Confused about Cloud? You’re not Alone

If you’ve been paying attention to the spin from tech news and conferences, you likely find Barb Darrow’s recent column in Fortune bewildering. In “Big Companies Want to Move to the Cloud But Still Have No Idea How, Darrow espouses that big companies have no idea how to begin a cloud migration. This assertion appears at odds with the dominant narrative we hear at the biggest tech stages where name brands detail blindingly fast—and successful(!)—cloud adoptions.

Cloud Adoption PathsSo what gives?

For one, the vendors who host these shows wouldn’t be so eager to share tales of cloud adoption success with such massive audiences if it was so commonplace for enterprises to be in the cloud. If large-scale enterprise cloud adoption was truly the norm, as vendors often claim today, thousands wouldn’t show up to hear how they got there. They would likely already know the story because it would be similar to their own.

Cloud “Nativists” vs. Cloud “Immigrants”
ADP chief strategic architect, Jim Ford, spoke at DockerCon17 about the difference between what he calls cloud “nativists”—those supporting greenfield apps that were born in the cloud—and cloud “immigrants”—those who support traditional/legacy apps that weren’t built with the cloud in mind, and which reside on on-premises hardware. Ford pointed out that while there are vast differences in the mindsets of nativists and immigrants, you don’t want a wall built between them. Cloud-native apps often have numerous dependencies on on-premises apps, and by modernizing the infrastructure, processes, and architecture around those existing apps, those dependencies grow more resilient and less fragile over time.

“But this report says cloud adoption is increasing by 800,000%”
At first glance, Darrow’s claim that big companies have no idea how to move to the cloud seems to contradict with each week’s new analyst and vendor surveys and reports that claim skyrocketing cloud adoption in the enterprise. On the other hand, you have headlines like, “Cloud adoption rates down? Yes, but not really,” that further muddy the waters and leave you scratching your head.

Did your organization recently start using Slack, or another cloud-based chatops collaboration tool? Do you use Gmail or Office 365? Your organization is now “in the cloud.” Not all of it, but enough to count toward climbing cloud adoption rates in many of these surveys. Even if your monolithic mainframe that nearly your entire business depends on—and counts for a majority of your IT spend—still exists on-premises, each smaller application you move or build in the cloud counts toward an increasing adoption.

“Some applications will never go in the cloud”
Peter Gothard at recently asked a great question, “Why is 54 per cent of UK enterprise workload still on-premise with no cloud?” Darrow might argue that it is because, as she said, many organizations don’t know how to get there. There is, however, a compounding factor. Many in enterprise IT don’t believe certain workloads should ever go to the cloud. Why? Because a) they don’t see the benefits, b) the risk of negatively disrupting the business during a cloud migration is too high, or c) they would like to move to the cloud, but simply do not have the budget, time, or headcount to complete such a transformation.

The confusion really sets in when you realize that no matter how many people believe any number of those statements—and there are a lot who do—they’re often not accurate. They’re oftentimes based on misinformation, admittedly from vendors of both on-premises hardware and cloud services. This results in organizations not making a change they should, or arguably worse, going about a major change in the wrong way, i.e., spending months, if not years, and millions of dollars migrating traditional apps simply because most cloud providers don’t offer an easier path.

Steve Wexler at CIO accurately describes this difficult position that IT leaders are in today:

“But the reality is that most organizations must devote the majority of their resources to keeping their legacy environments up and running. The C-suite understands the imperative of changing their IT assets quickly to meet new and emerging demands, that it’s a case of ‘go digital or die,’ but they’re struggling with the how and the how-much-will-it-cost challenges.”

As Wexler points out, every forward-thinking IT leader understands the need to innovate and meet rapidly changing business demands, but they also have the greatest visibility into what’s required to simply keep the lights on. Taking on the daunting tasks that come with rewriting, refactoring, or rearchitecting traditional applications to get them in the cloud—with shrinking or stagnant budgets and headcount—leaves little surprise that many IT leaders don’t know how to pull off such a transformation.  

There very well may be some applications that never live in the cloud, but “never say never” really does apply here. For the amount that technology has evolved just in the last 5 to 10 years, it’s hard to imagine that anyone has the ability to know where every application will run in the future. There are plenty of reasons to keep certain applications on-premises today, but there are just as many reasons to utilize the cloud to modernize them and prepare them for an uncertain future.

Due to vastly different vendor requirements for cloud migration, and incorrect assumptions about what goes in the cloud and what doesn’t, the bold claims that “the enterprise is already there” are simply overstated. Many enterprises are certainly moving there (slowly), and those that aren’t should at the very least take the time to learn if any of their competitors have completed any large-scale migrations, and what benefits that move has provided them with.

Because for all of the cloud migration success stories that are presented each month at wildly popular conferences, the majority of those in the audience aren’t there because they have a similar story. They’re listening because they currently have no idea how and when they’ll be able to tell their own.

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