Category Archives: Strategy

The multicloud gelatinous cube

Pondering the care and feeding of your multicloud gelatinous cube. (Which engulfs everything in its path, and digests everything organic.)

Most organizations end up multicloud, rather than intending to be multicloud in a deliberate and structured way. So typical tales go like this: The org started doing digital business-related new applications on AWS and now AWS has become the center of gravity for all new cloud-native apps and cloud-related skills. Then the org decided to migrate “boring” LOB Windows-based COTS to the cloud for cost-savings, and lifted-and-shifted them onto Azure (thereby not actually saving money, but that’s a post for another day). Now the org has a data science team that thinks that GCP is unbearably sexy. And there’s a floating island out there of Oracle business applications where OCI is being contemplated. And don’t forget about the division in China, that hosts on Alibaba Cloud…

Multicloud is inevitable in almost all organizations. Cloud IaaS+PaaS spans such a wide swathe of IT functions that it’s impractical and unrealistic to assume that the organization will be single-vendor over the long term. Just like the enterprise tends to have at least three of everything (if not ten of everything), the enterprise is similarly not going to resist the temptation of being multicloud, even if it’s complex and challenging to manage, and significantly increases management costs. It is a rare organization that both has diverse business needs, and can exercise the discipline to use a single provider.

Despite recognizing the giant ooze that we see squelching our way, along with our unavoidable doom, there are things we can do to prepare, govern, and ensure that we retain some of our sanity.

For starters, we can actively choose our multicloud strategy and stance. We can classify providers into tiers, decide what providers are approved for use and under what circumstances, and decide what providers are preferred and/or strategic.

We can then determine the level of support that the organization is going to have for each tier — decide, for instance, that we’ll provide full governance and operations for our primary strategic provider, a lighter-weight approach that leans on an MSP to support our secondary strategic provider, and less support (or no support beyond basic risk management) for other providers.

After that, we can build an explicit workload placement policy that has an algorithm that guides application owners/architects in deciding where particular applications live, based on integration affinities, good technical fit, etc.

Note that cost-based provider selection and cost-based long-term workload placement are both terrible ideas. This is a constant fight between cloud architects and procurement managers. It is rooted in the erroneous idea that IaaS is a commodity, and that provider pricing advantages are long-term rather than short-lived. Using cost-based placement often leads to higher long-term TCO, not to mention a grand mess with data gravity and thus data management, and fragile application integrations.

See my new research note, “Comparing Cloud Workload Placement Strategies” (Gartner paywall) for a guide to multicloud IaaS / IaaS+PaaS strategies (including when you should pursue a single-cloud approach). In a few weeks, you’ll see the follow-up doc “Designing a Cloud Workload Placement Policy” publish, which provides a guide to writing such policies, with an analysis of different placement factors and their priorities.

Hunting the Dread Gazebo of Repatriation

(Confused by the title of this post? Read this brief anecdote.)

The myth of cloud repatriation refuses to die, and a good chunk of the problem is that users (and poll respondents) use “repatriation” is a wild array of ways, but non-cloud vendors want you to believe that “repatriation” means enterprises packing up all their stuff in the cloud and moving it back into their internal data centers — which occurs so infrequently that it’s like a sasquatch sighting.

A non-comprehensive list of the ways that clients use the term “repatriation” that have little to nothing to do with what non-cloud vendors (or “hybrid”) would like you to believe:

Outsourcing takeback. The origin of the term comes from orgs that are coming back from traditional IT outsourcing. However, we also hear cloud architects say they are  “repatriating” when they gradually take back management of cloud workloads from a cloud MSP; the workloads stay in the cloud, though.

Migration pause. Some migrations to IaaS/IaaS+PaaS do not go well. This is often the result of choosing a low-quality MSP for migration assistance, or rethinking the wisdom of a lift-and-shift. Orgs will pause, switch MSPs and/or switch migration approaches (usually to lift-and-optimize), and then resume. Some workloads might be temporarily returned on-premise while this occurs.

SaaS portfolio rationalization. Sprawling adoption of SaaS, at the individual, team, department or business-unit level, can result in one or more SaaS applications being replaced with other, official, corporate SaaS (for instance, replacing individual use of Dropbox with an org-wide Google Drive implementation as part of G-Suite). Sometimes, the org might choose to build on-premises functionality instead (for instance, replacing ad-hoc SaaS analytics with an on-prem data warehouse and enterprise BI solution). This is overwhelmingly the most common form of “cloud repatriation”.

