It’s time to do cloud right

Yes, you should have moved to public cloud years ago, but you didn't. DXC senior researcher Simon Wardley makes the case for getting it right.

Organizations began talking about “cloud-first” policies for modernizing their IT estates as much as a decade ago. At that time, the focus of cloud-first was primarily on moving applications to software as a service (SaaS) and provisioning infrastructure, from compute to storage, as infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

The reality is that many organizations are encumbered by legacy infrastructure and have been slow to react. Many only tested the waters and were left with complex, mixed environments of on-premises IT infrastructure, private cloud, multicloud and even “legacy” cloud.

A cloud-first approach involves simply adopting the cloud at whatever cost. But another approach — doing cloud right — involves looking at the changing landscape and making the right technology investments at the right time. The cloud has evolved, and we can all take advantage, but each IT organization is on a different leg of the journey.

What has changed in the landscape?

In November 2014, just as businesses were implementing early cloud-first strategies, AWS launched the era of serverless computing with AWS Lambda. But the shift to cloud takes time. It took Netflix 7 years to replace its data centers, and it took Capital One 8 years.

If you were to embark on a cloud-first journey of IaaS and DevOps today, assuming you had the speed, capabilities and scale of Netflix and Capital One, you would probably complete your journey after 2028. What you would create would at best be described as a “new legacy,” with the surrounding industry having shifted to serverless computing.

To be blunt, going cloud-first today creates the risk of a never-ending cycle of tail chasing. As the hockey saying goes, skate to where the puck is going and not to where it has been. 

Focus on business outcomes, not technology accomplishments

The real benefit of serverless computing is time to business value. As one executive from a 100-year-old, global insurance company with revenues exceeding $30 billion explained: “During the time it took for the vendors to come back with quotes to the RFP, we had the system built in serverless, in production and reducing cost per transaction from $20 to eventually 8 cents.”

The executive continued: “There’s a cognitive burden. You can have a serverless team focused and taking on reducing costs of transactions, speed of claims and the tasks at hand, or you can have a team focused on the intricacies of container distribution. We’re an insurance company. We care about customer outcomes, not infrastructure clusters.”

That last bit is important. Much of the talk about cloud today centers on concerns related to vendor lock-in and security. What’s missing is a focus on business outcomes.

As the senior vice president of an engineering company said: “CIO conversations naturally go into hybrid, containers, lock-in and ROI but none of those discussions seem to involve speed to market, time to value and the business outcomes. Ask yourself how would it feel to compete against a company that is 100 percent cloud like Capital One or Netflix. Could you keep up when 100 percent of their effort is focused on the business while yours is not?”

In the serverless world, outcome is a constant theme. As the director of a critical government agency said: “The reality of working in a multicloud environment is that superficially each cloud is the same, but the complexity makes it difficult to manage. It creates a fragmented mess unless there is an extremely strong architectural underpinning. And even with this, you still have to solve the multicloud skills issue. It’s more hype than reality. For us, the mission is critical, and speed is essential for this. The outcome is what matters, and hence we must use public cloud and serverless environments despite our initial mindset and policy being opposed.”

"We might comfort ourselves with the idea that someone will create a technology that will simply teleport us into the future, but that just creates a tendency to languish while we wait for that perfect bridge to the new world."

Determining what doing cloud right means for you

Doing cloud the right way is an approach that marries these ideas of where we need to go and the compromises we need to make. Yes, we know that we need cloud. Yes, we know that doing cloud the right way is about serverless today, but we also know the market will evolve and higher-order systems will appear, such as conversational programming. We know that many of us are simply not able to take these steps immediately, and our inertia takes many forms, from sunken costs to past ways of working. We all should have investigated cloud in its first 5 years (2006 – 2011) and begun the 8-year migration journey thereafter, but the reality is that many of us did not.

We missed that boat, and we can’t correct the past. We might think we don’t have competitive pressure to change, but that is often illusory, and complacency can be dangerous in any industry.

We might comfort ourselves with the idea that someone will create a technology that will simply teleport us into the future, but that just creates a tendency to languish while we wait for that perfect bridge to the new world.

As one executive from a global financial institution stated: “While cloud is evolving, you need revolution to move to the cloud. You need to unlearn past patterns, and the longer the bridge you build to get there, the less likely it becomes that you will ever arrive. You have to disrupt yourself to be successful.”

Taking the next steps

Some of this language may seem uncomfortable, but challenge is critical in this journey. At DXC Technology, we help companies meet the challenge by mapping their market landscapes and their own IT estates using our guiding principles. Your IT estate could vary widely from that of other companies; however, a map of the market landscape will not. I can comfortably assert that you should not invest in private infrastructure or in building clusters, or even in starting a DevOps transformation, today.

However, from a cloud right perspective, those steps might be exactly what you must do to get started on this journey. Is there a playbook for this? No. There can never be. Every context is different; no two companies are identical. But there are guiding principles we can follow: Focus on your users and their needs, understand the details such as your software supply chain, understand what is being considered (i.e., how evolved the components are), have a common language, challenge assumptions and focus on outcomes.

As far back as 2015, Capital One CEO Richard Fairbank described cloud as a strategic advantage: “Increasingly we’re focusing on cloud computing and building the underlying capabilities such that product development will be faster and faster and more effective.”

The only question we really need to ask is whether we’re going to miss this boat as well. The cloud right approach might not put you in a first-class cabin straightaway, but it will make sure you board the right boat.


About the author

About the author

Simon Wardley is a senior researcher at DXC Technology. He is a former CEO, former advisory board member of startups, a fellow of Open Europe, inventor of Wardley Mapping and a regular conference speaker. He uses mapping in his research, covering areas from serverless to nation-state competition while also advising DXC customers on mapping, strategy, organization and leadership. 

Follow Simon on LinkedIn and Twitter.