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Cloud adoption eighteen months on… (Part II)

In August 2018 Tranquility Base Founder, Andrew Rossiter issued a report on the state of cloud adoption within the global Financial Services arena. Given that we are at the beginning of a new year – and decade – we thought it would be interesting to revisit the report and speak to Andrew to see, in his view, what has changed and what has remained the same.

Part 2: Why is embracing the cloud so challenging?

In part 1 we looked at the state of play and what has come to fruition since 2018. It is clear that all industries, not just financial services, are not as far forward as one may have hoped. Tell us why…

“The main reason is that for the first time since the early 90s, almost all companies have simultaneously decided to transform their IT estate. The last big change of this scale was when PCs became cheap enough to be deployed on hundreds or thousands of desktops and client-server software was created. Nearly everyone decided at the same time to migrate from central mainframe systems to distributed platforms built on a variety of new software languages, creating the same challenges, including lack of knowledge, experience and available resources.

Whilst perceived to be of enormous impact, the introduction of the Web actually only caused a subset of enterprise applications to be rewritten, and this happened over a fairly long period of time. But of course now, the problem of legacy is far higher than it was 30 years ago, and the skills required to migrate or re-engineer for the cloud are far more complex and broad.

Take for example an article discussing client-server from 1996: “As technology sophistication increases linearly, the design skill requirements increase exponentially. Users are seduced by easy-to-use development tools. Today, anybody with a credit card can purchase visual development tools and create applications. When this is done outside the scope of the centralized IS department, these applications become support nightmares”. Brown observed: “A lot of those people doing those applications don’t have any idea of what they’re doing. They need the design skills.”

All this sounds pretty familiar 20 years on! History is repeating itself and many companies are repeating the same mistakes as before.”

What are the challenges? Are they the same as they were 18 months ago?

Yes, unfortunately so…

  • The evolving skill sets needed to deliver widescale technology estate transformation
  • Lack of experienced people on cloud projects
  • Changes in operating models (including internal billing and service management)
  • Security and environment design
  • Public cloud adoption framework and related operating model knowledge
  • General public cloud (knowledge) resource capacity
  • Where to obtain practical cloud knowledge from (cloud vendor, local consulting, offshore)
  • Approaching regulators with their cloud based strategy
  • Containerisation knowledge and delivery
  • In-depth understanding of the security / compliance requirements of cloud matched to differing regulatory environments

So, what is actually going on right now and what has been done to address these problems?

Without sounding negative, let us start with the challenges and failures that we have seen. They broadly fall into the following categories I have tried to avoid mentioning the obvious ones):

  • Delays, delays and more delays – It is taking so long to build the foundations, that the underlying cloud technology has moved on in the meantime. Some teams are having to throw away what they have built, as by the time it is completed, it is already out of date. When you consider that cloud companies can introduce 3 or 4 major releases to their products per day, it is hardly surprising that internal teams are forever chasing their tails.
  • The challenge is bigger than you think – Teams are completely underestimating the size of the task to build out anything but the basics for cloud migration. Sometimes the teams are stating that this is a hugely resource-hungry endeavour, but are failing to convince their senior management teams to provide the resources. However even when they do get the resources needed, everyone seems to be ‘learning on the job’ and there is a real lack of experience. This has led to central teams trying to limit the workloads moving to cloud and the rise of huge amounts of Shadow IT. In a public cloud environment this can be a very risky approach.
  • Lack of knowledge in depth and breadth – Not only is the task a large one, but the equivalent knowledge of how to build physical datacentres has been developed over literally decades of improvement, with hard-won skills becoming ever more niche. Think about this in a cloud environment let’s take networking as an example – now you need deep skills in the following: WAN, LAN, firewalls, VPCs, network access, messaging, network costing, network analysis etc. It would be very hard to find those skills in just one person, yet this is just one area that a cloud datacentre requires. The knowledge of how to build a physical datacentre for many large companies is spread across tens, if not hundreds of people. Yet the size of the teams trying to build cloud infrastructure are normally a tiny percentage of that number.
  • Continued use of manual processes – The cloud promises a software defined datacentre, but almost all the people I talk to are still using manual provisioning (via the CSP console) and manual approvals. There is appetite to automate process and reduce the ‘path to production’, but it is a non-trivial task.
  • Lack of real experience to operate at scale – As pointed out earlier, most people are attempting this for the first time in their careers and are learning through trial and error. There are very few people around who have a track record of building the required foundational components and the automation required to contemplate large-scale cloud adoption or migration.

If we haven’t been able to move very far forward in 18 months what can organisations do differently so that come summer 2022 we aren’t having the same conversations?

Our view is that organisations need to be looking at creating a cloud adoption framework (CAF) utilising a ‘Datacenter as Code’ (DaC) solution. This builds on the Infrastructure as Code (IaC) concept; if IaC provides the ‘lego bricks’ then DaC is the completed model, following the detailed instructions. DaC is a living, running piece of software that automates the building and provisioning of all of your software-defined datacentre assets.

Can we afford not to do this?

There is a real risk that as an industry we are in the midst of repeating the same mistakes made in the mid-1990s. We have similar constraints on accessing talented staff who have done this work before, and we are all going through the pain at more-or-less the same time. These challenges were at the core of our thinking about how to solve the problem, by creating a code-based open source initiative for the benefit of all. We believe that by creating an automated open source initiative that anyone can use can provide the breakthrough to help transform business in many industries…thus Tranquility Base was formed.

If you would like to stay informed about our progress, please follow us on LinkedIn, or contact us via the website. We will be making a number of interesting announcements over the next few months.