Can we all just take a minute and calm down and look at Public Cloud for what it is in the enterprise? It’s only another tool in the tool belt of enterprise architects and CTO’s to deliver services to their customers. Will some large companies choose to go all-Public Cloud? Yes. However, the majority of businesses continue to use a mix of Public Cloud and on-premises solutions. Chances are if you are large VMware, Microsoft or Oracle customer, you will continue to be large clients of these vendors. I’ve bet the next few years of my career on the concept of hybrid infrastructures. So, I’m biased.
There are two tales of Cloud that lead to the same path. There’s the argument for Public Cloud use in a startup and utilization in the enterprise. The use cases are driven by the nature of the businesses. We are learning the end frequently results in hybrid infrastructure for both use cases.
Startup path to hybrid
There’s little doubt that Public Cloud provides a distinct advantage to startups. Public Cloud allows managers to leverage the agility of small company structure. Startups by their nature are lean and agile. A handful of people come together, make a decision and execute on the decision almost immediately. As results are measured, startups can increase investment in an area or pivot direction of their product or service.
Public Cloud is a natural fit for the startup culture. Technology moves close to real-time with business decisions. After a design meeting, a developer simply spins up resources within AWS and develops a solution based on a few conversations. Once approved by a small team of stakeholders, the solution is built and placed in front of customers. The startup can adjust production resources as demand increases or shrinks.
As the physical organization grows, agility shrinks. Making decisions is more difficult as the overhead associated with growth impacts the culture of the organization. Regulatory and legal issues began to occur where they previously never existed. As the business matures so does the technology. As companies grow, the rate of change slows. At this point in maturity, the company is paying a premium for agility that is no longer required.
At the point where product and culture are mature, smart companies re-evaluate their technology company. Are the advantages of Public Cloud true differentiators any longer? Has the internal technology organization matured to a point where the capability provided by the Cloud provider better delivered via private data centers? Dropbox performed the analysis and determined it was worth the effort to migrate several petabytes of data to private data center facilities. The business had outgrown cloud.
It’s tempting for enterprises to envy the agility of smaller competitors. It’s also tempting to think replacing traditional IT infrastructure with Public Cloud enables that agility. The truth is that large enterprises are complex. Just as young companies need to re-evaluate the use of Public Cloud, established companies need to carefully consider where Public Cloud best fits.
The speed of business at enterprise-class scale is naturally slower. The time to procure and implement technology is only a portion of the challenges faced by big organizations. Add to the technical challenge the time it takes to coalesce on an idea, make a decision and fund a project. In enormous organizations, the time needed to execute amounts to a year or more. Compound the months it takes to procure and implement technology and the challenges are clear.
To increase agility, organizations dispatch smaller tiger teams that move quickly from decision to implementation. The organizational agility aligns with the Cloud, consumption model. While not the focus of this post the result is the need for bi-modal IT operations. A team of professionals to manage the agile Cloud-based infrastructure and a team of professionals to manage traditional monolithic IT environments.
A common question is why not migrate the legacy infrastructure to Public Cloud. The answer is similar to the startup use case. The financial and operations model of Public Cloud doesn’t make sense for legacy infrastructure. Public Cloud excels when there’s a high rate of change in requirements and scale. Legacy infrastructure is relatively static and predictable. The cost of migrating to Cloud to receive little to no technical or financial benefit is proving a difficult sale.
One of the most interesting opportunities in the Public Cloud discussion is the abstraction of underlying services. As business drivers change so does the logical placement of infrastructure. CTO’s and architects must focus on abstraction of data center services. Applications design is independent of infrastructure. Developers code to infrastructure providers such as Docker Swarm, Kubernetes or some serverless API. The abstracted interface allows data center managers to switch interchangeably out between Public Cloud and private infrastructure as required.