A quick cloud computing competency course for CXOs

Cloud computing is a commonly used term but given its various interpretations, here’s a refresher on what it really is.
10 April 2020

Microsoft CEO Satya Narayana Nadella. Source: AFP

Migrating to the cloud has proved to be key to thriving in the digital world. It’s something that organizations, regardless of size or industry, have decided to pursue – and it’s certainly getting a lot of limelight right now.

In the experience of many business leaders, moving to the cloud has been the first step of their digital transformation journey.

For some industries, say financial services or healthcare, the move has been cumbersome because legacy applications built using archaic frameworks and hosted on infrastructure designed for previous generations of systems were difficult to transition to the cloud.

Abandoning those applications was almost impossible because of the years of data that they host and the sheer importance of it in the organization’s ‘business as usual’ operations.

However, the reality is that the transitions have been made — regardless of how difficult the journey has been. Since many of these journeys started ten years ago, it is important to note that the technology itself has evolved.

Cloud computing today isn’t what it was just a few years ago.

In the past, companies had to make the choice between hosting data on a public (shared) cloud or a private (owned) cloud.

While the private cloud was something companies could exercise complete control over, vendors aimed to augment their public cloud offering to provide flexibility and support in a way that made it easy for their customers to move to the cloud.

They did this using IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS offerings.

IaaS, or infrastructure as a service, is essentially the cloud computing infrastructure offered to companies, on demand. Organizations that wanted the most control over their cloud migration plan preferred IaaS as it allowed everything to be customized.

For those that wanted to simply focus on moving applications to the cloud, platform as a service (PaaS) was the ideal choice.

Others, especially those that worked with leading software vendors, could choose to simply migrate their data to the cloud onto the software that was hosted and delivered on the cloud.

This is known as software as a service (SaaS). All of the largest software companies that want to stay relevant offer a SaaS option today.

While IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS are still relevant, the reality is that organizations have limited resources and need to focus on migrating, upgrading, and maintaining applications rather than on managing cloud resources.

Further, all three of the offerings are public cloud offerings, and regulations often require the use of private clouds to protect data.

To overcome such obstacles, engineers designed a model where companies could leverage the public as well as the private cloud —this became known as the hybrid cloud model.

Today, however, a hybrid cloud model isn’t enough. Companies realized that moving to the cloud comes with a variety of risks and working with a single cloud provider (vendor) was not ideal and was not something they would do as part of standard procurement processes.

This gave birth to the multi-cloud model that companies now use. The multi-cloud model allows companies to work with several vendors at once based on the needs of the team and the applications and experiences they’re looking to deliver.

Obviously, the involvement of multiple vendors, applications, and users in the cloud requires extensive management.

Cloud services are transparent and flexible but they can be costly if not managed appropriately. Hence, IT teams work with cloud management platforms to monitor and manage cloud resources.

However, for companies that want to avoid distractions and focus on the apps that are critical to their business without really worrying about managing the cloud infrastructure that they’re using, there is the option of working with a cloud broker.

A cloud broker essentially takes on the role of a facilities supervisor and helps IT teams manage and optimize their resources across cloud providers using a variety of tools. They further bundle additional services along with the cloud, including cybersecurity, to provide more peace of mind.

This is where we are today. True, some vendors are offering add-ons such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) along with data analytics features — but they’re all part and parcel of ‘cloud brokerage solutions’ irrespective of how they’re packaged.

For business leaders, gaining a simplified understanding of the cloud is very important because it can help them make better decisions about the organizations’ next steps in the digital world, helping it climb the digital maturity curve faster and optimize its resources better.