Opinionization in the Cloud

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“Haven’t you read Amazon’s and Microsoft’s recent press releases on this?”

This was in response to a challenge to the “save money” argument for migrating applications to the public cloud.

I understand just as well as the next feller that press releases serve a valid purpose (what’s the feminine of “feller” anyway?). When a company has something important to announce, press releases are the more than 140 characters explanation of what’s going on.

That’s in contrast to the difference between facts (“We’re changing our pricing model”) and smoke (“You’ll save big money”). I say smoke because:

First and foremost, Fortune 500-size corporations that can’t negotiate pricing for servers and storage comparable to what Amazon and Microsoft pay for the gear they use to run AWS and Azure just aren’t trying very hard. They have access to the same technology management tools, practices, and talent, too.

Second: Smart companies are building their new applications using cloud-native architectures — SOA and microservices orientation; multitenancy; DevOps-friendly tool chains that automate everything other than actual coding, and so forth (“and so forth” being ManagementSpeak for “I’m pretty sure there’s more to know, but I don’t know it myself”).

But migrating to cloud-native architectures that are easily shifted to public or hybrid clouds is quite different from migrating applications designed for data-center deployment. And it’s the latter that are the ones that are supposed to save all the money.

Sure, applications coded from non-SOA, non-microservices, non-multi-tenant designs can probably be recompiled in an IaaS environment. But once they’ve been recompiled they’ll probably need significant investments in performance engineering to get them to a point where they aren’t unacceptably sluggish.

Oh, one more thing: Moving an application to the cloud means stretching whatever technologies are used for application and data integration through the firewall and public network that now separates public-cloud-hosted applications to those that have yet to be migrated.

Based on my admittedly high-level-only understanding, not even all enterprise service buses can achieve high levels of performance when, instead of moving transactions around at wire or backplane speeds, they’re now limited to public networking bandwidths and latencies.

Complicating integration performance even more is the need to integrate applications hosted in multiple, geographically disbursed data centers, as would be the case when, for example, a company migrates to, say, Salesforce for CRM, internal development to Azure, and financials and other ERP applications to Oracle Cloud.

For many IT organizations, integration is enterprise architecture’s orphan stepchild. Lots of companies have yet to replace their bespoke interface tangle with any engineered interface architecture.

So lifting and shifting isn’t as simple as lifting and then shifting, any more than moving a house is as simple as jacking it up, putting it on a truck, and hauling it to the new address. Although integration might not be as fraught as the house now lying at the bottom of Lake Superior.

Which isn’t to say there’s no legitimate reason to migrate to the cloud. (Non-double-negative version: There are circumstances for which migrating applications to the cloud makes a great deal of sense.) Here are three circumstances I’m personally confident of, and I’d be delighted to hear of more:

> Startups and small entrepreneurships that lack the negotiating power to drive deep technology discounts, and that will benefit from needing a much smaller full-time and permanent IT workforce.

> Applications that have wide swings in workload, whether because of seasonal peaks, event-driven spikes, or other drivers, the result is a need to rapidly add and shed capacity.

> A Mobile workforce or user base that needs access to the application in question from a large number of uncontrolled locations.

At least, this was the situation the last time I took a serious look at it.

But this isn’t a column about the cloud. It’s about the same subject as last week’s KJR: How to avoid making decisions based on belief, prejudice, and denial. The opening anecdote shows how easy it is to succumb to confirmation bias: If you want to believe, even vendor press releases count as evidence.

In that vein, here’s a question to ponder: Why is it that, after centuries of success for the scientific method, most people most of the time (including many scientists) operate so often from positions of high certainty and low evidence?

The answer is, I think, that uncertainty causes anxiety. And people don’t like feeling anxious.

But collecting and evaluating evidence is hard and often tedious work — not a particularly popular formula.

Isaac Asimov once started a Q&A session by saying, “I can answer any question, so long as you’ll accept ‘I don’t know’ as an answer.”

