Harnessing Cloud Services to Fuel Continuous Innovation

    Before starting on any important journey, it’s key to know the ultimate destination. While that seems fairly common sense, it’s a concept that get missed too often when enterprises embark on cloud migrations. This post explores how teams can make sure they’re making these moves for the right reasons, and, in the process, capitalize on their opportunities to harness the cloud to foster continuous innovation.

    Moving to Cloud for the Wrong Reasons

    In enterprise IT, and in life more generally, I’d argue the reasons we have for taking action can be as important as the actions themselves. This is absolutely the case when considering cloud migrations.

    Today, there are a nearly infinite mix of options IT leaders can choose from, and a similarly limitless array of considerations and factors that can shape these decisions. Making these choices with a clear, definitive answer for why, and ensuring those reasons are really the right ones for the business, is absolutely critical, but it’s one many get wrong. In fact, it’s downright shocking to hear how wrong sometimes.

    On countless occasions, I’ve heard of enterprises making big bets on cloud migrations, and, in speaking with the leaders tasked with executing the migration, came to hear they’re moving forward “because the CEO said to.”

    Maybe the CEO is simply reacting to news that a competitor made a similar move. Or maybe they actually have perfectly valid reasons for making that call. However, even if their reasons are sound, if the teams are only clear on the mandate, not the business outcomes that are driving the move, I’d argue the odds of success are pretty bleak.

    Within this realm, cutting costs is another common justification for migration, and, in terms of merit, I’d argue it is right there with “because the CEO is making us.” To me, the fact this is a common justification dovetails with a broader, more persistent disconnect between IT and business.

    While a lot’s been written on the topic, recent stats make it clear we’re a ways off from solving that problem. One recent example: A survey polled IT leaders on their top priorities, and only 8% of respondents said “accelerate product delivery” was the top priority. Even fewer, 7%, said “increase innovation” was a top priority. By far, the top-ranked priority? You guessed it: lowering costs, which had a 28% response.1 Little surprise then that cost reduction will be a major driver behind many cloud migrations.

    Continuous Innovation Imperatives

    If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that digital transformation can’t wait. Those organizations that had invested in digital operations were far better equipped to adapt and thrive than the others. These digital transformation imperatives aren’t going anywhere.

    Digital businesses will not succeed by out saving their competitors. Fundamentally, digital business success will be about agility, innovation, and accelerated product delivery. To realize these objectives, a lot has to happen, and cloud migrations will play a vital role. While costs clearly have to be managed, cloud migrations need to be about more if businesses are to derive maximum return on their investments and deliver maximum customer value.

    Following are key requirements for establishing and executing a cloud migration strategy for the right reasons, for balancing costs with objectives, and maximizing the opportunities for continuous innovation.

    Plan

    As teams look to maximize their ability to innovate, it will be key to focus on establishing a foundation for continuous exploration, ensuring teams can always identify and be ready to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.

    Optimized planning will require rigorous assessment of desired business outcomes, and the key strategies for realizing those outcomes. Leveraging BizOps methodologies will be vital in fostering the business and IT alignment that will be essential for digital business success. (For more information, see our “What is BizOps” page.)

    Following are some key elements in successful migration planning:

    • Investment planning. This will include choosing among different cloud approaches, services, and vendors, and identifying the right mix of people and tools to manage these investments. Teams will need to align budgeting and planning capabilities with public cloud investments as well.
    • Agile management. Throughout the lifecycle, it will be vital to establish agile management principles, with a focus on ensuring work flows effectively across teams.
    • Tracking and assessment. As part of these efforts, teams will need to establish an iterative approach, tracking progress and adapting based on ongoing insights being captured. Through this ongoing learning, teams can continue to optimize their execution, and ultimately gain insights needed to ensure they are building and migrating the right things at the right time.

    Build and Migrate

    To maximize the potential of cloud services, teams will need to establish strong capabilities in each of these disciplines:

    • Continuous integration. Developers must be equipped to integrate code into a shared, central repository at frequent intervals. These central code repositories can then be routinely validated, for example through unit testing.
    • Continuous testing. Teams need to be able to execute automated tests within environments that effectively replicate production environments. This includes employing a range of tests, includes unit tests, integration tests, performance tests, and more.
    • Continuous delivery. To enable continuous delivery, teams need to produce software in short increments, and ensure software can be reliably released to production at any time.

    While the details of each organization’s migration will vary substantially, it is safe to say that, across the board, there will be a diverse mix of migration approaches that will be employed. In some cases, teams will port on-premises applications and workloads as is, and on the other hand, some teams will develop applications from scratch specifically for cloud-based environments.

