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  • Writer's pictureDoug Ennis

Some of these clouds are just getting us wet

It is hard to imagine being productive or efficient during these strange times without the aid of Cloud-based technologies. Access from the home office, the couch, collaborating with peers in your PJs, finally turning on video during conference calls. We have come a long way, and that is brought to you from the Cloud(s). It is the glue holding organizations together and, in many cases, thriving in the transformation. Cloud, as a concept, is here to stay and is a necessity in our current state. Cloud, as a buzz word, is broadly used and at times misrepresentative of the services under it. Unlike a real cloud, these cloud technologies show no visible signs of rain, hail, thunder, or lightning. We just expect partly cloudy with a high chance of sun. What if one or more of the cloud-based technologies you choose is the wrong kind of cloud, one that rains on your parade? How can we tell?

First, learn to identify the clouds. “Cloud” means different things depending on the context. Most likely your IT ecosystem is a blend of the below:

  • Private cloud - Organizationally owned equipment that is presented externally. This is your Citrix, VDIs, VPNs, self-hosted applications, websites, and/or legacy platforms that are represented to staff.

  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or PaaS (Platform as a Service) - Vendors like Amazon, Azure, and Google. These are cloud ecosystems capable of absorbing existing infrastructure and deploying new functionality.

  • SaaS (Software as a Service) and all its variations are an application or service which is consumed by your organization. Email, Voice, Video Conferencing, Office productivity, and CRM are some of the most common. Other services like backup, security, and etc have *aaS variation these days. Many of these might reside in the IaaS/PaaS ecosystems above, regardless of vendor. Other are in their own private cloud.

Second, make a sky map to identify all of your clouds, services provided under them, authentication between, and integration with other services or each other. This stage allows you to assign costs and value of these services, security, and maturity of integration.

Costs and Value (emphasis on value) can be a great stormy-cloud indicator. Are you returning the intended value of these services? Specifically, Iaas, Paas, and SaaS group of clouds; the key benefits of adopting these over private clouds were more access, reduction of infrastructure, reduction of support and maintenance, faster innovation cycle, flexibility/scalability, and budgetary conversion (capital vs operating). Instead of capital investment and maintenance, you paid a monthly fee for a service that was supported and updated by the vendor. In the competitive world of “Enterprise Cloud” some of these vendors have scaled down support and QA. This is causing outages, more reliance on internal support, and delayed resolution times. Another byproduct of this competitive world is the direction of innovation. It might not align to your needs, could overlap with others’, and in turn, generate end-user confusion.

Security requires extra vigilance in a ubiquitous access model like cloud technologies. How users authenticate, obtain access, and validate their identity are significant gates to inspect for integrity and improvement. What is the central user authentication mechanism? Are there disconnected “locks, keys, and gates”? Are users repeatedly entering in username and passwords? Validation by a second factor? These are all risks that expose the environment. If chosen wisely, your cloud ecosystem requires users a single username and password to gain access, with a secondary validation on new, anomalous, or risky login attempts.

Maturity of Integration is a good measurement of your vendor’s ability to interoperate, and the state of your own cloud ecosystem. Is your vendor slow integrating with others? Is the username/password different for other logins? This might be an indication of what’s happening behind the curtain, and it might not be pretty. Sadly, many vendors have a cobbled-together environment... A rigid, monolithic system that is presented to consumers as a nimble and dynamic environment. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, right?

Lastly, with your map in hand, find the weak spots and make a plan to improve.

What are the signs that your vendor might be hustling you?

  • Support - Timeliness and quality of support.

    • Does it take a long time to get support and even longer to obtain a resolution?

    • Do you get a post-mortem regarding service This cannot be stressed enough, if you had a significant outage (>1 hour) and a vague post-mortem afterwards, start planning for a change.

  • Cobbled-together monoliths posing as Clouds.

    • Professional Services required to onboard or adjust the system.

    • Limited visibility into the system.

    • Lack of integration with other systems.

    • No trials. Huge red flag! If the vendor cannot auto provision/de-provision a trial environment, that speaks to a lack of automation and cumbersome nature on the back end. This also limits confidence levels during adoption phase.

  • Mis-directed Innovation.

    • Does the innovation improve your business or use case?

    • “Innovation” overlaps with technology you already own from other vendors.

    • Heavily aesthetics oriented. We’ve noticed multiple vendors are investing in making their interface snazzy, while gutting their support channels.

Does this mean the Cloud is bad? Of course not, and I’m not saying that we should head back to servers humming in locked closets back in the office. What we should do is ensure the Clouds we’re using are providing the value and benefits initially promised, are not re-packaged monoliths, and not a drag on your organization. To simplify, are your Cloud vendors just legacy vendors re-packaged as Cloud or are they Cloud First, utilizing modern open standards? If you or your organization is looking for assistance building your cloud map and or evaluating your vendors, give OBC a call and we’ll help you navigate.

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