So that’s it…you’re going to the cloud. This may not be your decision. It may be directed by a suit in an office somewhere. Other cases see operationally minded CIO’s acting quickly to ensure their technical teams are best aligned for the road ahead. And yet, others have done their homework and have determined a private cloud infrastructure is the route of choice. Have you strategically prepared a cloud-first framework?
Regardless of the option you choose (or is chosen for you), a cloud-first framework is now commonplace across our industry. Yet, the question remains. How do we maintain some semblance of sanity with the chaos that some of these decisions can force upon your technical ecosystem and the teams that support them?
Today’s system and network engineers are forced to juggle the task of managing a legacy server or network framework while also juggling the integration hurdles of the SaaS applications or cloud models that best fit the needs of a growing business. So, with all this change, how do we, as IT, best align to a critical business event, migration need, or innovation request?
Much of the below framework is mirrored by the major public cloud providers. Our alignment framework for this discussion aligns to specifically to Microsoft given their presence in most organizations. Regardless of the products you choose to deliver for your client experience, your delivery framework will likely remain fairly similar. Ultimately, our end goal should target the delivery of a consistent and secure technical experience irrespective of the cloud architecture supporting the service.
In today’s post, we’ll visit a couple items. First, we cover a short framework to apply to your cloud exploration. Second, we visit a few core ideas to frame your current strategy and investment decisions in this cloud-first economy.
CLOUD EXPLORATION FRAMEWORK
As you explore your business and technical alignment, you can start with these simple internal evaluations. If you would like to externalize this framework, just raise a hand and we’ll facilitate.
This evaluation is important to understanding which services are ideal cloud targets. From a traditional IT perspective, we would consider assessments like application dependency mapping or a core systems analysis. We aren’t so worried yet about actual system performance. Rather, we’re working to identify priority services within your business, their current deployment structure, and how they align to your business success.
- Are there core systems or applications that need to be addressed to drive the business forward?
- Are you able to quickly identify your priority, tier-0 applications?
- Once your priority applications are identified, can you state how they impact your strategic business plan?
- If so, are they properly designed to meet the needs of the business?
- What systems or workloads are easy starting places for digitizing your business?
The outcome we’re targeting here is mapping the proper resources to the desired outcome. We are not trying to create full organizational alignment to a cloud vision. Through this evaluation, we hope to create accountability to an outcome by aligning skillsets and vision.
- Industries, businesses, and the market…they all evolve. As you look at your industry, are you disrupting or being disrupted?
- How easily does your organization adapt to change?
- Is technology an enabler or speed bump in the process?
- What needs does the business have that currently challenge your technical team the most?
- Does your current technical alignment properly align to the needs of the business?
Like everything in life, change produces anxiety. As leaders, we can reduce resistance to change and ease this anxiety by providing a clear roadmap to the future state. The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted the talent shortage in our industry and the importance of leveraging all demographics to meet our skills gap. If we’re able to clearly map our current skill sets to our future needs, we increase our likelihood of success.
- How do the skills of your current team translate to your digital roadmap?
- How do your legacy technical investments and the team that manages them align to the future of the organization?
- Which team members are best able to retool their skillsets?
- Which team members have the social skills required to interact with the business units driving adoption?
FOUNDATIONAL CLOUD ELEMENTS
Now for what we came for – here are some core technical areas to focus on today to ensure future cloud alignment. It’s important to note that this is applicable even if the cloud isn’t a formal directive or desired state. The manufacturers are very much leading with products that align to this end goal. It will ensure your strategy fits the marketplace and direction of the broader technical ecosystem.
We discussed the basics of strengthening your Identity Management Platform in more depth here. As we’ve covered, establishing an intentional identity that can be leveraged throughout your technology stack becomes vital in granting access and controlling a secure customer experience. Ultimately, the development of an Identity Baseline becomes the core of your future cloud governance and security policy.
