Part 1: The Great Public Cloud Crusade…

“Not all cloud transformations are created equally…!”

The cloud is hot…. not just a little hot, but smokin hot!! Covid is messing with the economy, customers are battling financially, the macro economic outlook is problematic, vendor costs are high and climbing and security needs more investment every year. What on earth do we do??!! I know…. lets start a crusade – lets go to the cloud!!!!

Cloud used to be just for the cool kids, the start ups, the hipsters… but not anymore, now corporates are coming and they are coming in their droves. The cloud transformation conversation is playing out globally for almost all sectors, from health care, to pharmaceuticals and finance. The hype and urban legends around public cloud are a creating a lot of FOMO.

For finance teams under severe cost pressures, the cloud has to be an obvious place to seek out some much need pain relief. CIOs are giving glorious on stage testimonials, decrying victory after having gone live with their first “bot in the cloud”. So what is there to blog about, it’s all wonderful right…? Maybe not…

The Backdrop…

Imagine your a CIO or CTO, you haven’t cut code for a while or maybe you have a finance background. Anyway your architecture skills are a bit rusty/vacant, you have been outsourcing technology work for years, you are awash with vendor products, all the integration points are “custom” (aka arc welded) and and hence your stack is very fragile. In fact its so fragile you can trigger outages when someone closes your datacentre door a little too hard! Your technology teams all have low/zero cloud knowledge and now you have been asked to transform your organisation by shipping it off to the cloud… So what do you do???

Lots of organisations believe this challenge is simply a case of finding the cheapest cloud provider, write a legal document, some SLAs, find a vendor who can whiz your servers into the cloud – then you simply cut a cheque. But the truth is the cloud requires IP and if you don’t have IP (aka engineers) then you have a problem…

Plan A: Project Borg

This is an easy, problem – right? Just ask the AWS borg to assimilate you!!! The “Borg” strategy can be achieved by:

  1. Install some software agents in your data centers to come up with a total thumb suck on how much you think you will spend in the cloud. Note: your lack of any real understanding of how the cloud works should not ring any warning bells.
  2. Factor down this thumb suck using another made up / arbitrary “risk factor”.
  3. Next, sign an intergalactic cloud commit with your cloud provider of choice and try to squeeze more than a 10px discount out for taking this enormous risk.
  4. Finally pick up the phone to one of the big 5 consultants and get them to “assimilate” you in the cloud (using some tool to perform a bitwise copy of your servers into the cloud).

Before you know it your peppering your board and excos with those ghastly cloud packs, you are sending out group wide emails with pictures of clouds on them, you are telling your teams to become “cloud ready”. What’s worse your burning serious money as the consultancy team you called in did the usual land and expand. But you cant seem to get a sense of any meaningful progress (and no, a BOT in the cloud doesn’t count as progress).

To fund this new cloud expense line you have to start strangling your existing production spending, maybe you are running your servers for an extra year or two, strangling the network spend, keep these storage arrays for just a little while longer. But don’t worry, before you know it you will be in the cloud – right??

The Problem Statement

The problem is that public cloud was never about physically your iffy datacentre software with someone else; it’s was supposed to be about transformation of this software. The legacy software in your datacentre is almost certainly poisonous and in interdependencies will be as lethal as they are opaque. If you move it, pain will follow and you wont see any real commercial benefits for years.

Put another way, your datacentre is the technical equivalent of a swap. Luckily those lovely cloud people have built you a nice clean swimming pool. BUT don’t go and pump your swamp into this new swimming pool!

Crusades have never give us rational outcomes, you forgot to imagine where the customer was in this painful sideways move, what exactly did you want from this? In fact cloud crusades suffer from a list of oversights, weaknesses and risks:

  1. Actual digital “transformation” will take years to realise (if ever). All you did was just changed your hosting and how you pay for technology – nothing else actually changed.
  2. Your customer value proposition will be totally unchanged, sadly you are still as digital as a fax machine!
  3. Key infrastructure teams will start realising their is no future for them and start wandering. Creating even more instability.
  4. Stability will be problematic as your hybrid network has created a BGP birds nest.
  5. Your company signed a 5 year cloud commit. You took your current tech spend, halved it and then asked your cloud provider to give you discounts on this projected spend. You will likely see around a 10px-15px reduction in your EDP (enterprise discount program) rates, and for this you are taking ENORMOUS downside risks. You’re also accidentally discouraging efficient utilisation of resources. in favour of a culture of “ram it in the cloud and review it once our EDP period expires”.
  6. Your balance sheet will balloon, such that you will end up with a cost base of not dissimilar to NASA, you will need a PhD to diagnose issues and your delivery cadence will be close to zero. Additionally, you will need to create an impairment factory to deal with all your stranded assets.

So what does this approach actually achieve? You will of added a ton of intangible assets by balance sheeting a bunch of profees, you will likely be less stable and even be less secure (more on this later), you know that this is an unsustainable project and that it is the equivalent of an organisational heart transplant. The only people that now understand your organisation, are a team of well paid consultants on a 5x salary multiple and sadly you cannot stop this process – you have to keep paying and praying. Put simply, cloud mass migration (aka assimilation) is a bad idea – so don’t do it!

The key here is that your tech teams have to transform themselves. Nothing can act on them, the transformation has to come from within. When you review organisations that have been around for a while, they may have had a few mergers, have high vendor dependencies and low technology skills; you will tend to end up with the combined/systemic complexity suffering from something similar to Quantum Entanglement. Next we ask an external agency with a suite of tools to unpack this unobservable, irreducible complexity with a few tools, then we get expensive external forces to reverse engineer these entangled systems and recreate them somewhere else. This is not reasonable or rationale – its daft and we should stop doing this.

If not this, then what?

The “then what” bit is even longer that the “not this” bit. So I am posting this as it and if I get 100 hits I will write up the other way – little by little 🙂

Click here to read the work in progress link on another approach to scaling cloud usage…

2 thoughts on “Part 1: The Great Public Cloud Crusade…”

  1. Thanks for the post Andrew. I could not agree more – the change and transformation has to come from within. It has to be driven from the top. It has to be lead by example. It has to answer and satisfy real customer and organisational needs. It will grow organically and exponentially with time. It will cause massive disruption, change always does. But this uncomfortable place is also were growth happens. Before you know it you will have your butterfly. I hope the 100 hits happen soon, I’m looking forward to reading part two.

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