Most LEAs in the UK have formed policy in force around how digital services should be deployed, delivered, stored, shared and consumed – “Cloud First” is a Met maxim. The use of “the cloud” and “cloud based services” and “cloud service providers” create a myriad of options and choices for the discerning LEA. The key word here is choice, over obligation, as the desire to embrace the cloud and cloud services must be as a result of a business imperative – an issue that must be addressed and further, to conclude that a cloud solution is the most operationally efficient route to successful resolution. In your current environment, if services are running in an operationally efficient manner, service levels are good, services are delivered and consumed with acceptable levels of latency – you may not require cloud services yet – that is an entirely justifiable stance – cloud will be there when it’s appropriate for you and when it can be justified from a business perspective.
Before I continue, I’d like to establish what “the cloud” actually is – for the uninitiated of you out there. It is a term which is used with such abandon and frequency that it’s easy for the cloud to appear as something mystical which will make all your problems disappear in an instantaneous and painless manner. I saw a sticker about a year ago which I found very amusing and revealing at the same time, as it neatly summarised something about the cloud which is easy to forget. It was of a weeping cloud who had just discovered that “the cloud” doesn’t really exist – it’s just someone else’s computer – tragic for the poor cloud and for everyone else who not yet had that moment of clarity.
This trope reveals a simple truth – behind the marketing, the hype and the razzmatazz surrounding cloud – you are placing your data and receiving your services from elsewhere, held in an environment somewhere, and delivered from devices owned by someone else. They may say – oh no – they are yours “by proxy” as you will only notice a significant improvement in service performance. That is fine – but it is a little bit like living in rental accommodation and thinking that it is your own house – try not paying the rent and see how that plays out. Onboarding (switching the service on and getting connected) and perhaps more importantly offboarding (exiting the service with all your data intact) – the exit strategy should be an important part of any conversation around cloud service deployment.
Whilst it may seem counter intuitive to house your data and services elsewhere – anyone who indulges in social networking is giving away their most precious memories and surrendering ownership of images and other content to a third party such as Facebook voluntarily. As the adage goes – if something is free – you’re the product. Many billions of us are happy to accept that as our desire to access a service outweighs our reticence in surrendering our personal data and have integrated cloud applications to their daily lives. We use Office 365 without thinking about who is managing our data and where the servers are how our data is being held – but it’s Microsoft so it’s ok! It is also inevitable that with increasing reliance upon big data, agility and required flexibility, cloud is inevitable.
Naturally, cloud environments have high availability and bags of redundancy. I think that it is important to understand that usage of a cloud service does not decouple you in any way from your responsibility for the access security and secure internal storage of your own data – even though it is held on third party servers. A cloud provider secures the cloud itself – like the security of a building – the secure access to the inner sanctum of the cloud and the data held therein can never ultimately, be outsourced and if there is a material breach of this data – the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) will no doubt take a dim view of the data owner.
There are huge advantages that can be gained as a result of embracing the cloud including;
- Operational efficiencies.
- Flexibility in terms of available computing power or location at which services are consumed.
- Increased speed of service updates.
- Sharing of resources.
- Massive compute power.
- On demand services etc etc.
It is important to acknowledge that any network (irrespective of where the data is housed) – runs at the speed of the slowest link. Accessing the fastest cloud service on the planet, over a congested high latency private network is going to give you a poor quality of experience, for which you may wrongly conclude that the cloud service is to blame. Therefore, when thinking about turning to the cloud – the incumbent IT infrastructure is an important design consideration especially where organisations have single points of ingress/egress for internet access through the “company” firewall.
I’m not espousing any negativity about cloud services – the value they add and the way they have touched most of our lives is truly transformative and well documented. All I am saying that it’s important that you must have a reason to embrace cloud and to embrace if for its own sake could lead to an expensive project which may not deliver any real business benefit.
In my humble opinion, technical and operational decisions should not be influenced by a business trend – but instead by a clearly defined, measurable, achievable and realistic business strategy – born out of an identifiable business need which can be costed, validated, measured and “critically”, for which there is no obvious local solution.
When faced with such an onslaught of marketing of cloud offerings it’s easy to be led to the conclusion that whatever the problem – Cloud is the solution – and it may be.
Cloud services fix problems. If you don’t have a problem that can only be resolved by cloud – then you may not need cloud – at least not right now.
In 1974 Donny Osmond sang – “love me for a reason and let the reason be love” – he’d clearly defined what his overriding metric for success was – a KPI if you wish. He didn’t “just” want to be loved – he wanted a clear justification. I’m suggesting that you approach your inevitable journey to the Cloud in a similar way to how Donny approached matters of the heart.