Cloud Natives vs. Cloud Immigrants: Different Approaches, Similar Goals

Depending on the age of a small to midsize business, its view and adoption of cloud technologies can vary widely.

Small companies fall into two basic groups today: cloud natives and cloud immigrants. Cloud natives are startups that have opened their doors within the past two or three years, and all they know is cloud. They haven’t made any significant capital investments in on-premises hardware or software.

On the other hand, cloud immigrants are older and have invested heavily in their own data centers. But now, they’re gradually migrating select services to the cloud or considering a cloud delivery model for new applications and infrastructure.

The CDW Cloud 401 Report found that 35 percent of IT services are delivered at least in part by the cloud. And cloud immigrants have a lot of company, the report found, with 54 percent of cloud services having been migrated from traditional implementations.

I meet regularly with leaders of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) that are cloud immigrants and cloud natives, and there are clear differences in their attitudes about the role of IT in growing their businesses. What I find most intriguing is what each group can learn from the other. The message is clear: When it comes to capitalizing on the cloud, the best strategies assimilate the lessons of natives and immigrants.

Cloud Benefits for All

It has been very easy for small startups to go all in on the cloud. Starting from a clean slate means they don’t have to rationalize existing IT investments or integrate traditional systems with new cloud services. This luxury has created a generation of risk takers; cloud natives are often more willing to take bigger chances and make more disruptive choices than their established peers.

Cloud immigrants tend to be more conservative. They’re looking for safe bets when they migrate workloads to the cloud. They’re also still trying to get comfortable with running business services in environments with multiple clients beyond their firewalls.

One thing both groups have in common is seeing significant benefits from the cloud. The biggest is the sheer democratization of IT. SMBs typically have smaller budgets and fewer IT staff than their enterprise counterparts, but the cloud gives them advanced capabilities once found only in the Fortune 500. As a result, a sea change is occurring: Small companies are leading the way in innovation, setting examples for large companies to follow.

Finding the Right Mix

If both natives and immigrants are moving toward an innovative cloud future, how can they help each other get there? Well, if I took a cloud native and a cloud immigrant out for a beer, here’s how I imagine the conversation would go:

Cloud Native: “You’re too conservative. You need to think more like a startup.”

Cloud Immigrant: “Just because you’ve totally bought into the cloud, don’t be so brash as to think you wouldn’t benefit from bringing certain workloads in-house at some point. The cloud is not the be-all and end-all for every need.”

Cloud Native: “You should designate 5 to 10 percent of your budget to net new cloud initiatives so your IT people can spend less time managing the infrastructure and more time on strategic initiatives.”

Cloud Immigrant: “Companies should always try and have flexibility in their available IT consumption models. As cloud natives mature, their technology needs will certainly change along with their business needs.  During that maturation process, workloads that were once ideal candidates for cloud could easily change. For instance, a company’s storage needs may grow to the point that renting disk space with a cloud provider is no longer the most cost-effective or best-performing choice.”

These are all valid points, I’d say. But the most important thing to remember is that the cloud is not simply an IT initiative; it’s about how to deliver more value to the business.

That may mean exclusively cloud services in some cases or a hybrid of on-premises hardware and software combined with the cloud in other cases. The key is to find the best mix of solutions to meet the changing needs of your unique business.

To learn more about the four key technology trends small businesses should be following this year, check out, "Small Businesses Must Heed Cloud, Security, Mobility and IT Services Trends in 2016."

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Mar 18 2016