Most of us remember the grade school memorization challenge of clouds: Cirrus, Stratus, Cumulus, Altocumulus—there were ten in all and to this day I can’t keep them all straight. Over a decade ago the term cloud arrived in Information Technology (IT) and although it’s easy to remember the basic types (public, private, and hybrid) bring in five technology companies with “cloud offerings” and you’ll likely get very different descriptions and a menagerie of terminology. It’s become a mine field of buzz words, attempted differentiation and obfuscated roadmaps.
Yes, the cloud is good. I have had the opportunity to work with many customers on transformative journeys to the cloud including hosting, rationalization, porting, optimization, re-architecting for micro-services, securing, authenticating, business modeling, and introduction of as-a-service offerings, which, in various combinations fundamentally transformed mission efficacy.
"If you make the switch to cloud solely based on a desire to save money on infrastructure or operations you will probably be disappointed"
One hears industry refer to lessons learned, but the term lessons experienced may be more accurate. Having experienced much in the “cloud” world of IT, it’s those lessons experienced that help developers and integrators reduce risk. Some keys to success include: 1) starting with the end in mind (i.e., know what problem you are solving), 2) having an exit strategy; and 3) using training as a catalyst for your workforce.
Starting with the End in Mind
Great engineers identify what problem they are solving early, define the end-state and measures of success and then develop the solution. This advice is simple, but often overlooked. There are instances of companies and agencies turning to the cloud for DevOps and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) because “they have to”. This can be disastrous. Dig into the problem–it is likely you’ll find developers spending too much time on administration and software released into production and failing because the test environment was different than production. Recognize the importance of governance, build out development, test, quality and production environments, and get your developers DEVELOPING. Simple example, great results.
If you make the switch to cloud solely based on a desire to save money on infrastructure or operations you will probably be disappointed. Not that cloud can’t achieve that, but the more enduring Return on Investment (ROI) comes in business or mission agility: The ability to react quickly to change; the ability to try out new ideas quickly and inexpensively and to test those ideas with real users and drop or expand them easily; the ability to neck down the focus of your creative teams to the creative (For example, development) and not the mundane (administrative); the ability to leverage common and enduring services across your application suite.
For some federal agencies, the clouds available to meet demanding security requirements can be limited. Implementing with partners can help with offering a breadth of solutions, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) Commercial, AWS Gov. Cloud and the purpose-built C2S. The value is in understanding the desired end-state and then expertly choosing the destination and aligning the implementation to meet mission needs without sacrificing security.
Have an Exit Strategy
It seems counter-intuitive to embrace transformational technology and worry about an exit strategy, but ask customers on contractor owned public/ private clouds. It may have looked like a good idea at the time when prices were subsidized to entice adoption, but once locked-in with escalating prices and integral proprietary services it is neigh impossible to move the applications and data out. An exit strategy is just a smart thing to have since most clouds don’t adhere to common standards. Thus recognize what you are implementing on, what’s open and what’s not (i.e., vendor silo). Fanatically architect to ensure those proprietary hooks are easy to unhook from to allow you back into the open market when conditions warrant.
Exit strategies are prudent. As a consumer you know the value of an exit strategy. Ever want to move your wealth between financial providers? Switch bundled insurance providers? Change the termite protection on your home? It can be very hard to extricate yourself if you inadvertently adopted a lock-in methodology. Chief Information Officers consider exit strategies for telecommunications/ cellular, facilities, payroll, and other services. Why treat cloud different? There is only one grounding principle that remains unchanged in the last 30 years of IT: Change and innovation are continuous. Why lock yourself into any solution when we know from history that innovation and creativity will emerge in ways we never expected in just a few years. Architect in advance to be able to exit.
Let’s debunk one myth right away—that employees are techno-geeks simply interested in understanding a technology. We’ve engaged them as entrepreneurs and innovators that can fuel growth. At CACI the cloud is applicable to all eleven of the markets we serve and thus it made sense to think strategically and lead corporately. We embarked on a rapid AWS accreditation and AWS certification regimen across our entire company. Our training is voluntary, seeking employees with a learning orientation and a willingness to apply energy to pre-training learning and a post-training commitment to apply the learning to get certified. It was very powerful to give our engineers and operations personnel days outside their regular assignments in Architecture, Operations and Development instructor-led training with labs. The class was demanding but the change in venue afforded time to think and that time to think generated creativity and energy. The class examples and design blueprints sparked parallel thinking on how the technology could apply to our customer’s problems in our markets. To foster continuation of the entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit we leverage regular interaction with a community of practice. We made training less about the class work and more about demonstrating company commitment and building a village of like-minded forward thinking smart folks—or said simply, Fuel for Growth.
The new definitions of various cloud capabilities probably won’t feel any easier to remember than how it felt in grade school science class. But knowing how to avoid the ones that generate rain and adopt those that just make for a nice day can be the key to evolving your IT enterprise.