Gartner expert Lydia Leong sits down with BizTech Managing Editor Bob Keaveney to discuss the state of cloud adoption today. 

 

Dec 01 2022

Let's Talk About Cloud Migration and How to Innovate Beyond It

Cloud computing and migration has many advantages, but it doesn’t substitute for innovation, says Gartner expert Lydia Leong.

While it may seem like almost every business is well along in its cloud migration, Lydia Leong notes that plenty of work remains to be done. An analyst and distinguished vice president with Gartner, (she’s also one of BizTech’s 30 Small Business IT Influencers Worth a Follow and the woman known online as the Cloud Pundit), Leong has seen plenty of projects go sideways.

BizTech Managing Editor Bob Keaveney sat down with Leong to discuss the state of cloud adoption and how businesses can have more successful migrations.

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BIZTECH: What is your sense of the ­overall state of cloud adoption by businesses?

LEONG: I think cloud adoption is very uneven among organizations. There are those that are very advanced at this point, and there are organizations that are still in that “tell me about cloud computing” mode, and they’re just trying to get some adoption going.

And while there are many organizations that have adopted at least a ­little bit of Software as a Service for many years, a very large number of businesses have never done anything, either on SaaS or Platform as a Service.

There are different levels of maturity, different levels of trust in the cloud and differing abilities to manage that developing portfolio. There are organizations that explore the cloud very effectively for competitive advantage, and there are organizations that still think of the cloud, mistakenly, as just another data center strategy.

From the standpoint of where the market is going, many software providers are moving to a SaaS-only delivery model, and that will push companies
that have been reluctant to use the public cloud into becoming more active adopters of SaaS.

EXPERIENCE: Cloud patterns to simplify and secure multi-cloud environments.

BIZTECH: You mention “different levels of trust in the cloud.” What is the nature of the mistrust?

LEONG:  In a lot of ways, it has to do with an organization’s culture: Can they trust what they don’t do themselves, what they don’t necessarily control? Do they believe other actors in the ecosystem to be generally good, or not? What people specifically distrust varies. Some don’t trust security; others, privacy; still others, availability. In certain cases, with small SaaS companies, you might have legitimate concerns about the quality of their code. Companies may have concerns about whether they are adequately protected against things like ransomware.

And certainly in the cloud space, not all cloud providers are created equal. The market leaders, such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, are very different from the second tier of providers that are established but emerging. And those are in turn very different from startups, especially those that are very niche and may not be able to invest as effectively in operations, security and all the things customers want to see a provider do well to gain their trust.

20%

The rate of spending growth on cloud, ­worldwide, in 2022

Source: Gartner.com, “Gartner Forecasts Worldwide Public Cloud End-User Spending to Reach Nearly $500 Billion in 2022,” April 19, 2022

BIZTECH: Do you see those concerns as ­well founded or misplaced?

LEONG: It depends on what vendors you’re talking about. If you’re worried about whether, say, Amazon Web Services, maintains effective security, I think that would be misplaced. Organizations that audit their vendors for security will discover that what those Tier 1 vendors are doing is vastly superior to what they’re doing internally. The level of resourcing that a hyperscaler invests in availability and security is gargantuan, and it must be. It’s a non-optional part of the offering for them to provide good defenses.

It may be different, though, for other providers; for example, a legacy vendor that’s looking to cloudify its software. Those companies may have a legacy skill set, and may not be used to operating in the cloud. Those are more risky.

BIZTECH: You also said that too many ­businesses continue to think of cloud as “just another data center strategy.” How should they think about it instead?

LEONG: It’s really a question of how you want to use technology to achieve business objectives. One of the things the cloud has been very good at is allowing a business to control outcomes more directly without as much dependence on a traditional supply chain. That in turn requires some shifts in the way the IT department does things to reasonably manage the risk of what the business wants to do. But for many organizations, it drives greater flexibility and agility for the business. Platform and Infrastructure as a Service often drive greater experimentation and lower the risk of that experimentation, and that can help organizations get to positive outcomes more quickly.

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BIZTECH: You recently wrote that the cloud skills gap could be a reason that cloud adoptions fail. What did you mean?

LEONG: I think it is absolutely vital to have the technical skill sets to drive the correct technical implementation of the cloud. But that’s not the only set of skill-oriented issues that businesses run into. Cloud will not fix your mountain of technical debt, nor will it fix the culture that got you into a situation where you have that excessive technical debt. It won’t fix the culture where you’re not good at implementing new technology, or using technology to drive business outcomes or innovative thinking. All of these bigger, people-oriented and c­ultural issues will remain.

Organizations that broadly embrace change unsurprisingly find cloud transformations easier and much more effective. Also, companies underestimate how much the culture changes, especially if you’re trying to drive a truly transformational cloud adoption rather than, say, a lift-and-shift or trying to add a little Software as a Service here and there.

Lydia Leong Bio Pic
Many organizations assume they can put it in the cloud and it’s going to be miraculously better, and that’s not true."

Lydia Leong Distinguished VP and Analyst, Gartner

BIZTECH: How well are companies thinking through what kind of cloud migration they want?

LEONG:  We’re in the later-adopter phase of the market, and the later adopters typically are just culturally less ­effective than the early adopters. The early adopters are the ones that had a major bias toward innovation. There is a notable exception in ­financial services, where there was a long pause while those organizations waited until they were satisfied that cloud was low-enough risk to adopt. But once they moved, many now have very aggressive adoption programs.

BIZTECH: What are the biggest mistakes businesses are making with cloud adoptions?

LEONG:  Many organizations assume they can put it in the cloud and it’s going to be miraculously better, and that’s not true. All of the hard problems in the cloud are genuinely hard. For example, every sensible solution you have for cloud portability destroys much of the value of going to cloud, because if you’re going to cloud to access to uniquely differentiated capabilities, then those capabilities by definition cannot be easily ported. I also think customers sometimes worry about the wrong risks. They worry about catastrophes but not some of the things they do that drive day-to-day availability of their applications. Or they spend a lot of time doing due diligence on Tier 1 cloud providers, but kind of hand-wave the risky, small SaaS vendors they’re using. There’s a lot of “risk theater” in cloud, and many people are not modernizing security and risk management practices for the cloud era.

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BIZTECH: Can you give me an example of “risk theater”?

LEONG:  I have a client whose security team wants to build a risk model for every cloud service they adopt. There’s no ­evidence that would actually mitigate risk in any way, or lead to any action on the part of the business that would make the effort worthwhile.

BIZTECH: Do you have advice for ­businesses that are in the midst of a cloud migration?

LEONG:  Cloud migrations have to be planned, but cloud adoption benefits tremendously from piloting, where you allow projects to get started without doing a year of upfront work. If you haven’t done a lot of cloud work in the past, you don’t know what you don’t know. And what you discover when you do something real in the cloud is whether you are ready to do that adoption. 

Photography by Ryan Donnell

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