Which Apps To Move To The Cloud?

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When travel and talk to companies about the cloud, one of the common questions I get is about how to choose which applications to move to the cloud – once you’ve sold people on the benefits that cloud brings (agility, flexibility, scaling, economics), the next question is generally “cool, so how do we do it?”

It’s actually a pretty complex question. Moving to the cloud isn’t simply a case of rip and replace. Over on the Forrester blog, Vice President and Principal Analyst James Staten recently wrote a great post that dispelled some of the common cloud myths, at least when it comes to moving applications to the cloud. Staten focused on the fact that, in the same way that cloud is very different to a traditional hosted environment, so too is it wrong to think you can put any old app straight into the cloud and expect “cloud-like” performance. As he said:

…you shouldn’t be thinking about what applications you can migrate to the cloud. That isn’t the path to lower costs and greater flexibility. Instead, you should be thinking about how your company can best leverage cloud platforms to enable new capabilities. Then create those new capabilities as enhancements to your existing applications… you have to think differently as you approach cloud development. There’s far more power in application design and configuration once you free yourself from assumed reliance on the infrastructure. The end result is new degrees of freedom for developers – if you embrace the new model

All valid points. Another way to look at this cloud application problem is to use the metaphor of peeling an onion (bear with me on this).

This is an analogy I often use in distinct ways to talk about moving workloads to the cloud.

From the vanilla to the hyper-differentiated, think of your organization’s different applications as being like an onion with the inner layers being highly-differentiated applications, which are a true core-competency for the business. As you go out further, the applications become more and more generic and hence similar between your organization and your competitors. At the very outside of the onion is the “vanilla apps,” those that are standard across all organizations – the typical example being email or office productivity. When thinking about a staged move to the cloud, approach your applications working from the outside in. As you become used to the way cloud works, and the opportunities and challenges it brings for your organization, you’ll be more ready for more complex and differentiated applications.

The other way I use the onion metaphor is to talk about organization porosity and outside involvement. At the very inside of the onion are those applications that only get exposed within the organization itself, and possibly only within one or two offices within the organization. As you go out further, the outer layers have much more need to interact with other parts of the organization (perhaps branch offices or whatever). On the outside are applications that have significant interplay between the organization and the outside world (be it suppliers or customers). Clearly the outer layers have much more validity as initial cloud projects; partly because there should be less security risk with these applications, but also because the agility and integration requirements of these applications makes them good candidates for cloud deployment

I don’t preach an “all or nothing” cloud approach. Cloud is a sliding wedge and existing organizations should look at taking baby steps and slowly increase the breadth and depth of their cloud usage.

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