    As teams navigate their cloud migrations and their ongoing mix of hybrid environments, they’ll need to address a number of specific testing requirements. Following are a few key considerations:

    • Continuous testing is essential. Regardless of approach, continuous testing will remain vital. In multi-cloud environments particularly, it will be important to shift testing both left, or earlier in the development lifecycle, and right, later in the process, including up to and through production.
    • Scalability is a key consideration. To accommodate fast-changing demand or sudden spikes, organizations can leverage cloud services to automatically spin up more resources and distribute workloads across more systems to ensure optimal performance. Testing needs to be able to support these scenarios, ensuring scaling approaches work. Given the dynamic, ephemeral nature of these environments, teams need to harness AI and automation, so testing can be employed and kept aligned with fast-changing code and infrastructure.
    • Flexibility and choice must be maximized. To capitalize on multi-cloud approaches, it’s an imperative for teams to avoid vendor lock in to the greatest extent possible. By gaining the flexibility to shift workloads across different cloud environments, decision makers can position their organizations to maximize the cost and performance advantages of diverse offerings, and continue to optimize their deployment mix. Toward this end, teams need to adopt operational and development tools that leverage open standards, and that can support a broad range of cloud services and vendors.

    Operate

    Establishing cloud-based operations can usher in a wealth of opportunities for innovation. Following are a couple of the key imperatives that need to be addressed to fully capitalize:

    • Continuous release. Operations need to be equipped to support automated, continuous releases. Toward this end, it is important to enable consistent, repeatable, and automated processes, regardless of environment.
    • Continuous optimization. It’s essential to institute continuous feedback loops across development and operations, and to leverage those insights to inform continuous improvements, including in processes, configurations, and performance.

    Unified Monitoring and Observability

    Depending on the cloud service employed, a number of point solutions may be available, just as there may be any number of point tools used to monitor networks, applications, and infrastructure in the on-premises data center. It is essential to gain unified visibility of the entire hybrid, multi-cloud, multi-network environment, and to establish observability needed to track, manage, and optimize the performance of the business services that run across these diverse, distributed environments.

    AIOps

    Teams need AIOps solutions that deliver the automation and AI that are becoming essential in keeping pace with highly dynamic environments, and the massive proliferation of operational data they generate. Operations teams need to be able to leverage advanced visibility, including business-driven service analytics, algorithmic root cause analysis, and change analytics.

    Cost Management

    In multi-cloud, hybrid environments, the demands for monitoring change. For fixed, on-premises infrastructure, tracking utilization and forecasting demand is vital, but these efforts could typically be managed on a monthly or quarterly basis. In the cloud, the demands for cost management are also continuous.

    Teams need cohesive, unified visibility to do cost management. For example, teams can often be surprised by runaway costs associated with unused resources after migrating to the cloud. A team may decommission a server, but leave an associated storage environment up and running, and the oversight may not be caught until weeks or months worth of charges have been accrued. It is vital to establish the continuous monitoring and alerting needed to flag these situations, and optimally, harness the orchestration needed to automate the right sizing of implementations.

    Network Monitoring

    As organizations become increasingly reliant upon multi-cloud approaches, they grow over-reliant upon networks. This creates profound implications for network operations teams, and the tools they use. In fact, according to Gartner, by 2024, 50% of network operations teams will have to completely rearchitect their network monitoring stack due to hybrid networking.2

    It is vital for teams to be able to do end-to-end, real-time monitoring in order to gain an accurate picture of users’ actual experience. This visibility will be essential in quickly, efficiently being able to spot performance and availability issues, determine the root cause, and address those issues.

    Automation

    To support continuous delivery, it’s vital to leverage solutions that work well with cloud and container-based systems, as well as the legacy technologies that may be running on premises, and to enable automation of processes that span these environments. This includes automating resource provisioning, as well as automating incident detection and remediation.

    Conclusion

    For virtually every enterprise, cloud migrations have been happening and will continue to do so. Ultimately, the success of these cloud initiatives will play a highly consequential role in the success of the business. That’s why it’s critical to be making these moves intelligently, and for the right reasons. By establishing sophisticated planning, development, and operation of cloud implementations, teams can gain the ability to fully capitalize on the advantages of cloud services, and their ability to boost agility and promote continuous innovation.

    1. Source: 2020 Gartner Annual I&O Leaders Survey

    2. Gartner, “Market Guide for Network Performance Monitoring and Diagnostics,” Josh Chessman, March 5, 2020, ID: G00463582