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July 13, 2016
How to think through a comprehensive cloud strategy
By: Matthew Johnson

The cloud changes things.

I’m sure this statement doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but what may come as a surprise is just how much it actually changes. For example, we often focus on how cloud technology allows businesses to increase efficiency, productivity and mobility or engage more closely with customers, but what about how it changes IT?

It’s easy to assume that cloud technology is simply another evolution for IT, but in fact it’s not—it’s more of a revolution. As I’ve shared previously, one of the biggest components of this revolution is IT’s shift from developing and maintaining enterprise applications to brokering applications from cloud service providers. But that’s only one part of the bigger picture.

At the end of the day, cloud technology requires IT teams to approach enterprise technology strategy in an entirely different way. Taking this new approach should help drive true transformation, but achieving the desired results requires getting it right. What exactly does that entail? Let’s break it down.

Three layers of a cloud strategy

Developing a comprehensive cloud strategy requires you to focus on three layers:

  1. Infrastructure

  2. Application

  3. Operations


Ultimately, when you transform one layer, that action will impact (and require changes to) the other layers. The middle layer—the application layer—is the best place to start.

The application layer is actually the stacks model described here. Here is a visual of this model:

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While this stacks model is a bit simplistic, we designed it that way intentionally. A typical enterprise can have thousands of applications that fall into this layer, so it would be impossible to build this model out fully as a general example. However, these five stacks do cover a good amount of applications and provide a solid framework to start thinking about application organization.

At this point I’m sure you’re asking, why is the application layer the best place to start in building out your cloud strategy? Often times, when you take several applications to the cloud, that move results in less demand for data processing and frees up server space as a result. In turn, this move then impacts infrastructure (fewer servers required), which then impacts operations (less manpower required to maintain those servers, which you can then re-dedicate to more strategic activities).

The impact of application changes on the operations layer is perhaps the most significant. That’s because moving applications to the cloud requires IT to take an entirely different approach to how it manages those applications. For instance, this shift requires IT to learn how to act as a liaison between the business and cloud service providers. Essentially, it changes the role of IT.

Think layer by layer

As the above example illustrates, you not only need to think about each of the three layers as you develop your cloud strategy, but you also need to look at each one in the appropriate order to understand the full impact that changes to one layer have on the other layers.

Throughout this strategy development process, it’s essential that you assemble the right team. Once again, the cloud changes things, and that means you need to approach your strategy development with a cloud first mindset. In other words, you need people who understand the cloud, how it operates and how it changes IT. Building out your cloud strategy with a legacy IT mindset won’t get you very far.

Additionally, you need to consult people who are experts on each layer at each step of the way. That means talking to applications experts about the application layer, infrastructure experts about the infrastructure layer and operations experts about the operations layer. Not everyone is an expert in all three layers, and that expertise makes a big difference.

When all is said and done, you can then bring everything together to form the complete picture, which should be a comprehensive cloud strategy that drives true transformation for both IT and the business.

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