Moving to the cloud: Start small, think big

In this guest post, Allan Brearley, cloud practice lead at IT services consultancy ECS, advises enterprises to start small to achieve big change in their organisations with cloud.

The success of Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket (and its subsequent return to earth) wowed the world. Imprinted on everyone’s memory, thanks to the inspired addition of the red Tesla Roadster as its payload blasted out Bowie’s Life on Mars on repeat, the mission demonstrates the “start small, think big, learn fast” ethos evangelised by that other great American innovator, Steve Jobs.

And this “start small, think big” ethos can equally be applied to cloud-based transformation projects.

Making the right decisions at the right time is key. Musk understands this, expounding the need to focus on evidence-based decision making to come up with a new idea or solve a problem.

While thinking big about rocket innovation, he committed to three attempts, setting strict boundaries and budgets for each phase. This meant he didn’t waste cash or resources on something that wouldn’t work.

Coming back down to earth, IT teams tasked with moving workloads to the cloud (rather than putting payloads into space) can learn a lot from this approach to innovation.

For organisations not born in the cloud, the decision to bring off-premise technologies into the mix throws up some tough questions and challenges. As well as the obvious technical considerations, there are other hoops to jump through from a cost, risk, compliance, and regulatory point of view, to ensuring you have suitably qualified people in place.

Lay the groundwork for cloud

It is quite common for highly-regulated businesses with complex infrastructure to enter a state of analysis paralysis at the early stages of a cloud transformation due to the sheer scale and difficulty of the task ahead.

Instead of pausing and getting agreement on a “start small” strategy, they feel compelled to bite off more than they can chew and “go large”.

At this point, enterprises often go into overdrive to establish the business case, scope the project, and formulate the approach all in one fell swoop. But this is likely to result in the cloud programme tumbling back to earth with a bang.

It is simply impossible on day one to plan and build a cloud platform that will be capable of accepting every flavour of application, security posture and workload type.

As with any major transformation project, the cultural and organisational changes will take considerable time and effort. Getting your priorities straight at the outset and straightening out your people, process, and technology issues is critical. This involves getting closer to your business teams, being champions for change, and up-skilling your workforce.

A shift in cloud culture

Moving to the cloud often heralds a shift in company culture, and it’s important to consider up front how the operating model will adapt and what impact this will have across the business.

Leadership needs to prepare for the shift away from following traditional waterfall software development processes to embracing agile and DevOps methodologies that will help the business make full use of a cloud environment, while speeding up the pace of digital transformation.

Cloud ushers in a new way of working that cuts swathes across enterprises’ traditional set-up of infrastructure teams specialising in compute, network, and storage etc. Care must be taken to ensure these individuals are fully engaged, supported, trained and incentivised to ensure a successful outcome.

Start small to achieve big things

Starting with a small pathfinder project is a good strategy, as it allows you to lay the foundations for the accelerated adoption of cloud downstream, as well as for migration at scale – assuming this is the chosen strategy.

Suitable pathfinder candidates might be an application currently hosted on-premise that can be migrated to the cloud, or a new application/service that is being developed in-house to run in the cloud from day one.

Once the pathfinder project is agreed upon, the race is on to assemble a dream team of experts to deliver a Minimum Viable Cloud (MVC) capability that can support the activity; this team will also establish the core of your fledgling cloud Centre of Excellence (CoE).

Once built, the MVC can be extended to support more complex and demanding applications that require more robust security measures.

The CoE team will also be on hand to support the construction of the business case for a larger migration. This includes assessing suitable application migration candidates, and grouping them together into virtual buckets, based on their suitability for cloud.

Scaling up

These quick wins will help to convert any naysayers and secure stakeholder buy-in across the business ahead of a broader cloud adoption exercise.  They are also a powerful way to get the various infrastructure teams on side, providing as they do a great platform for re-skilling and opening up fresh career opportunities to boot.

In summary, taking a scientific approach to your cloud journey and moving back and forth between thinking big and moving things forward in small, manageable steps will help enable, de-risk and ultimately accelerate a successful mass migration.

As both the space race and the cloud race heat up, it’s good to remember the wise words of the late great Steve Jobs: “Start small, think big. Don’t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to begin with, and then progress to more complex ones. Think about not just tomorrow, but the future. Put a ding in the universe.”

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