Applying Cloud Computing in the Enterprise

There has been a bit of confusion around the applicability of cloud computing in the enterprise space. Recently, the question has come up as to where/ when/ how/ what cloud applies to enterprises and the challenges that enterprises face when considering cloud. Now, that’s a big ball of yarn to address even before you address the secondary complexities.

Ben Kepes wrote a good article in Forbes responding to comments made by an SVP at HP portraying Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a ‘legacy cloud’ and the reality of the situation. Does it really apply to addressing the enterprise ball of yarn? My point of view: If AWS is a legacy cloud, traditional IT infrastructure must be downright Jurassic. Neither statement is true. Nor does it directly address the reality of the challenges that exist.

In response, Jeff Sussna wrote a good counter missive suggesting that NetFlix is more than just an edge case. Jeff goes on to suggest that current enterprise legacy applications are far from static and IT orgs would prefer not to perform an ‘forklift’ upgrade of their legacy apps into the cloud. I couldn’t agree more…but the devil is in the details as to why.

There are several factors to consider:

  1. Differences in workloads: I wrote a missive 18 months ago about the differences in workloads (A Workload is Not a Workload, is Not a Workload). It’s important to characterize what you have (legacy and otherwise). No two will be the same.
  2. Application of Best Practices: There is a common misconception that how one company leverages cloud will apply directly to others. The thinking being: If NetFlix has success, so will I. I call this the ‘lemming approach’. It may have worked for IT in the past, but will not serve us well moving forward. First, one has to go back and understand point #1 and more importantly understand the reasons the solution was chosen. Which leads to point #3.
  3. Business Drivers: What factors apply when considering different cloud solutions? Aside from the technical merits, there are business factors to consider too. Not everything is about technology. Is there a regulatory or compliance requirement? How would one solution support my business drivers better than the next? While those are just examples, the business drivers are unique to each company.

And when you’re ready to move into the cloud, especially a legacy app, a forklift upgrade is probably not at the top of the list for a number of reasons. Risk, cost, effort just being three of the top ones…but there are many more to consider. What about all of the 3rd party partner connections? What about the interconnections between apps? How will processes and data governance change? As you can see, there are many factors that need to be considered before taking that first step.

For many, the simple thought of moving a legacy app and its tentacles into the cloud can bring shutters. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. But it does mean that it needs greater care and consideration than a greenfield application.

In the end, does this mean that enterprises can’t learn from what companies like NetFlix, Zynga, Dropbox and others have done in the cloud? Of course not. It just means that it should not be taken as a cookie-cutter approach and adapted as appropriate. Use the aspects that are relevant for your situation and leave the rest behind. One size of cloud does not fit all. This is especially true for legacy applications.

If this sounds downright hard and potentially not worth the trouble, then the point has been lost. The move needs consideration, planning and quite a bit of preparation. Best to get started down the path now.

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