What ‘Cloud First’ Means — And Why a Hybrid Approach is Best

By Scott Cameron, Principal Solution Architect

“How is your cloud transformation progressing?” was one of the key questions asked of IT executives and managers in a recent Insight-commissioned Survey by IDG Research. The results reveal some interesting differences between organizations that have made more progress on their IT transformation journey with cloud versus those who have not.

The Survey — “The Challenge of Change: IT in Transition” — looked at how cloud transformations are progressing for 200 IT executives working in organizations of all sizes, from midmarket to large enterprise organizations with a median of 6,250 employees. Findings suggest that making the journey to IT transformation successful is about more than just saying “we’re ‘cloud first.’” You might expect that organizations with ‘cloud first’ policies would make more progress than those with no policy at all, but what’s notable is that organizations that took a more realistic, hybrid approach to being ‘cloud first’ made considerably more progress toward their goals than all the others combined.

Figure 1: IDG Survey — Question: What is your definition of ‘cloud first’?

Looking at the Survey — IDG asked if organizations had a ‘cloud first’ policy, and then asked how they defined ‘cloud first’. 75% of respondents cited that they did have a ‘cloud first’ policy; 45% indicated they would aggressively move all workloads to the cloud; and the other 30% are taking a more measured approach to cloud transformation. This matches with Insight’s experience — clients that define specific goals and design a realistic strategy and achievable schedule for their journey are considerably more successful and show better, more sustained progress in transforming.

The study goes further, asking those who responded negatively, “Why has your organization decided against a ‘cloud first’ policy?” Below, we explore those answers and address some of the underlying issues those organizations have with committing to the cloud journey.

Why customers are not choosing a ‘cloud first’ policy

Just because customers are not committing to be ‘cloud first’ doesn’t mean they are not leveraging the cloud. It’s been years since I’ve seen a client with zero cloud workloads. And there are lots of reasons for keeping workloads on-premises…some are real and valid, and some are perceived and offer an opportunity to learn more about the features and value of the cloud.

The following chart from the Survey identifies five key areas of concern among the 25% of respondents who cited they did not have a ‘cloud first’ policy:

Figure 2: IDG Survey — Question: "Does your organization have a 'cloud first' policy?"

Based on the Survey and Insight’s experience, these are some of the most common objections — and answers — as to why organizations are not developing ‘cloud first’ policies. Digging a little deeper into each reason/objection:
  • “Security concerns” — With ever-present challenges such as malware, corporate espionage, and social engineering, it’s no wonder that organizations are concerned with security. In reality, however, cloud vendors invest in security at a hyperscale which no individual client could ever match. They provide physical, logical, and network security; comply with regulations; achieve certifications; audit processes and procedures; and adhere to best practices in a way that even the largest client IT departments simply cannot. And the fact that they are such large targets is actually a benefit they use to provide better data to their security teams. However, companies that use public cloud services hold a great deal of the responsibility for ensuring the safety of their own data — and security of data in the cloud goes well beyond whatever existing internal security tools and governance models might be in place. Handing off workloads to a cloud provider does not mean relinquishing accountability for security, or being satisfied with the status quo. The scope of responsibility for security might vary depending on the cloud service provider being used and the types of cloud services. For example, internal security needs for Platform as a Service (PaaS) and IaaS might be different.
  • “Cost/financial concerns” — Some customers will always focus on capital expenditures and the operational expenditures associated with the cloud can be a real challenge. While this issue is often real and not just perceived, the full value of the cloud is realized through developing additional capability and scale. Insight finds that most customers overcome their financial concerns quickly and eventually commit to the cloud journey. They may just go a bit slower than others.
  • “Resistance to change within the organization” — This can be hard, especially for more traditional and conservative organizations. Often, being conservative and playing it safe has been a real benefit to the business. Healthcare, finance, and utilities are just a few industries where clients are often averse to change — and for good reason! It’s important to customers to keep financial and health data private. And utilities’ own critical infrastructure — nuclear facilities among them — one might argue should never, ever, be in the cloud. While there are real, valid, points to this resistance, portions of the business can still be good candidates for the cloud.
  • “No issue with our current cloud strategy” — What you call your cloud strategy is irrelevant — ‘cloud first’ or not — as long as you have one. If your organization is moving along on the cloud journey successfully and at an appropriate pace, you don’t need to be ‘cloud first.’ But I would challenge you — are you leveraging all the cloud capabilities that you should be to keep up with your competitors? For every minute, hour, and day you are on your cloud journey, you are accelerating away from your competitors who are not! Take advantage of this time to get ahead because eventually, all of your competitors will either be catching up or pulling ahead.
  • Lack of staff/skills to support ‘cloud first’ — There are two issues here:
    • The first is the challenge for the organization to provide adequate resources, guidance, and time to bring staff up to speed on the cloud. This has to be an early priority in an organization’s cloud strategy. Building the critical mass for change within teams takes time and requires management to stay focused on enabling users and getting them on board. Showing the benefits to users in the form of how the cloud can change their quality of work and life for the better is a good place to start.
    • The second issue is related to the “resistance to change within the organization” above — some of us thrive on change, but many do not. New things to learn challenge us when we already have full, busy days. We have established processes that work well and that we worked hard to develop over the course of many years. The reality, however, is that few organizations invest in employees’ futures the way they used to, and that each of us is responsible for ensuring that we are enabled with the tools and systems we need to do our jobs. If you avoid the new and challenging and stick with the old, you may find that your resume isn’t at the top of the stack the next time it’s time to go job hunting. Staying up to date on new technologies like cloud is critical to your success — not just for IT workers, but for everyone.
The reality of the cloud journey is that the additional capability and scale that customers achieve in the cloud allows them to accelerate the pace at which they develop new offerings and applications, creating a culture of innovation and experimentation due to the low cost of failure and lack of expensive capital infrastructure to support. Real or perceived, for those that haven’t begun their journey yet, it’s just a matter of time before they do.

“The cloud is a foundational technology upon which the future of IT and business is being built.  Make sure you’re comfortable with it, because it’s here to stay.”

Cloud success looks…hybrid!

As the Survey shows, respondents who reported the most consistent successes in their cloud transformations are using hybrid cloud strategies to identify which workloads fit best in public clouds and on-premises and then are doing the hard work of analyzing dependencies, rationalizing the value of moving applications, and performing appropriate planning and design work prior to migrating. Don’t try to do it all at once…it really is a transformation, more than just moving your servers to a new data center.

Insight can help accelerate your cloud journey by working through your strategy and objections, helping you do the hard work of getting your systems updated to make them ready for transformation, mentoring your staff to get them up to speed on how cloud changes IT service delivery, and helping you design and perform your cloud transformation.

For more information about how Insight can help you accelerate your cloud transformation, please visit us at www.datalink.com. For more Survey insights, visit www.datalink.com/Transform.

Time to get cloudy!