Can Organisations Afford to be Cloud Agnostic?

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In our latest contribution, Shivnath Babu, CTO of Unravel Data, discusses whether businesses can afford to adopt a cloud agnostic approach.

In 2020, almost all organisations are at least part of the way into their cloud migration journey. The rapid rate of innovation amongst cloud providers as they develop the breadth of their offerings has made the benefits of cloud adoption increasingly compelling. The latest cloud technologies, such as AIOps, are making the cloud a more viable option for sectors that have traditionally been laggard. But for sectors only beginning their cloud journey, the enormous range of cloud providers and offerings can make this process a challenge. As a result, many organisations now describe themselves as “agnostic” in their cloud procurement strategy. In other words, their IT infrastructure has no specific preference for one provider over another. 

While a cloud agnostic approach makes sense for businesses who don’t want to incur the opportunity cost of committing to one cloud platform, it is overwhelmingly inefficient from an operational standpoint. Although it may seem that committing to any single provider costs you the potential benefits offered by other providers – different cloud philosophies are increasingly changing this paradigm. Historically, single cloud strategies have been popular with organisations who have seen them as a unified solution to their application needs. Instead of a long pre-planning process where different cloud platforms are evaluated for different business functions, relying on a single cloud provider is treated as a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Not only is this approach inherently flawed, it is being increasingly undermined by the popularity of hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud strategies. 

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‘Hybrid-cloud strategies’ describe deployments that make use of both on-premise and cloud environments. This is often done where on-premise applications aren’t economically or practically feasible to move the cloud. This is also a strategy used by organisations that still see on-premise as a more secure environment that offers them more direct control over the deployment. ‘Multi-cloud strategies’ on the other hand more simply describe cloud deployments that make use of multiple cloud providers. In such approaches, organisations can tailor their cloud strategy to their specific needs and pick the most suitable solution for the tasks at hand. This is of course more demanding in the planning stages but pays dividends in the long term. Using these flexible models, organisations can deploy either on-premise environments or host their applications in a variety of clouds on a case-by-case basis. 

With this in mind, how can IT decision makers build a cloud strategy that matches the specific needs of their organisation? The first step is establishing what criteria they need to assess cloud providers by and whether this can be realised through a data-led and cost-led approach. By relying on empirical data, organisations can make informed decisions on cloud providers that account for anticipated costs and functionality. This data needs to be both accurate and relevant to planned cloud deployments in order to give organisations a good sense of anticipated costs and allows for more meaningful comparisons between cloud providers. Such an approach ensures that the needs of both the business and the application are considered in the decision making process. This avoids the possibility of prioritising the business at the expense of reliable applications or prioritising the application at great financial cost.

Hybrid clouds: how mixing services is keeping the cloud alive

Fundamentally, choosing between cloud platforms is striking the right balance between business needs and applications needs. While there is likely pressure from the business to minimise costs, it is important to remember that performance and reliability of applications are business impacting. If your critical app crashes and has significant downtime, that is a significant loss for the business. Likewise, a high-performance application that is draining resources from the business may not be sustainable in the long term. To achieve this balance, a procurement strategy that takes into account the financial and performance of respective cloud providers.

To conclude, it is clear that organisations cannot afford to be cloud agnostic. Cloud migration is a balancing act between cost and performance; careful consideration of cloud providers is fundamental in realising this. Organisations need to look to more flexible cloud strategies that allow them to incorporate a range of different platforms and tools to tailor fit their organisational needs. In migrating to the cloud, to be agnostic in your decision is to have the worst of both worlds and neglect both your business and application needs.

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Shivnath Babu

Shivnath Babu is Co-founder/CTO at Unravel Data Systems and helps to innovate and solve the difficult challenges enterprises face with their data. He is also Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Duke University. His work focuses on ease-of-use and manageability of data-intensive computing systems, automated problem diagnosis, and cluster sizing for applications running on cloud platforms.

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