be considered or deployed to solve that particular 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's 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's 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 datacentre 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 in fact, 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. Potential conflicts of interest and lack of experience in the fundamentals of data privacy will frequently render the usual network of suppliers not fit for purpose for advising on cloud strategy. 

In this context there can be little surprise that many businesses find that the term cloud strategy reminds them only of bungled implementations and disagreements. This is where independent cloud service providers with a history in data privacy prove their value. They are best placed to navigate a business successfully through the complications and deliver an expertly-designed cloud strategy that fulfils data management obligations and helps achieve the organisation's wider ambitions.

Contributed By Julian Box, CEO, Calligo

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.