This governance framework creates a secure authentication policy across your application delivery model. By centralizing the controls of your identity management platform within Azure AD, you have started to put a framework in place to provide granular, policy-driven management while extending the policies across your hybrid cloud experience.
Group-based access rights are central to properly governing your technical environment. Obviously, at scale, dealing with the rights of individual users is not feasible. Thus, managing groups greatly simplifies your world.
By managing groups, you’re able to simplify access policies, provide a consistent and predictable access experience to your end users and teams, and reduce the configuration errors that often take place via manual entry.
Within the Microsoft Identity platform, Azure role-based access control (RBAC) becomes the centralized management location for your organizational controls.
SOFTWARE DEFINED SOLUTIONS
We clearly live in a software defined world these days. The simplification of system controls and centralized management interfaces has become expected with all new product releases. The core of a software defined experience remains its ability to provide consistent and predictable customer experiences. As devices are deployed across an ecosystem, you are easily able to replicate policies and settings. With this structure, reduced errors and simplification all lead to an improved services experience.
By deploying software defined solutions in your private cloud you start to gain the agility provided by the public cloud. These software defined outcomes often also become transportable in their ability to provide services across platform. Need your same backup solution to work in the cloud? The answer now is “Yes…yes, you can.”
This software defined experience spreads across our traditional ecosystems. What was once managed by legacy systems or network engineers is slowly progressing to a Dev-Ops structure down the path. We have already started to see realignment of internal resources to support new process flow within the teams we support.
The software defined impacts on the networking space have impacted both the data center and the edge. Be it SD-WAN or SDNW, we now have multiple, baked options at our disposal in the space. With these shifts, we have the capability to shift resources on the fly in accordance with business requirements.
This same agility our respective businesses are demanding introduces new risk and requires new methodologies and approaches.
With the explosion of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) deployments, we now have the ability to scale our internal resources in the same way cloud providers provide their services. By simply applying the hyper-converged software of your choice to commodity compute you have a fully capable stack of compute, storage, and network providing a robust data systems platform for your internal cloud.
We explored the state of HCI in a recent post. Almost all major players now offer their own flavor of the stack. Most importantly, the scalability we achieve doesn’t come at the cost of the data services experience.
Long gone are the days of clunky media servers front-ending a backup target. Easy-to-use, software-based solutions have transformed the data management experience over the past few years. These often take the form of a preconfigured outcome that provide you with the flexibility to select the target-destination of choice.
Looking to leverage existing NAS targets as on-prem archive? Great! Need to address long term retention policies? These same solutions provide you with the agility to move accordingly.
As we continue to pile more diverse responsibilities on our technical teams, it’s important that we start to provide them with resources that enable their efficiency. One way to do that is to leverage platforms that use open API’s. This allows for our native automation platforms to have clean integration paths.
We aren’t going to go into choosing which automation platform to use. Rather, as part of your skills readiness assessment, leveraging platforms that your teams are already familiar with is a great starting point. Automation becomes an invaluable resource as you can remove mundane tasks from your process flow.
Our team has leveraged simple PowerShell commands in our recent engagements with clients. These often aren’t robust solutions. We have targeted simple tasks that are repeatable. We set them on their way, and focus on more pressing priorities. Again, you don’t need to be the expert here. We commonly get tapped on the shoulder by our clients to put these simple frameworks in place.
To reiterate the importance of the automation framework, we encourage you to find and leverage platforms with open API frameworks and to leverage existing skillsets from your sills readiness assessment to maximize the impact of process automation. Work smarter…not harder.
Ultimately, this framework also aligns you well for the transition we are seeing as organizations move towards a DevOps approach mentioned above.
So there you have it…fully inclusive, not so much. But, it’s a start. And by beginning to define your cloud journey, and ultimately being intentional about the direction you go, you’ll be driving your team and organization forward. Our hope through this conversation is that you start down a path that aligns you to a future that leverages the platforms that best align to your organizational success.
Cheers to the journey. And as always…get better and be excellent.