The Stack Archive Expert View

Why cloud adoption should be a marathon, not a sprint

Tue 19 Jan 2016 | Jamie Tyler

Taking the first step on a cloud journey can be daunting, but businesses need to approach it gradually and with a long-term view

This month Cancer Research UK has been running a campaign called ‘Dryathlon,’ encouraging people to lead healthier lives by giving up alcohol for a month. Whether it’s giving up the booze, trying to get fit by going from ‘couch to 5K,’ or just going easy on the buns and cakes, it’s often the first step that’s the hardest.

Taking the first step on a journey like this is something that many IT leaders will be thinking as they consider how to adopt cloud computing. They know it’s ‘good for the business’ and that they have to do it at some point, but just carrying on the same old way is the path of least resistance.

There are a few reasons why organisations might still be holding back from going all in on the cloud: Legacy systems aren’t ‘cloud-ready,’ security concerns, PCI compliance and just the sheer complexity of the task are just a few valid concerns some enterprises feel cautious about.

The thing is, if you want to run a marathon, you don’t start training by going out the door and running 26 miles – you think about the journey to get there. Only start-ups tend to be in a position to flick the switch to cloud; most established companies find it a bigger challenge.

It’s why the idea of hybrid IT is so appealing. Essentially, hybrid IT means an enterprise can benefit from a mix of physical and virtual infrastructure services hosted on premise, in third-party data centres and service provider clouds, seamlessly connected using high-performance networks.

In practical terms the idea is that that you mix in cloud gradually, build it up and grow your own expertise at a sustainable rate that limits the risk to ‘business as usual’ operations. For most businesses, it’s a more attractive idea than going cold turkey on their data centres.

The benefits to adopting hybrid IT are manifold. First, hybrid IT helps transform the IT department from a cost centre into a driver of business growth. This can be achieved by automating workloads, so that IT can focus on innovation.

Second, it can accelerate return on investment (ROI) by reducing time to market and lowering capital investments, with new applications and services launched in the cloud. And third, there’s the financial management aspect, through flexible contracts and moving from capex to opex models.

An example of hybrid IT in practice is Cancer Research UK. Although the charity runs events throughout the year, publicity and activity tends to spike over the summer period with activities including Race for Life, one of its big national fundraisers.

These fluctuations mean that it is not cost effective to maintain the same level of IT support and hosting capacity all year round. The team switched to a hybrid approach where non-production, development and disaster recovery services were colocated, but production web hosting was on a dedicated cloud server with 24-hour monitoring.

This gave Cancer Research UK the flexibility to scale services up and down and only pay for what the team used, whilst maintaining security and reliability.

Even so, the rate in which enterprises are adopting hybrid IT is still in its early stages. Recent research from industry analyst firm Gartner suggests that the hybrid cloud computing model is still ‘two to five’ years away from achieving mainstream adoption, with only 15% of businesses using it today.

Gartner speaks to many companies before it makes its predictions, but the first thing to consider here is how hybrid IT is defined. Take a typical company that has its infrastructure on premise; it will probably still be using some SaaS applications, so is arguably hybrid by default.

And then there are bound to be a bunch of people secretly using cloud, paying for it on their credit cards and claiming it back through expenses (shadow IT).

There’s also a bit of snootiness about hybrid IT from pure-play cloud providers. It’s understandable – they can’t get involved without teaming up with other vendors.

Whether or not you agree with Gartner’s prediction, the point is that hybrid may be logical, but it still requires a bit of forethought.

When looking to adopt hybrid IT, we advocate a few guidelines:

Build a structured proof of concept in the cloud – one without dependencies – to test the waters before moving on to something harder.

Put the easy wins into the cloud first. For example, testing and development of new apps is easier to implement than migrating an existing e-commerce application.

Time cloud adoption into refresh cycles, such as updating your human resources and training system when licenses come up for renewal.

Don’t overthink your cloud migration; instead of breaking up applications or workloads into fragments, move entire systems as a single unit.

Whether cloud or colocation, deploy applications and data together, and geographically near to their user base.

Get users on board. When adopting a new way of working, new processes are always required. Don’t underestimate the difference users make to whether it all works or not.

Work with a vendor that has network and data centre expertise; pure play providers will lack the broad experience and capabilities these vendors have.

Plan what you want from your vendors. Do you want them to just provide the infrastructure, or support in areas such as managed security, or do the whole thing as a service?

Lots of businesses have started as colocation or managed services clients and moved to the hybrid model. What all these companies have in common is that they are doing things gradually, rather than an all in flick of a switch.

It makes sense; after all, the journey to the cloud is a marathon, not a sprint – and as any marathon runner will tell you, it can be tough to go it alone: you’ve got to have solid training and performance partners around you to succeed.

Experts featured:

Jamie Tyler

Director, Solutions Engineering EMEA

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