Business leaders need to understand cloud technology with minimal nerd talk — “what’s in it for me?” and their business
Somewhat painfully, I’ve been banging my head on the same walls for the last 20 years. Every time I’ve seen a meteorite headed for the business, whether it’s the Internet, the rise of mobile, or machine learning, it can be hard to convince the Powers That Be that accelerating change and disruptive technology is really a thing. As Ray Kurzweil fans will know, humans are horrible at mentally processing exponential growth and we underestimate its effect on change.
But far from wanting to be like the End of the World guy with the sign around his neck, I’m more interested in the enormous opportunities these disruptors bring. Cloud is not new — I was there when was starting a decade ago — but IT departments in businesses have been asleep at the wheel in recognizing its strategic importance. And yet IT is now driving the bus in many industries.
“It’s just someone else’s computer.”
I recently worked with a fairly senior IT executive who dismissed cloud as exactly that — “ultimately, it’s just someone else’s computer.” That’s true in the same sense that an airplane is just someone else’s bicycle — both will move you from point a to point b, but this radically misrepresents the difference in speed, safety and scale. So it sounds pithy and cool but it’s wrong.
Cloud is one of the most misunderstood topics in corporate IT, partly because it’s a broad umbrella for a range of newer technologies, and partly because it’s an existential threat to old-world IT departments. Let me emphasize that last part — some jobs are going away.
CEOs and executives that care about their businesses need to take it upon themselves to learn about the cloud offering since many IT departments will not volunteer to adopt it. Many are actively hostile towards it and ignore it in the same way that the good people at Borders once thought nobody would ever read books on a Kindle.
Also, cloud is a big subject. It’s more than just Amazon and it’s a whole different animal to what you’re already doing in IT. Whether you’re a smaller company with a few servers and software licenses, a startup building mobile apps, or a Fortune 500 company with a dozen data centers, it really can revolutionize how technology works for you.
At its core, cloud has the ability to transform IT from a slow cost center that lacks purpose and inspires nobody to the engine of innovation that drives competitive advantage. And yes, some of those guys working here today aren’t going to like the news.
My goal for this series of posts is to provide an entry point for learning about cloud for business users. What’s in it for you?
- Saying goodbye to big-box IT software vendors that sap your IT budget. Not to name names, but Oracle.
- Starting to release products in weeks instead of years and spending thousands, not millions.
- Get a modern infrastructure that works on your phone or laptop from anywhere and doesn’t get hacked or fall over every five minutes.
- Eventually being proud of your IT department which right now, let’s admit it, is the corporate epicenter of shame.
Who am I? Well apart from spotting technology meteorites every few years, I’m a Certified AWS Architect (that’s Amazon) and have deployed cloud solutions in many different environments. More importantly, I’m excited about the opportunities cloud brings, especially to smaller companies who can harness its transformational power.
Regardless of your industry, I believe that everyone is in the technology business today. The good news is that the tools have never been better, easier to use, or cheaper and with a little learning and willingness to change, you can do anything. I know ‘cheaper’ is what most people see in that sentence but that’s okay too — once we’re finished, you’ll see that’s actually the least important benefit.
Why Cloud Became the Only Way
Back in the day, computers were much simpler. You basically had Unix (scary), mainframe (terrifying) and PCs in the same building, no Internet and a handful of business applications that most everyone used. This was a blissful utopia for IT managers cruising through to retirement but only represented the beginning of the S-curve for technology. In non-tech terms, this wasn’t even the horse-and-cart stage — this was the, “Steve I think this round wheel-type thing can help us” part.
What changed? Everything…
- The Internet, which opened up your company’s resources to virtual attack. It turns out that the smartest people in the world are trying to hack into your business 24/7. Security requires smart people, and they are in short supply.
- Software started appearing in every department, process and product in your business. These environments have become an unmanageable mess of different standards, devices, vendors, operating systems, capabilities and costs.
- With “IoT”, everything got a microchip and started chatting: it’s not just things with keyboards anymore. Phones, sensors, cars, trackers — you name it, they all need to talk to services in your environment constantly.
- Mobile, which brought all applications and interactions with your customer to the palm of their hand. You can hide terrible IT in your physical retail stores but not in your mobile apps. Quick spoiler on this one: mobile notoriously doesn’t play well with old-world IT.
- Delivery speed: gone are the days of the 12-month software roll-out. Now we talk of releases every 2 weeks, every week, every day. There’s even continuous integration so ‘all the time’ is becoming the norm.
A Quick Demo
Let’s look at one of the most basic functions of any cloud service: getting your hands on a server. In your data center, this is likely a multi-month process involving procurement, financing, racking, stacking, installation and a $10,000 hardware bill. This is how it’s done on Google Cloud Platform…
… if clicking isn’t your thing, you can also do it through code with a command like this (on AWS):
aws ec2 run-instances --image-id ami-123 --count 1 --instance-type t1.micro --key-name MyKeyPair --security-group-ids sg-123 --subnet-id mysubnet
Creating machine instances (servers) only touches on the most trivial capabilities of these platforms but illustrates something powerful. When you can create infrastructure on the fly at a cost of pennies per hour and discard it when no longer needed, you are:
- Only paying for what you need. If your ecommerce traffic only spikes at Thanksgiving, pay for that capacity and not the entire year.
- Building what you need. If your business grows into Europe and you have no data centers in the EU, you can duplicate a cloud region to Europe in minutes or hours.
- Managing a lot less. These instances are racked, stacked, networked, cooled and physically protected for you.
- Empowering your developers, who quickly realize that infrastructure as code is as important as writing the software itself, and we’ll talk about this later.
I hope you enjoyed this quick introduction and in subsequent parts, we’ll delve into all of the topics in much more detail. It’s 2017 and the Cloud Party is in full swing — if you haven’t arrived yet, there isn’t long before all your competition has eaten all the food.