If Dr. Asimov was comfortable not knowing stuff, the rest of us should be at least as comfortable.

I think.

Comments (8)

  • You’ve covered performance, but it appears from recent articles that security is getting left undone in some cases. Web-facing SQL Servers, Amazon sites, etc.

  • My clients may be a layer or two under your focus – generally 10-100 employees and $10-100M revenue. The IT departments are usually half a dozen people at most.
    We support and extend legacy VFP-based accounting software. There are tools, West Wind for example, that allow for some extension to the cloud. The most common scenario is a web store that exchanges order data with the application. We are comfortable with exposing that piece of the application, as the communication channel is easily controlled using the WW tools.

    Otherwise, we’ve had very little call for cloud-based LOB systems, and if we do get an inquiry, it’s usually a result of some competitor touting the usual elusive “benefits”, the dark underbelly of which you have articulated very well. But I don’t even have to go there. My response is a simple list: Equifax, Target, Home Depot, Citibank, Yahoo 2013, Yahoo 2014, LinkedIn, SONY…

    I would thus take issue with the first and third of your scenarios for when a cloud solution makes sense. The first one sounds like my client base. Perhaps it’s a way of reducing some infrastructure costs, but costs to mitigate the risks of both security and reliability will quickly rush in to fill the void. And we are in upstate NY and at the mercy of Time-Warner (now Spectrum), which doesn’t even approach 99% uptime, and has already paid a large fine for lying about the bandwidth it’s supposedly delivering. And companies with needs described in your third scenario, of which we have several, seem to be doing just fine with VPN/Terminal Server connections that work from anywhere.

    Scenario #2 leverages the ability of cloud services to instantly provision resources, and there’s no cost-effective inhouse solution for that. But the other issues remain and still must be addressed.

    I LOVE your Magic Quadrant chart! May I steal it, with attribution, of course?

  • “Why is it that, after centuries of success for the scientific method, most people most of the time (including many scientists) operate so often from positions of high certainty and low evidence?” Because, as brain researchers are finding, we are wired that way…

    • I’m not a neuroscientist or biochemist, but it’s my sense that there is a great deal of science that suggests that some of the most puzzling “high certainty and low evidence” behavior seems to be related to our nervous system responses to mild chronic stress conditions.

      “Fear learning” when our autonomic and central nervous systems are reacting different stimuli, at the same time, could explain why the high certainty, low evidence may be a deeply safer choice for many, in the decision making process. This kind fear is not always experienced at a conscious level by all, but the autonomic and parts of the central nervous system do respond, whether we are conscious of it or not.

  • There is a guy who writes for InfoWorld that has pretty much told his readers they are idiots if they have not moved the the cloud. Oh yes, he happens to be a cloud consultant. One thing the marketers in IT are good at doing is reinventing the past and calling it new and improved.

    The cloud offers so much – latency, mediocre performance, marginal uptime, higher costs, and of course a security breach every now and then. Before I get torched Office 365 uptime just OK, my data center Exchange Server 100% for five years.

    I do use SaaS in a few cases where it seems to make sense, but I will not move my core servers into the cloud. Oracle now wants to sell me database in the cloud. Seriously?

    To Bob’s core point – there isn’t any real solid evidence available that the cloud makes real fiscal sense for most companies from a fiscal or risk mitigation standpoint. This follows other popular but failed trends like offshore Agile and outsourcing IT operations overseas.

    As a CIO I get few headlines since I do not jump on the latest thing. The press finds me boring. We see IT as a strategic advantage, not a commodity.

    My best wishes to Oracle as they attempt to move everything and everyone to the cloud. I’m happy with an old fashioned local database running on flash returning query results in milliseconds.

  • I would suggest that for fellas you use the gender neutral ‘folk’ or ‘folks’

  • Hi Bob,

    Have you read the blog posts of Simon Wardley? I see some similar threads in both of your blogs even though they have quite different focal points. You might find some ideas. Enjoy.

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