Illustration of clouds laid over computer application code

Seeing Clearly Through the Clouds

18 Jul 2018 by Mike Guggemos

Across industries, businesses are looking for ways to innovate and gain an edge over competitors. In most cases, digital innovation / transformation / automation is dependent on leveraging intelligence — and that means real-time data manipulation. In other words, the cloud.

With very few exceptions, cloud platforms and services give businesses access to hyperconnected analytics platforms, which are nearly impossible to replicate on premises. The key is to execute a thoughtful cloud migration and ensure all the services and functionality offered are actually used. Having a stable and functioning cloud environment is critical — as is leveraging the functionality provided.

Let’s get some things straight about the cloud.

The cloud is not new, but we’re just now beginning to see a dramatic increase in cloud capabilities. Departments and functions outside IT have started to figure out the difference between software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service (more on these later) — the understanding of which is critical to developing strategic architectures to support Artificial Intelligence (AI). The broadened understanding of cloud services and how they tie together is helping organizations maximize and optimize cloud investments for the long run.

Speaking of investments, it’s true, the cloud does cost more over time. So why does moving to the cloud make sense even if costs are higher? As stated earlier, because of analytics and automation/artificial intelligence.

The cloud enables AI with an emphasis on machine learning and data analytics. This provides actionable insights and quick identification of anomalies or pattern changes for organizations to take advantage of. For example, what if you could adapt clothing store inventories or unexpected temperature fluctuations? How about tracking Tweets and linking trending topics to your organization’s advertising? It’s happening today — although by manual efforts — and is generally hit or miss.

There’s a lot of nuance and marketing jargon around the cloud, so let’s recap for common understanding:

Software as a Service (SaaS)

One of the three main categories of cloud computing services, SaaS is perhaps the most widely used, powering a large portion of day-to-day business operations. SaaS is subscription-based software, such as Microsoft Office 365, Adobe Creative Cloud, Slack and many more.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Another main category of the cloud, IaaS is essentially a subscription to someone else’s infrastructure or data center. IaaS requires extensive architecture talent and firm building principles, just like your own data center.

Show me the stats: See where cloud computing is growing in this article, 3 IaaS Cloud Computing Trends to Watch.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

The final category of cloud computing, PaaS delivers both the software and hardware “platforms” over the internet to build on top of. This is ideal for organizations that want to develop functionality without having to install hardware and software in-house. Examples of PaaS include Salesforce, Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Hybrid cloud

A hybrid cloud model is a mix of private and public cloud services. It’s not simply having private and public cloud functionality within one environment, but having the ability to burst into a public cloud environment when you need it.

This is ideal when you have a sudden need to process larger data loads. Think quarter end or when feeding transactional data to one of the big providers (AWS, Microsoft, Google) to take advantage of an AI engine.

Look at it as if you had an apartment with a rentable spare room next door. When you have an influx of guests, you simply pay an extra fee to use the spare room. After your guests leave, you clean up and lock it, and the charges stop until the next visit.

A deeper dive: Insight commissioned Harvard Business Review Analytic Services to survey business leaders on their adoption of cloud environments. Get the complimentary report to learn the business drivers and benefits of cloud adoption.

Multicloud

This is the next big thing being pushed in the market because it reduces an organization’s reliance on a single cloud vendor. With multicloud, you’re mixing environments and using two or more public cloud providers as an architected cloud solution.

Containerization

Think of containerization as little boxes of functionality that can be moved between clouds, or within them, as part of hybrid or management between clouds — like moving cans on your pantry shelf.

Head to head: What about private and public cloud? Learn the differences and determine which option is the best fit for your business in this infographic, Private Cloud vs. Public Cloud.

Beware of cloud washing.

Cloud is and has been buzzy, and buzzy words often become marketing tactics. Consider the organic food movement. “Organic” became a compelling selling point. It seemed to happen overnight when nearly every item in the grocery store appeared with a proud organic label. Arsenic is organic, yet it can be deadly too; buyer beware. Similarly, many of the services listed and marketed as cloud today are nothing more than non-cloud services rebranded to appear as if they are cloud. Again, buyer beware.

Common mistakes with cloud migration

In a rush to modernize and migrate to the cloud, organizations often fail to thoroughly plan their transition and long-term needs. The cloud is complicated. Using multiple clouds is even more complicated. And using multiple services from within multiple clouds is flat-out perplexing. Proper implementation requires both a high-level skill set and careful forethought against an architectural framework, or major issues are sure to arise.

Another element organizations don’t dedicate enough effort to is cleanup: getting rid of unneeded things, shutting off duplicate services, deleting data, eliminating licenses and turning off access, etc. Don’t be a hoarder. Cleanup is essential for an optimized infrastructure, as well as managing costs. This is actually a great benefit of the cloud in that it forces operational and data maintenance most companies ignore when on premises.

Finally, employees must accept the reality that not everyone needs access to everything. Every bite, bit and login costs money. Yet, limiting access and shutting things off can create animosity against IT, as they’re generally the business function tasked with controlling costs and resources linked to technology.

I live in this space daily. IT is often criticized as being the function of “no,” and some people may feel compelled to go around IT. However, going around IT almost guarantees operational failures, security breaches and/or financial “surprises.”

Preventing shadow IT

The responsibility for saying yes or no to programs — cloud or otherwise — is a balance. At Insight, we use portfolio and architecture boards as processes to manage what occurs across the company. We do not have shadow IT.

Instead, we have functions that implement technology to meet employee-specific needs against an IT-owned architecture and project budgets managed in concert with the finance department. It’s not easy, but the processes are critical to ensuring decisions are owned across the company and not just by IT and finance.

There’s no doubt cloud migration takes forethought and work. But when it’s done right, your business will be able to take full advantage of the many benefits of cloud computing. If I could impress one piece of advice on you, it would be to take your time and do it properly. And when in doubt, call in the experts.

More insight: Discover comprehensive cloud solutions from Insight and read client success stories in this solution brief.
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About Mike Guggemos
Chief Information Officer

Mike works to focus the controlled chaos of corporate productivity toward the big bets of emerging technologies.

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