When cloud computing was all the rage, every business wanted to be on-board. Those who resisted felt the heat as the FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling set in, especially those who were doing this thing called “Digital Transformation“. The public cloud service providers took advantage of the cloud computing frenzy, calling for a “Cloud First” strategy. For a number of years, the marketing worked. The cloud first mentality became the tip of the tongue of many, encouraging droves to cloud adoption.
All this was fine and dandy but recently, we are beginning to hear and read about a few high profile cases of cloud repatriation. DHH‘s journal of Basecamp’s exit from AWS in late 2022 reverberated strongly, saying what should be a wake up call for those caught in the Cloud Computing Hotel California’s gilded cage. An even more bizarre claim about cost savings of $400 million over 3 years was made by Ahrefs, a Singapore SEO software maker which chose to use a co-location facility instead of a public cloud service.
While these big news jail breaks are going against the grain, most are still in that diaspora to jump into the cloud services everywhere. In droves even. But, on and off, I am beginning to hear some grips, grunts and groans from end users in the cloud. These news have emboldened some to think that there is another choice besides shifting all IT and data services to the cloud.
Did it go wrong?
What went wrong? Did it go wrong?
I often fall back to the original 5 tenets of cloud computing as defined by NIST over a decade ago. These tenets were the original promises of what cloud computing bring to the industry. These 5 tenets (which I copied in verbatim from the NIST document) are:
- On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.
- Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).
- Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.
- Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.
- Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability1 at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service
The 5 tenets of cloud computing represent the way cloud consumption and delivery was envisioned. However, if we were to do a self assessment of the hits and misses of cloud computing against these 5 tenets, did we go wrong?
Cloud killers – the 3Cs
Present cloud computing services checked all the requirement boxes of the 5 tenets. Cloud computing delivered what was meant to be delivered. But what were not discussed in the NIST document, and often misrepresented by many cloud purveyors are the killers of the cloud first dream – the 3Cs, I would call them.
The 3Cs are:
These dreaded but salient points were never brought up in the NIST document, and may be argued as myopic. But the real enemies, from what I have observed, are the organizations and the people who peddle cloud computing without offering much prudence and care to the end users. The 3Cs were not taken into account or at least, spoken in hush hush only.
Let’s go cloud first, they say. Cloud is great. Jump right in, many exclaimed. If you want to do digital transform, you have to be in the clouds. Cloud is an investment. How misguided.
Data first mentality
For several years I have been listening to Anand Babu Periasamy, MinIO’s CEO, talking about the cloud being an operating model. Much of his wise words rubbed off on me, and he is right. The cloud is not an investment; The cloud is an operating model. Even the NIST definition of cloud computing document (again) stated the deployment models (also copied in verbatim) as:
- Private cloud. The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers (e.g., business units). It may be owned, managed, and operated by the organization, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.
- Community cloud. The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a specific community of consumers from organizations that have shared concerns (e.g., mission, security requirements, policy, and compliance considerations). It may be owned, managed, and operated by one or more of the organizations in the community, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.
- Public cloud. The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for open use by the general public. It may be owned, managed, and operated by a business, academic, or government organization, or some combination of them. It exists on the premises of the cloud provider.
- Hybrid cloud. The cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g., cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds).
These cloud deployments are operated upon by cloud services providers, hence the operating models which have spawn different variations of these deployment models. Still the essence of the operating model is there.
Some got lost, somehow
The Cloud First mentality was the wrong compass to use. It did not truly point to the True North. Convoluted translations got lost along the journey towards cloud computing services, most unintentionally. Ambiguous objectives were formed; Misguided perceived benefits conceived; Preparedness to jump into the cloud was mostly mediocre. Many went into a tailspin trying to tame the 3Cs beast. Cost, control and complexity truly unveiled the realities of cloud computing services.
Let’s change the mentality
I have been working in infrastructure for a long time. Whether I am architecting an infrastructure solution or pitching an infrastructure product, I often bring in the data management component to the conversation. A big part of my approach came from my experiences in Oil & Gas exploration side. I have seen the power of data and the role that data plays in shaping the infrastructure solution design, and that same data management mindset is universal across premises, on-prem, cloud and many segments in between, albeit minor tweaks here and there. I still use the A.P.P.A.R.M.S.C approach and questioning methods as part of my repertoire as a infrastructure consultant, paired with the data management lens to make the solution more sturdy, more wholesome to my clients. I conceived the A.P.P.A.R.M.S.C more than 2 decades ago and you can read about here.
We shouldn’t be thinking of cloud first. Instead, we should always lead with Data First. To me, the Data First strategy made sense, because when we apply the right objectives to the data, the premises of where the data is deployed and operated upon have lesser impact on how we consume the IT services, and aligns towards better results and outcomes for the business.
Data is like water. Water flows and moves to where it wants to be. Where it should be. When we design waterways and irrigation conduits to water and nourish the lands, we design a solution to serve humanity. Let’s celebrate Data First, not cloud first.