Getting it right
The cloud journey isn't always a smooth one. What are the areas that are difficult to navigate, but that you can plan around from the start?
What’s the secret to success in the cloud? Even with years of experience, access to world-class infrastructure and services, great partners and the best laid plans in place, big cloud projects still stumble and come unstuck.
To find out why, and, more importantly, to pre-empt issues, Brainstorm and Huawei convened a special roundtable to discuss some of the common pain points and potential solutions. With decision-makers from mining, education, banking, retail, the public sector and more present, the general consensus was that South Africa is playing catch-up when it comes to cloud, but that things are accelerating.
“If we look back six or seven years,” says Damien Michael, MD of Innovo Networks, “a lot of IT managers, CIOs and CTOs were still unfamiliar with cloud. Because they didn’t have the skills and knowledge, they were resistant to the idea of migrating services. Now, although we’re still behind the trend, and late adopters, there’s been a shift in favour of migration, cloud strategies and SD-WAN. As more companies start to move to the cloud, other CIOs become more interested too.”
Nicholas Durrant, MD of Blue Grass Digital, adds that there were also technical reasons for slow adoption.
“We’ve been involved with a lot of migrations in the UK for quite a few years,” Durrant says. “There’s definitely much more maturity in the UK and US markets. There are reasons for that, though; here, we’ve had problems with latency, connectivity, the basic geography. Data sovereignty has been an issue. There’s been a lack of trust, from the CIO’s perspective.”
Experience has taught CIOs that change takes time, says Celeste Rogers, Group CIO for MTO Group. “Our expectations of how quickly we would move to cloud have changed. We thought we would be completely in the public cloud within a year and a half, but we’ve slowed down. We’ve put stuff into AWS and so on, but, overall, things are a bit delayed.
“There’s definitely a connectivity issue, but there’s cost as well. A lot of guys have gone to the cloud, and although it looked cheap at the outset, when you get down to the nuts and bolts, it can turn out to be very expensive. It’s very much still sold on a dollar model, too, rather than a rand model. Hopefully that’s changing. I still think the business case isn’t always clear-cut. It’s not a case of will they do it or not, it’s a case of can you sweat your current stuff a bit longer – making sure you’re confident of the ROI.”
“As a mining company, we’re all over Southern Africa, including Mozambique,” says Johan du Plessis, GM for technology systems at Afrimat. “Connectivity is a real problem – you can look at satellite connections, but the latency is just bad. We did a POC on artificial intelligence and machine learning, but the moment you go to the cloud, to get the remote connection costs an arm and a leg and kills the project.”
What we see a bit of is people start off with a Microsoft solution, find something that doesn’t work, so they add in AWS, then a bit of Google and, suddenly, you have three different teams to support.Paul Spagnoletti, EOH Technical Services – Western Cape
It’s not that cloud doesn’t deliver results, Du Plessis adds. Current proofs of concept with machine learning are delivering ‘phenomenal’ results, he says. “It’s just that once you factor in connectivity, it’s too expensive. We can’t use it.”
The multi-cloud conundrum
Many around the table agree that fears of vendor lock-in were also putting CIOs off fully embracing the cloud.
“It’s a real concern,” says Omeshnee Naidoo, director for Information Systems and Technology at the City of Cape Town. “You need to choose a partner carefully.”
On top of that, there are so many different cloud options to choose from, that organisations end up in ‘analysis paralysis’ when considering the pros and cons of what’s on offer, Naidoo continues.
The sell from vendors is always ‘go cloud’, but when you start unbundling that, which option is actually going to save me money?Omeshnee Naidoo, City of Cape Town
“The sell from vendors is always ‘go cloud’, but when you start unbundling that, which option is actually going to save me money?”
Huawei’s regional sales director: private sector, Gerald Painter says he understands the concerns. “People are leaving the cloud because they don’t understand the collateral effect of extra services required, and the additional costs incurred when you do decide to leave,” he says. “Cloud can be a bit like Hotel California – you can never leave.”
Ultimately, many organisations will end up with a multi-cloud strategy, using the most appropriate tools for a particular job. For the unwary, this is another way of running up unforeseen overheads.
“You can’t have one architect switching between two different cloud environments,” says Michael Lawrence, manager for cloud infrastructure at Capitec Bank. “It’s important to understand that before you start on the multi-cloud journey. In some cases, you can end up with double the number of people. You can abstract functions and software, but you still have to deal with the different environments.”
Paul Spagnoletti, regional sales director at EOH Technical Services – Western Cape, says that organisations do fall into that trap.
“What we see a bit of is people start off with a Microsoft solution, find something that doesn’t work, so they add in AWS, then a bit of Google and, suddenly, you have three different teams to support.”
Marcus Tay, Cloud and datacentre solutions director, Huawei says vendors have some responsibility to address these concerns. He works with clients to perform Cloud Readiness Assessments to help them understand what can and can’t be migrated, and advises the use of Unified Cloud Management Platforms (UCMP).
“Today, we call it cloud federation,” Tay says. “It’s integration as an API, bringing all of the individual cloud management platforms together in one place. With a UCMP, you can manage your virtualised resources in-house, and you can manage them vertically through all the software-defined layers.”
Spagnoletti agrees. “We’re seeing that a lot with customers who are going down the route of cloud-based software with a mix of on-premise, a managed solution, a bit in the cloud, and suddenly there’s massive performance degradation and everyone’s saying the cloud doesn’t work,” he says. “But it’s not actually the cloud provider or the on-premise solution that’s the problem, it’s the architecture. Getting it right is massive.”
How to be successful in the cloud
Two key issues also need consideration.
“Going to cloud requires trust,” says Naidoo. “The relationship with the vendor needs to be based on honest conversations around what’s going to benefit an organisation, and not just a technical sell.”
Tay agrees, saying that this was a key area in which Huawei has invested. “We spend a lot of time educating the front-line folks to be relationship managers. They may end up recommending a more horizontal solution than Huawei end-to-end.”
You can’t have one architect switching between two different could environments.Michael Lawrence, Capitec Bank
The other strategy for success in the cloud is to invest heavily in skills.
“It’s not a problem at the entry level,” says Moira de Roche, director of IITPSA. “There are lots of young graduates who are enthusiastic and talented. But there’s a lack of experience and specialised roles like data scientists. You have to nurture that, and build in the cost of training and development to projects.”
Danie Jordaan, CIO for distribution at PSG, agrees. “There are plenty of good people in South Africa, but you need a graduate programme that will circulate young engineers around your company so that they can build experience. At the moment, it’s a struggle to fill senior positions, but if you cultivate talent internally, they will grow into the role and know and understand the company well.”
Noëlle van der Waag-Cowling, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Strategic Studies, adds that there was also a need for better certifications for skills that are in demand.
“Education has been slow to respond to the needs of industry,” she says. “Where there are new certifications, they’re unaffordable. But there are corporates doing amazing work; look at the BCX Academy and the sponsors for WeThinkCode.”
Despite all the intentional focus on the challenges of the cloud, one of the key messages was one of optimism and enthusiasm for its potential.
“If you look out five years from now,” says Van der Waag-Cowling, “when we have quantum computing, 5G, AI and so on, to what extent will the cloud be indispensable? Corporations won’t be able to adapt to these changes without it.”