Christopher Arsene de Jesus Wiborg opening the Black Box of Cloud Computing.
Picture a hiker standing on top of a massive cliff looking at the other side. She sees where she wants to go, but what’s the best way to get there? She could put together a makeshift bridge, take the long way round, maybe paraglide over? The real challenge is assessing which of her options is the best. In the scenario where she’s an expert bridge builder, we must consider the potential opportunity cost of pursuing this option over another.
Perhaps paragliding is a quicker and more cost-efficient option, but we still need the tools, the expertise, and the right circumstances. Therein lies the root of the cloud technology challenge; technical knowledge to understand the task and outcome, and a strategic mindset to evaluate the best course of action.
Just like bridge engineers, cloud computing engineers go through extensive training and formation. There is a reason why the IT industry experiences scarcity in these profiles; a lot of their knowledge and competence is only gained through actual fieldwork which gives a disadvantage to recruitment.
Cloud technology changes and evolves so rapidly that new features are launched and decommissioned in the blink of an eye, which makes it hard for even skilled cloud engineers to keep up. One could also argue that it all may seem quite simple in cloud marketing videos and showcases, but truth be told, cloud computing can get very complex and not everyone is predisposed to pursue the technical prowess needed to meet the challenge. Even yours truly admits to being quite green.
It is no surprise that there is a significant shortage of these experts compared to general market needs, which means that they are often swamped with work with little time to get familiar with new emerging features, cloud technologies, as well as the task of passing off their knowledge. So far, we have only identified the challenge on the technical side, but the strategic aspects remain. How does one come about measuring the economic and strategic pros and cons of a cloud transformation project?
If you break it down to its core, the simple truth is that it is almost always cheaper to buy a single physical server instead of renting that same server in a public cloud; depending on the size, your break-even point can even be reached within the first year. However, this calculation does not take into consideration the real benefits that most often are hard to quantify.
These strategic elements can include the need for redundancy, backup, disaster recovery, cost of maintenance, patching, and monitoring, or evaluating the effort to replace hardware and IT infrastructure when the time comes.
If that wasn’t enough, these are only infrastructure points of interest; we have not even scratched the surface of the potential modernizations possibilities that lie in the middleware, the software and applications, data management, and coding principles. The real pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow lies in these potential gains. However, they require a heavier investment in the allocated time, expertise, and resources.
The organizational structure that is necessary to take full advantage of modern cloud computing is an equally important talking point, for what would be the point of having innovation at your fingertips if your organization is not structured to act on it. The ability to be agile towards market changes for instance, also means that the organization must be flexible enough to shift workforce focus for an adequate response.
Simply put, the things to consider are many, the matter is complex, the outcomes are numerous, and the consequences vary greatly. How do we fix this?
The answer is not necessarily simple, but it is logical. Basically, you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, and you want to define the steps necessary to bring this idea to life; The Black Box of (Cloud) Innovation enters the ring.
The Black Box of innovation is a well-known concept in academic work of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, as made known by for instance Philippe Aghion and Jean Tirole, building on Schumpeter’s work on Research and Development. In short, the concept describes that innovation is an irregular and non-linear process where the factors that lead to successful innovation differ from one project to another. All though we are not dealing with inventions, there are parallels that can be drawn between these two scenarios.
Almost all cloud transformation comes with a version of the notorious black box of innovation. Sure enough, there are many tools and published best practices to technically migrate and transform one’s services into a cloud computing model, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lead to a resounding success.
There are aspects that hold a certain degree of uncertainty. The more significant the transformation is, the bigger the box. And because large boxes can be intimidating, we tend to lean towards simpler transformations that often result in little change; at the risk of oversimplifying things, if you’re running some apps on a server in your basement and decide to run the same apps in a public cloud datacenter, you’re really just swapping basements.
Open the box! Naturally, the first step towards fixing this is by opening and demystifying the box and there’s no better way of doing it than just reaching in and dragging out its content. It’s quite difficult to completely identify all its elements, but by removing as many unknowns as possible the outcomes can become clear enough to validate if the path is the right one, or an alternative should be considered. Let’s look at how this is done.
In a recent webinar: “Clear skies ahead - How to accelerate your cloud transformation”, we reviewed the three main steps of cloud transformation: Opening the cloud innovation box is done during the Readiness phase. This phase is a whole chapter of its own, but in essence, you want to make sure that your idea resonates with your vision and strategy.
Figure out the “why?” If for instance, your only goal is to gain more storage capacity at the cheapest price possible to address your growth of data, then cloud storage could be an option, but classic tape libraries will still give you the cheapest storage money can buy.
Getting all the facts on the table, measuring the probable gains and the cost estimates will tell you if you can achieve what you were after in the first place.
Figure out the “how?” How will you do it, what will it cost, and what will it take? This often starts with the need for the right competence to decipher this whole process, but identifying the right tools to use, and accessing the right information is important as well. Do you have the right people and competence? Is there established precedence for the transformation you’re going for that can give you reliable information regarding expected outcomes? Laying out the technical and strategic outcomes you’re trying to achieve for the sake of meeting your overall strategy is crucial to success.
Figure out the “who?” The people factor has several important roles in this process.
Firstly, the right competence will be able to properly understand and know how to act on the components of the black box. This will enable the ability to design cloud solutions, build strategies, calculate cost estimates, and evaluate the actual outcomes of the project. This aspect is quite crucial as this may also identify modernization paths that would not have been known to lesser skilled individuals.
Secondly, it is recommended that skilled and experienced project teams are engaged to implement the transformation project. Costs are often an important factor to consider in these projects, and without a structured and controlled approach, not only could these costs skyrocket, but the implementation itself could be riddled with errors.
A final and yet important point to keep in mind is to facilitate the process internally. This means freeing up the time for application owners, IT staff, strategic and economic personnel. Equally, this means creating a budget for competence improvement such as technical and strategic certifications, and if necessary, acquiring additional staff or consultants if necessary.
If you can bring with you a single take-away from this blog post, is to always have a plan. With a good plan, the black box of cloud innovation can turn transparent and help you reach your goals.
We at TietoEVRY can help you make the right choices, and transition seamlessly to the Cloud.
Christopher is a seasoned and certified expert on Infrastructure, Private, Hybrid, and Public Cloud. His academic background with a MA in Business and Economics and a MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship enables him to bridge technology and business.
Currently Christopher is squad leader for TietoEVRY’s global Discovery Assessment Migration squad and is the product owner as well as one of the key designers of TietoEVRY’s Cloud Readiness Assessment (CRA) framework. Using his experience with well over a dozen CRA projects, he and his team are working on continuously improving and optimizing Cloud Transformations.