The cloud is not just another place to run the same servers and applications, it is a model of using the latest technical innovations and operational tools to increase your team’s agility and lower your operational costs. It is much more than a lift and shift replacement for your on premises data center.
The cloud is just someone else’s computer
I love that quote because it is funny and it does reveal something, namely that cloud providers ultimately operate physical servers to provide their services, but it also leaves you with the wrong impression. While the cloud is often physically somewhere that is not your building, there is more to it.
I worked for a traditional MSP and data center company for about 7 years. It was a great place to learn and grow and it is where I built a great foundation in a lot of technical areas. One of the limitations of that company was that they were relatively small scale which meant there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense to automate or develop because we would only end up doing them once or infrequently. The more cloud experience I gained, the more frustrating our legacy practices became. Things like manually installing and patching an operating system just don’t make sense anymore. I was helping clients set IT strategy, but the more of Azure I saw, the more I felt like I was having to compete with Microsoft using their own products on premises.
The Cloud Model Difference:
As I took a step back I began to understand that Azure and other cloud providers weren’t winning because of location or even a clear price advantage, but because they operated in a fundamentally different way than traditional data centers.
For decision makers, one of the most important considerations of moving to a cloud model relates to the cost model and the purchase process. The legacy model of purchasing and maintaining technology is very Cap Ex focused where you make a large purchase for a piece of hardware or software and then you don’t make another purchase of that type for several years. The cloud model is more of an Op Ex purchase model, more similar to a utility bill. This is helpful because it allows you to have a more consistent budget and a much lower barrier to entry. You don’t have to put off that upgrade!
Speaking of budget, because it is so easy to purchase cloud services, you really need to budget and monitor cost. With a public cloud, like Azure, you set up a billing account (subscription), and then you pay for what you use. This makes cost monitoring and governance very important. This also means purchasing is very easy.
Deploying services to a cloud provider like Azure is much faster than deploying to a legacy environment. Take deploying a web application as a great example. In the legacy model, you would have to buy a server, rack, cable, network, install an operating system, patch, add to management tools, etc., all before you even add your application. On Azure, with a few clicks, you can deploy an App Service and then add your code.
This is where the agility and innovation of the cloud shines! Microsoft has done all the hard work for you of designing, building, and managing the platform for you. At the end of the day, cloud makes your business much more agile. It dramatically shortens timelines to realize business value.
I know what it is like to be in the decision maker’s seat and setting the budget. It is a little scary to change your spending model. Also, when you look at cost estimates and extrapolate that out over 3-5 years, it will look like you are spending more money using cloud services. And honestly, yes you probably will spend more money on cloud services than you did on server hardware. But it plays out better in the end. 100 years ago, people had to decide if they would take the plunge and spend more on typewriters than they spent on pencils. It works and the agility is worth it which you’ll also see in the next section.
Operations is where you should expect to see huge gains in a cloud model. Microsoft and others have way more resources than you to devote to building innovative tools and platforms to manage your IT systems. Think about server maintenance 20 years ago. Are you still manually patching servers one at a time? In some ways you should think of the cloud as the next evolution of management tools. Your cloud provider should have tools to automate and manage everything from physical maintenance up to patching, monitoring, security and compliance, etc.
The goal is to make the platform do all the tasks that can be repeated or automated. Free up your team to do bigger picture tasks that directly add business value.
If you needed to pour a foundation you wouldn’t hire a crew of people with shovels, you would hire a much smaller number of people with heavy equipment. Be bold enough to spend money on the right tools for your team and you will see the returns.
When you think of cloud, don’t just think of a different place to run servers. Lift and shift will cost too much and won’t realize the benefits. Dive deep into the innovative services of your cloud provider. Use services like App Services, Azure SQL, Storage Accounts, Bastion, etc.
In order to see the biggest benefits of a cloud migration, you need to modernize your IT systems and used cloud native services.
I hear security as a common objection to cloud migration, but I think it is one of the most fun objections to talk about. This is mostly because it is so easy to overcome. Take a quick look at the compliance/certifications from Microsoft:
Does your organization meet all these? Microsoft Azure Compliance Offerings
Microsoft spends billions of dollars on security and compliance annually to make sure they protect their customers. Personally I would trust their protections and policies a lot more than my own homegrown mix of solutions. Gone are the days of mocking Microsoft’s security. They take this stuff seriously.
Where is cloud:
Going back to the quote about the cloud being someone else’s computer, it is clear that isn’t JUST someone else’s computer. But I’m also going to say that the cloud is not necessarily someone else’s computer. There are three different locations where you can use cloud services.
When people think of cloud, they typically think of public cloud first. Public cloud is massive scale, multi-tenant (meaning multiple customers sharing the same resources securely), and managed by a dedicated cloud provider. The top examples of public cloud are Azure, AWS, and GCP, but there are others as well. The line gets blurry for some of the smaller providers because some are really just colocation services that lack the modern operational and innovative benefits.
Believe it or not, you can run your own cloud in your own data center or someone else’s data center. This would be called private cloud. The benefits of this are complete control over the hardware and systems used to deliver your IT services, but at the expense of having to develop and maintain them. Your IT team needs to justify and compete with public cloud providers for this to make sense. Private cloud is not just rebranding legacy on-prem or colocation with virtualization. Private cloud is delivering agile and innovative solutions inside your business and should include things like: self-service provisioning for business units, automated maintenance and monitoring, and innovative service offerings. Microsoft is delivering some great solutions around private cloud with the Azure Stack HCI and SCVMM platforms. You can deliver innovative and automated solutions and maintain control of the hardware and location.
Hybrid cloud is bringing together the best of private and public cloud. You can utilize public cloud services for some things, private cloud services for others, and manage legacy systems with cloud tools. Hybrid cloud could be a transitional model or an end goal for you organization. One of the tools for managing and delivering hybrid cloud is Azure Arc. This platform allows you to manage cloud and on premise resources in a way that is consistent. Other solutions would involve hybrid connectivity using things like vWAN or Express Route, Azure Backup or Azure Site Recovery, and more.
Cloud is using modern tools and innovative solutions to deliver high value IT services to your business quickly and at scale.
I hope this has transformed your thinking about “the cloud” and will give you the courage to accelerate your business.
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I am a leader and solutions architect with over 10 years of hands on experience in private, public, and hybrid cloud technologies, networking, security, and data center management. My passion is to help clients gain agility and accelerate their business through IT modernization using cloud technologies.
I have consulted for some of the largest universities and corporations in the world on topics such as Azure Architecture, Infrastructure as Code, Azure Virtual Desktop, Application Hosting, Network Security, Identity Management, and much more.
Finally, I am actively involved in Christian ministry as a teacher and I strive to reflect the character of Jesus in every area of life.
The best place to contact me is on LinkedIn
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