Cloud Computing: Can you do without it?

Larry Claasen
By Larry Claasen
Johannesburg, 16 Aug 2018
Colin Thornton, MD, Dial-a-Nerd.
Colin Thornton, MD, Dial-a-Nerd.

Is it worth the effort for a company to move to the cloud, when they have already invested heavily in their own infrastructure?

Bjorn Olsen, BI consultant, PBT Group: Froma business intelligence (BI) perspective, we see many companies wanting to use tools like 'big data' and artificial intelligence (AI), but there's a gap in trying to understand how to get value out of these things. These are complex evolving technologies with many moving parts that require skills, which are in short supply, to get the best out of them.

Cloud offers a low cost and flexible option to trial these technologies, without investing in the infrastructure needed for that.

Stefan Jacobs, applications practice head, Wipro Africa: A lot of the legacy infrastructure out there is focused on running applications to keep the business going. But with the increasing focus on big data and analytics, you need to make serious investments in new infrastructure to support these services. A lot of companies are not prepared to make this kind of investment.

Service providers are now offering companies not only the hardware, but also analytics platforms through the cloud, meaning these companies don't have to make huge investments to secure access to these emerging technologies.

Basha Pillay, executive head: ITaaS, Internet Solutions (IS): When it comes to the cloud, I think it has gone beyond the hype. If you look back five years, most companies were asking, 'Should we go to the cloud?' Three years ago, the question changed to, 'When are we going to go?'. These days, they're asking, 'With whom are we going to go?'

I'm firmly of the belief that friends don't let friends build datacentres.

Thomas Lee, Wingu

When it comes to customers, which have invested in their own infrastructure, I understand the need to sweat their assets. The problem is, if you sweat an asset when the rate of change in technologies is happening at a rapid pace, you are going to be left behind if you are depending on old technology.

Brian Timperley, MD, Turrito Networks: One of the big benefits of going into the cloud is that you can take a hybrid approach to it, while you continue to sweat assets. The beauty of this is you can start the migration into the cloud in areas where you need to refresh the hardware, while, over time, the existing hardware gets written off.

It doesn't need to be this 'all or nothing'. Companies can follow a migration curve, which will make for a softer landing for those businesses wanting to hold onto their assets for a little bit longer.

Sonja Weber, lead delivery solution manager, T-Systems South Africa: The truth is most service providers make it easier to allow for these kinds of transitions because it becomes a financial incentive from a completely different position. The goal is to allow the business to evolve as quickly as it can, in order to make best use of the benefits cloud brings.

Andrew Cruise, MD and founder, Routed: I just want to take a step back, when we talk about cloud. I think we are actually pivoting in the way businesses are thinking what to use cloud for.

In the last 12 months, I've seen a lot of business decision-makers taking their time to understand what cloud brings to their organisation.

Niral Patel, Oracle South Africa

When people think about cloud, they think about the larger providers - Microsoft, Google and Amazon - which, at first, were largely focused at development teams, which were looking to develop new applications.

Unfortunately, these do not meet the needs of 'business-critical' applications, which are still sitting in datacentres, and have not been retooled to work in a 'web-native', elastic type of environment.

Brian Timperley, MD, Turrito Networks.
Brian Timperley, MD, Turrito Networks.

So when people talk about cloud, they have to figure out what type of cloud they are talking about. Is it the cloud that can deal with enterprise applications, or is the type that can deal with the needs of the developers?

Matthew Lee, regional manager for Africa, SUSE: A lot of the stuff around the rationalisation of infrastructure is done. The next step is using the cloud to enter into new markets, and to become more profitable. This is where the providers can play a role. They can get them into new markets by helping businesses create applications that are highly mobile and are cloud-native.

Dean Erasmus, Azure Business lead, Microsoft South Africa: When it comes to cloud, we are not dealing with the question, 'should we', but answering 'how do we do this?'.

Thomas Lee, CEO, Wingu.
Thomas Lee, CEO, Wingu.

The best way of understanding where cloud is in the market, is to look at what the priorities of the business are. If they just want to replace infrastructure, there's a good chance they will be disappointed by the introduction of cloud. If they want to use cloud to really transform their business, they will be better off, once the discussion moves from 'cost saving' to how to leverage the new technologies cloud brings them.

So it's the end of the beginning when it comes to cloud?

Daniel Jacobs, senior product manager for cloud computing, Vox: From what we've seen, we are moving onto the next phase. There have been some growing pains. Some of the companies that moved to the cloud early on are moving back to having their own infrastructure after 'bumping their toes'. At the end of the day, we see our job as helping the customer, and helping them manage where their application fits best, which might be in the cloud or in their datacentre.

Bjorn Olsen, BI consultant, PBT Group.
Bjorn Olsen, BI consultant, PBT Group.

Colin Thornton, MD, Dial-a-Nerd: I think we need to differentiate between the sizes of the businesses. For larger enterprises, these are interesting debates, but for smaller businesses, being in the cloud is a necessity. The cloud allows them to run email and accounting systems, and, unlike large organisation, they don't have to worry about cloud issues, like hybrid solutions and rollouts.

Stefan Jacobs, applications practice head, Wipro Africa: From a maturity perspective, I see the debate moving to cloud for specific industries, as most of the time, providers largely offer generic cloud services, and do not take into account the unique specification of a certain industry.

Pedro Maia, MD: cloud services, Datacentrix: I agree with Colin. The smaller businesses should be in the cloud. For enterprise players, it's slightly different because it's more about how to deal with compliance issues. A company can put all its workload into the cloud, but how does it work with a cloud provider to make sure its systems are secure?

