At an eventful meeting I attended recently, a CIO suddenly threw a pitchfork on top of the conference table. It was a loud and dramatic gesture, and it certainly got his staff’s attention. He said, “Guys, this is what we do — we make pitchforks. From now on, your primary job isn’t to run data centers, it’s to help the company sell more pitchforks.”
I was there as part of CDW’s Cloud Planning Services team, which is helping companies determine which workloads should move to the cloud to make the company more agile. It’s important to note that the company is planning to move only certain workloads, not to make a complete bet on the cloud. At CDW, we see the cloud as an important tool for promoting innovation for all types of companies, but unlike many industry consultants and cloud providers, we don’t advocate all-in commitments to the cloud.
To do so would ignore a phenomenon emerging every day: Innovative companies that are moving some workloads which used to run in the public cloud back to their on-premises data centers. We call it the cloud U-turn, and it happens when companies reach a size where their cloud costs surpass those of traditional hardware implementations. That’s one of a handful of scenarios where a hybrid cloud comes into play. Leave in the public cloud what matters, bring home what should have never left in the first place.
A Question of Balance
The challenge is knowing what data and applications are best served in-house or by an outside, agnostic provider. The cool part is that CDW has expertise in both areas, which helps us determine the right mix of solutions for companies in all industries. For example, an insurance underwriter came to us when the Microsoft SQL databases it ran in-house began crashing soon after it introduced a new mobile app. Our recommendation: move the databases to Microsoft Azure and connect them to back-end servers that continued to run on-premises (hybrid). The company took our advice and is paying about 40 percent less than if it built out all the necessary resources in-house.
This balance of on-premises systems and the cloud also revolutionized the company’s go-to-market strategy. Their IT department can now spin up new apps, fully test them and release them into production in about 120 days. In the past, when the IT department received a new request from the business, the IT staff was scared to death about not having enough resources to satisfy the new demand. Now, the IT team says the hybrid approach not only meets business needs much easier, but also that the department’s brand has grown among business users.
Getting results like these takes more than a canned, one-size-fits-all approach to the cloud. At CDW, we start an engagement by first asking our customers to complete a detailed questionnaire about their current IT operations and their business goals. We also continuously test public cloud providers so we can give customers an accurate and unbiased view of each potential solution.
Our advice for fast-growing companies is to start down the road with a cloud deployment guided by independent partners, who are paid to promote solutions vs. a cloud service. Simply accepting a cloud vendor’s take on the world without scrutiny is a road to nowhere.
For more on how small businesses can use technology to grow effectively, check out, "Small Business Growth Requires Strategic IT Planning."