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How businesses can choose the right cloud solution

As demand grows for scalable applications accessible from anywhere, it’s vital to know which cloud set-up will achieve your organisation’s goals

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to having the right enterprise cloud solution. Whether it’s on-premises, hybrid cloud or cloud first, it needs to be guided by the overall IT strategy, organisational readiness and availability of solutions.

Managing the legacy challenge of on-premises set-ups

When mission-critical applications still run on older platforms, it can be a challenge overhauling these systems. Organisations face the task of building in-house skillsets while keeping budgets in check and ensuring there are no breaks in up-time across the organisation.

While the Royal National Theatre (NT) might have gone dark during lockdown, behind the scenes it has been undergoing a transformation, modernising and migrating many of its systems to the cloud for some years now.

Yet the NT has found there isn’t always a suitable cloud-based alternative for some of its applications, like its finance system. “It’s still a traditional system that needs to run in a certain way,” says Nicholas Triantafyllou, director of IT at the National Theatre.

In years to come, Triantafyllou expects it will be migrated to the cloud. “It’s just not economically viable to do it,” he says. “Right now we still have some legacy systems running in our server farm in-house and that’s the best way of running them.”

It illustrates how the starting point for moving applications to the cloud needs to be a measurable benefit at the end of it. “Understanding what already exists is the other piece of the puzzle,” says Simon Ratcliffe, principal consultant at Ensono.

Any decision about making the move to the cloud isn’t just because you can. “Having a thorough and detailed understanding of the infrastructure, understanding the needs and aspirations of the application owners, determining a roadmap for the various services and identifying software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service options are all critical if a migration to cloud is to work,” says Ratcliffe. 

Accepting that not everything will work well in the cloud is perhaps the most difficult decision. “Having some on-premise hardware is not failure; it is pragmatism,” he says.

Ratcliffe encounters legacy technology that has evolved over many years and has become a complex mesh of interconnected services that are not fully understood or documented. “When you have answered the two core questions – what do you have and what is the benefit of moving it to the cloud? – then you can begin the process,” he says.

Working towards a cohesive hybrid cloud set-up

A hybrid cloud strategy is the most common, with 87 pe rcent of organisations combining virtual and on-premises, according to the Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud report. “They can strike their own balance between local and off-site,” says Dynatrace regional vice president, UK and Ireland, Abdi Essa.

However, combining both on-premises and cloud applications means managing the interoperability between systems where a glitch in one part impacts another. “The rise of the hybrid multi-cloud model also means apps are now hyperconnected, with dependencies across the IT infrastructure,” says Essa.

The NT is running a hybrid set-up with email and business applications all now in the cloud. Its newest streaming service, a much-needed theatrical lifeline to many during lockdown, could not exist without being virtual. Its ticketing platform has evolved to become a SaaS cloud application and its payroll and human resources systems are next on the migrated list.

With payroll and HR, there was no question these would be migrated to the cloud and not remain in-house. “They are more expensive to run that way and a lot less reliable. I don’t need complex teams to look after them and I don’t have the same worries about the security of that infrastructure,” says Triantafyllou.

In addition to cost and labour savings in having scalable, managed software services, the application is constantly evolving as needs and technology develops. “And it’s a lot more user friendly this way,” he adds. 

When to take the pure cloud approach

While having a pure cloud set-up might be the end-goal for many organisations, they face plenty of challenges in securing remote access, redundancy provision and forward planning. “It’s a strategy that’s only worth adopting if it’s appropriate to the business,” says Triantafyllou.

At the NT it’s an ongoing project as it looks for solutions to complicated tasks like scheduling shows and managing ticketing at scale. As a 20-year industry veteran, Triantafyllou has seen how enterprise technology has become a complex, mission-critical function in organisations and transforming this into the cloud requires a comprehensive, well-developed plan.

It’s a change in thinking towards technology as a composable system with elements that can be assembled to suit user needs

His advice is to be pragmatic about the best approach to a pure cloud strategy. “If your core business systems have a credible cloud alternative, it’s OK, but if your core system is still on-premise and is still working, then focus on that, rather than trying to do something in the cloud without doing the research,” he says.

Triantafyllou says cloud requires an understanding of business needs, requirements of end-users and what you’re being promised by vendors. “And look at it over a three-to-five-year timespan,” he says.

While cloud uptake has been spurred on by the pandemic, achieving pure cloud may look different in the future. Some say a paradigm shift is needed to redraw the division between cloud and on-premises. “It’s a change in thinking towards technology as a composable system with elements that can be assembled to suit user needs,” says Ensono’s Ratcliffe.

“We need to decouple the devices from their location and examine things in terms of services and run the service on the most relevant platform,” he says.

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