Matthew Lee, regional manager for Africa, SUSE.
Matthew Lee, regional manager for Africa, SUSE.

I don't see many of the cloud providers taking this approach. If we as service providers take a step back, and understand what the customers need and assist them in attaining it, it becomes a completely different discussion.

Niral Patel, MD and technology lead, Oracle South Africa: In the last 12 months, I've seen a lot of business decision-makers taking their time to understand what cloud brings to their organisation.

We can have a number of technical conversations about cloud, but when we speak to CFOs, that's when the rubber hits the road because they want to know how this technology is going to drive their business forward.

Sonja Weber, lead delivery solution manager, T-Systems South Africa.
Sonja Weber, lead delivery solution manager, T-Systems South Africa.

If you look at the broader picture, the country we operate in demands from organisations to look at different ways of doing business. The economy is forcing a lot of decision-makers to look at technology and flexibility, in terms of what cloud can bring to an organisation.

Enterprises are embracing cloud. In some pockets, it's happening very quickly, and in some instances it's even been kept quiet and away from the CIO. I've found business leaders dabbling in cloud, discovering its benefits and then announcing to the organisation, 'look at what we done'.

Sonja Weber, T-Systems South Africa: From what we are seeing, driving the move to cloud is an inherent competition between C-suite executives of competing organisations. You can see it in the financial sector. The competiveness between the banks is a perfect example of this.

Stefan Jacobs, applications practice head, Wipro Africa.
Stefan Jacobs, applications practice head, Wipro Africa.

Embracing cloud means the banks have come to terms with the cost versus the risk, of not following this trend. The cost for the banks is not what you would think it is. It's the reputational harm in being unable to provide new services its customers demand.

What's the best way to migrate to the cloud?

Bjorn Olsen, PBT Group: Migration projects can be very labour-intensive and prone to error. This is why customers might be hesitant to make the move. They might be using old mainframe technologies, which have been working relatively well, but how do you go about moving this to the cloud? The answer lies in the old adage, 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time'. You can start by migrating some low-value workloads that are stressing out the mainframe.

Franco Senatore, lead solutions architect, Ericsson.
Franco Senatore, lead solutions architect, Ericsson.

This move will not only improve the performance of the mainframe, but also create a case study for migration to the cloud.

Basha Pillay, IS: I hate to use this term, but the 'digital transformation' that we are seeing is playing a big role. Here, I agree with Sonja that the drive is not being pushed by traditional IT. It's being pushed by digital entities that have been built into financial services. They are not even waiting for IT. In fact, IT is constantly trying to catch up. As service providers, our biggest challenge is helping clients deal with the complexity that comes with managing a hybrid multi-cloud environment. There won't be a single cloud that deals with everything. It will be up to us to make it simple for our clients to consume these cloud services across the different providers.

Dean Erasmus, Azure Business lead, Microsoft South Africa.
Dean Erasmus, Azure Business lead, Microsoft South Africa.

The second thing is, if you look at where global technology venders are heading, they are moving to the cloud, regardless of whether their clients are prepared to come with them or not. The writing is on the wall.

Franco Senatore, lead solution architect, Ericsson: If I can add to that, looking at cloud and digitisation as a whole, these are concepts that have been defined by IT. But looking at the industry I'm from - telecoms - it's quite interesting to see the inflexion point, in the convergence between telecoms and IT.

The cost for the banks is not what you would think it is. It's the reputational harm in being unable to provide new services its customers demand.

Sonja Weber, T-Systems South Africa

Here's where the fight is. The CIO versus the CTO. The infrastructure guys versus the guys that run the networks. While this fight is happening, you also have the business on top making demands on the capabilities it wants from the cloud.

We can see this fight, along with the demands of the business taking shape in issues like moving mission-critical applications - like remote surgery and self-driving cars - to the cloud.

What's driving the move to the cloud?

Stefan Jacobs, Wipro Africa: The race to the cloud is being driven by consumers. Each one of us here is being spoilt by the functionality we get on our smartphones. The more we push the enterprises, the more they have to rush to the cloud to get services out there.

Dean Erasmus, Microsoft South Africa: I just want to point out that moving to the cloud also comes down to the culture of the organisation. We have encountered scenarios where the leadership of an organisation simply doesn't want to move. We also have had cases where companies want to transfer exactly what they have in their mainframes to the cloud. And then there are businesses that see moving to the cloud as an opportunity to transform themselves.

What don't customers understand about the cloud?

Thomas Lee, CEO, Wingu: They are not really grasping the true cost of operating their own datacentre. For instance, they forget that when they run a datacentre, they also have to include the cost of powering, cooling and securing it. A discussion with them about the true economics around running is important. Datacentres are really expensive to run. I'm firmly of the belief that friends don't let friends build datacentres.

Sonja Weber, T-Systems South Africa: The organisations that are moving to the cloud have usually sweated their assets until they're bleeding, and now something has to happen. The hidden cost in migrating comes in the planning and execution of the move. This includes taking those legacy systems and changing them to a point where they can be moved.

Andrew Cruise, Routed: I want to turn the question around. What's the cost of not moving from the datacentre? What happens if there's a hardware failure, or if the hardware can't be upgraded?

Running a datacentre can be a business risk. The opportunity risk of not going into the cloud is real, and the C-suite is beginning to understand this. They understand they are passing that risk on to service providers, but they want something in exchange for this. They want contracts that have penalty clauses, stringent performance standards and stipulations on security. They want this because they are giving away control of their systems.

This article was first published in the August 2018 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.