The future is cloudy, with a chance of success

True cloud computing metaphors: not every cloud is a rain cloud, and too much rain is disastrous for the unprepared

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I would have titled this post, “How to be a rainmaker in the cloud,” except the term rainmaker often refers to the selling process, which is already succeeding, and that success is a key contributing factor to why so many cloud initiatives are all wet. If nothing else, the popularity of cloud services has made the use of metaphors in technical articles much easier!

In this post, I write about some of the slipperier aspects of cloud services, how to reap the most benefits, and ways to identity potential pitfalls before a sinking feeling sets in.

AI, big data, and the cloud

A great expression going around about AI and big data is that they are “like teenage sex: Everyone talks about it; nobody really knows how to do it; everyone thinks everyone else is doing it; so everyone claims they are doing it.” I want to add to that that “and most of those that are doing are not having nearly as much fun as they could be.” The same can be said for the cloud, even though it has been around a lot longer and is relatively more mature. And many people actually already have it, though they might not know it, so maybe it is more like insanity.

These three technologies were all drivers for each other. The ease of getting started in the cloud (the quality of which I will ignore for now) was a multiplier for the data accumulation that had already been growing exponentially. The amount of data was so big, it needed a separate category of, well, big. Then, trying to manage that much data while it was still of business value (or even determine if it is of value) quickly became too much for human manipulation or even basic algorithms, so more complex algorithms were created, followed by algorithms that create algorithms and then AI became a battle cry to save us all from drowning in the data lakes (that we probably wouldn’t have created if we had true AI to start with).

The lack of quality in initial cloud forays that we ignored at the start of the last paragraph combined with the ease of getting into the cloud is what led the way for so many being overwhelmed with data. The truth is most cloud initiatives that have real business value are still in their early stages. The early adopters (that are now trying to hire more data scientists than then there are in order to help dam the floods) have given the rest of us a great example of what not to do. So let’s use their hindsight to build our vision.

If you don’t know what it is, don’t handle it with familiarity

Anyone with kids or animals learns fairly early that they should never pick anything up from the floor barehanded if they are not positive of what it is. Technology deserves the same wary respect. If someone says, “Everyone is moving to the cloud,” I know they are either misinformed or not being truthful (sometimes both). First, because everyone rarely does anything at the same time, no matter how much marketers and salespeople tell us otherwise. And second, because lots of us have been there for years and just didn’t think of it that way. Financial services is one very common area where storage, processing, and source-of-truth data has been entrusted by the customers to the service provider and accessed over the internet since “internet” was spelled with a capital “I.”

The truth is, there are many different types of cloud services and the value of a given service and provider varies according to the enterprise needs. I know this is really obvious and what I am calling out here is how it is often forgotten after seeing a press release or the conclusion of a well-rehearsed and intricately orchestrated sales demo. There is no doubt in my mind that cloud services will benefit most (maybe even all) businesses. But not every type of cloud service is needed by every business and how one business uses a specific service is not how every business should even if they will benefit from the same service.

Data storage is a great example, because it has become a universal need. There are businesses that can and should keep all of their data in cloud services. The plural is on purpose, because if you are going to commit your entire business to the cloud you need to have some kind of backup. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are many small companies that have neither the volume nor the budget to properly maintain all data safely in the cloud. In the middle (and the latter example is far more common than the first) there are the majority of businesses that will benefit storing certain types of data in the cloud and applying both MDM synchronization to ensure availability and continuity.

The green field is not always greener

The biggest hurdle in guiding enterprise technology is not getting buyin on new technology; it is managing the false sense of security that comes with having been convinced to adopt the new technology.

Part of the reason stake holders expect the latest cloud offering to save the planet is overselling on the part of IT, vendor sales and marketing, and industry hype (which is greatly fueled by vendor marketing in much the same manner as a recursive process with a bug).

Another equally significant part is human nature. Once a decision has been made or a belief adopted, the subconscious mind will often vigorously defend that decision or belief whenever it is challenged, deepening the associated conviction. This is why we so often seen a mass movement towards solutions as they gain popularity even if the solution is not always what is called for. People who want to slow or redirect the changes for very good reasons seldom take the psychology of newly adopted convictions into account and the result is a more energized drive in the direction that may not be right (or right at the time).

Measure twice, cut once—every single time!

To avoid the rush to greener cloud pastures, IT and business need to work together to define and agree on business and technical goals. Once the goals are agreed to, an analysis of how a given cloud solution will further those goals should be supported by a pilot or proof of concept before any large commitment is made. The results of the analysis must vigorously seek any side effects that have a negative business aspect in addition to how the goals are met (or not). Finally, if the solution is adopted, the analysis needs to be reviewed and revised for every case. Again, no rocket science or epiphany here: just common sense that is not-so-common as to not benefit from repetition.

Walk, don’t run, to your nearest gateway

To offset the cautionary tone of this post, it bears repeating that there are many benefits to cloud services and some combination of cloud services will very likely benefit any enterprise. Some key concepts to keep in mind to realize the most benefits (and dodge the potential pitfalls of a bad combination) are:

  • The cloud is just someone else’s computers; plan your security and continuity accordingly.
  • Not all cloud services are equally reliable.
  • Not all service providers are equally suited to your specific needs.
  • Because one cloud service is perfect for your needs does not mean every cloud offering is going to be your best option.
  • What works for one enterprise may not work for another; do your own validation.
  • Most cloud services are multitenant; it’s time to write tight again!
  • Try before you buy and validate before you commit.
  • SLAs and price structures vary wildly; read the fine print!

The forecast for enterprise architecture is increasing clouds. Enjoy the shade and keep to high ground away from potential flood damage!

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