Development in the cloud, production on premises. While the dev/prod split of environments is much less common than it used to be, some organizations still develop in cloud IaaS and then run the app in an on-prem data center in production. Orgs like this will sometimes say they “repatriate” the apps for production.

The Oops. Sometimes organizations attempt to put an application in the cloud and it Just Doesn’t Go Well. Sometimes the workload isn’t a good match for cloud services in general. Sometimes the workload is just a bad match for the particular provider chosen. Sometimes they make a bad integrator choice, or their internal cloud skills are inadequate to the task. Whatever it is, people might hit the “abort” button and either rethink and retry in the cloud, or give up and put it on premises (either until they can put together a better plan, or for the long term).

Of course, there are the sasquatch sightings, too, like the Dropbox migration from AWS (also see the five-year followup), but those stories rarely represent enterprise-comparable use cases. If you’re one of the largest purchasers of storage on the planet, and you want custom hardware, absolutely, DIY makes sense. (And Dropbox continues to do some things on AWS.)

Customers also engage in broader strategic application portfolio rationalizations that sometimes result in groups of applications being shifted around, based on changing needs. While the broader movement is towards the cloud, applications do sometimes come back on-premises, often to align to data gravity considerations for application and data integration.

None of these things are in any way equivalent to the notion that there’s a broad or even common movement of workloads from the cloud back on-premises, though, especially for those customers who have migrated entire data centers or the vast majority of their IT estate to the cloud.

(Updated with research: In my note for Gartner clients, “Moving Beyond the Myth of Repatriation: How to Handle Cloud Projects Failures”, I provide detailed guidance on why cloud projects fail, how to reduce the risks of such projects, and how — or if — to rescue troubled cloud projects.)

Outside help can accelerate cloud journeys

Note: It’s been a while since I blogged actively, and I’m attempting to return to writing short-form posts on a regular basis.

In my current role within Gartner for Technical Professionals, I talk to a lot of cloud architects, engineers, and other technical individual contributors who are concerned that seeking outside assistance for cloud implementations will lead to long-term outsourcing, lack of self-sufficiency, lack of internal cloud skills, and loss of control. (The CIOs I talk to may have similar concerns, although typically more related to CIO-level concerns about outsourcing.)

Those concerns are real, but getting expert outside assistance — from a cloud managed service provider (MSP), consultancy / professional services provider / systems integrator, or even an individual contractor — doesn’t have to mean a sliding down a slippery slope into cloud helplessness.

Things I’ve learned over the past 5+ years of client conversations:

  • Use of expert external assistance accelerates and improves cloud adoption. Organizations can strongly benefit from expert assistance. Such assistance reduces implementation times, raises implementation quality, lowers implementation costs as well as long-term total cost of ownership, and provides a better foundation for the organization to enhance its cloud usage in the future.
  • Low-quality external assistance can have a devastating impact on cloud outcomes. Choosing the wrong vendor can be highly damaging, resulting in wasted resources, and failure to achieve either the expected business or technical outcomes.
  • There must be a skills transition plan in place. Unless the organization expects to outsource cloud operations or application development over the long term, the MSP or consultancy must be contractually obligated to transfer knowledge and skills to the organization’s internal employees. This transfer must occur gradually, over a multi-month or even multi-year period. It is insufficient to do a “handoff” at the end of the contract. The organization needs to shift into a new mode of working as well as gain cloud competence, and this is best done collaboratively, with the external experts handing over responsibilities on a gradual basis.
  • The organization needs to retain responsibility for cloud strategy and governance. It is dangerous for organizations to hand over strategic planning to an external vendor, as it is unlikely that plans produced by an external party will be optimally aligned to the organization’s business needs. For similar reasons, the organization also needs to retain responsibility for governance, including the creation of policy. An external party may be able to provide useful advice and implementation assistance, but should not be allowed to make strategy or policy decisions

You can cut years off your migration efforts, and significantly accelerate getting your foundations laid (building a Cloud Center of Excellence, etc.) by getting the right entity to do at least some of it with you, rather than doing all of it for you.

%d bloggers like this: