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Happens every time. There’s a planning meeting with twelve people in the room. We’re all there to discuss the new cloud strategy. It’s time to make some decisions about future directions and next steps for the IT organization, and the business. Suddenly, the meeting grinds to halt. Is cloud a tactic or a strategy, an endpoint or an API? Is it OPEX, CAPEX or an outsourcing play? Is it cheap or expensive, secure or fragile, the future or the past? Every person around the table has a different view on what ‘Cloud Is’.

Success creates its own problems, and cloud is a success. Previously as a CTO, and in my current role at VMware as a Cloud Technologist, I’ve seen first-hand how technology can create new problems at the same time as solving existing issues. This too is the case with cloud computing.

If clouds look so soft and fluffy, then why are they so hard?

Yes, cloud is a success, but how do we ensure that this success is applied to our existing and new workloads? Whether applications are in the public cloud, an existing data center or somewhere in between, we are all looking for credible options to fast track positive change. IT practitioners, development teams, business leaders and other individuals in the organization all have a part to play.

In early 2019, Chris Wolf, VMware’s CTO Global Field and Industry, noted a fresh perspective on how to describe the current state of IT and the Cloud. Put simply, cloud is no longer just a destination, cloud is an operating model. I believe he nailed it, but what does it mean to our existing views of the cloud?

Over the last year, I’ve met with over 300 organizations to collaborate on developing new approaches and tactics that leverage their existing IT investments and private and public cloud offerings. In large seminars, small workshops and one on one meetings I’ve presented on the Cloud Operating Model and how VMware’s platform accelerates IT transformation and business results. It is through that experience with our customers and partners that I’m writing this series.

My goal is to not only share these stories but also further explore the Cloud Operating Model – what it is, why it matters and who can benefit from it, no matter how they define what ‘Cloud Is’.

Cloud is… Destination Marketing?

The major cloud providers, as well as many in the IT industry, have declared time and time again that the solution to all your issues is to just put your workloads in the cloud. The proposition is that the cloud is a destination that solves all your problems of expanding costs and operational inefficiency.

We’ll assume that the cloud is not some magic destination where all problems are instantly solved, but many organizations that are successful today have already operationalized for the cloud. They have integrated the new process and tools that enable the stakeholders responsible for code, performance and control functions to work seamlessly across all cloud endpoints and services. Think of market disruptors like Netflix, Uber and Airbnb.

 

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Not every business gets to build all their applications and processes from scratch. How can existing operations teams accelerate their organizations’ ability to deliver trusted business-centric outcomes? Realizing the benefits of the cloud, and enabling the rapid innovation driven by developers, means transforming operations practices to execute on new priorities, while also ensuring that their existing responsibilities are not neglected.

Consider this quote from Gene Kim, the well regarded author of “The Phoenix Project” and how he clearly outlines the change required to succeed.

 “The changing role of Operations is directly tied to achieving business outcomes: supporting organizational agility and speed, contributing operational expertise to all dimensions of IT delivery, and managing infrastructure cost effectively in a world of infinitely elastic supply of infrastructure.” – Modernizing IT Operations in the Age of DevOps

Operational change has also been stymied by the rapid addition of cloud providers. Although for many companies cloud has meant private datacenter environments, possibly built on VMware’s infrastructure, over time the addition of public cloud environments run by Amazon, Microsoft, Google has complicated matters. Applications have expanded across multiple clouds which are functionally and operationally siloed from each other. It’s the addition of these silos that creates the burgeoning issues around complexity, change, lack of visibility, and risk.

Industry experts acknowledge that these cloud silos create new cost challenges. Many organizations already have the silo problem within their four walls. The cloud amplifies siloed operations and expenses, which include hard, soft and opportunity costs. The lack of essential visibility, relevant transferable skills and cross-platform intelligence can critically impair a company’s ability to innovate.

Enter the Cloud Operating Model

The Cloud Operating Model takes the best of the public cloud experience and applies it to the existing operational realities of private cloud, public cloud and edge environments. This can significantly accelerate your ability to deliver trusted business-centric outcomes.

While alluring in its promise, no public cloud can mystically solve all pre-existing workload issues and they may introduce their own unexpected costs – and there can be value in cloud as a destination, but that isn’t the whole story. The operating model is what ensures continued innovation while enabling agility, flexibility and the ability to respond to new challenges. An organization delivering on its mission is dependent on its operating model to effectively leverage the platforms, assets and skillsets available to them.

High performance organizations recognize that they can’t retain the manual IT processes and practices that they previously used in their legacy data center designs. Core to the Cloud Operating Model though is how a broad range of individual stakeholders experience the increased speed to market, efficiency, and scalability.

Cloud Is… Personal

The Cloud Operating Model challenges strategy owners to consider their primary stakeholders both within and outside of the IT organization. Today, many cloud initiatives fail because IT organizations have not considered the demands and incentives that each of their stakeholders are facing. Meaningfully transforming operations must incorporate the needs of people across the organization in order to breakdown silos.

Another quote from Gene Kim:

“In high performing organizations, everyone within the team shares a common goal – quality, availability, and security aren’t the responsibility of individual departments but are part of everyone’s job, every day.” The DevOps Handbook

How do we breakdown operational silos and create shared responsibility? To do this, first we have to look at the stakeholders in our organization today and determine what is important to them. To help organize, I have divided stakeholders in a typical Cloud Operating Model into the three following groups: Code, Performance and Control. Although the titles may vary for your organization, the key focus is their goals and mindset, particularly “what’s in it for me?”

 

Code Stakeholders

Members of this group show up to work every day to get their work done through code. In a way, cloud doesn’t necessarily matter to them; it’s the code that runs on a cloud that’ important. This group starts with the developers who write the applications. A developer wants to work through code and API’s that expose the features that are important to them, and they particularly want their code to be portable across multiple environments. Release managers want to be able to improve developer productivity and drive innovation through continuous iterations and improvements to the code. The operations stakeholders who support the environment and worry about visibility and being able to support and scale applications into production.

Performance Stakeholders

Members of this group may not be concerned so much with the underlying technology as they are with business concerns. Their work may not interact with the cloud aside from a dashboard, invoice or report. A strategist or finance executive may only care about the cloud so far as it enables them to reach new markets quickly at a lower cost. On the other hand, a database administrator (DBA) or business critical apps team will tend to focus on classic performance indicators such as throughput, capacity and latency. Will the key app run fast enough? Will it run out of room?

But central to the performance stakeholders is the Line of Business (LoB). It is notable that the LoB stakeholders are primarily interested in the business outcome. They are looking for a set of capabilities that they can trust, and they are willing to pay for it. They may allocate budget to a cloud initiative, without a concern for savings, as long as they get the outcome.

Control Stakeholders

The third group is more traditional to IT organizations. You are probably used to operationalizing for these team members when thinking of your cloud strategy. Analysts may look to ensure that a cloud will provide value to the business, adhere to corporate policy and provide a favorable return on investment. The security administrator will focus on compliance, availability and data integrity. Finally, the architect who leads service development and builds out cloud capabilities, often prioritizing self-service, automation and governance.

 

Not only is Cloud an Operating Model, Cloud is Personal. Every stakeholder in a cloud strategy has their own perspective on how the cloud should support their success. Cloud services, infrastructure, applications and operating models all offer unique advantages to technologists inside the IT organization and non-IT users outside. The outcomes to the business support everyone’s success.

 

Which brings us back to the Line of Business stakeholder, who is central to the Cloud Operating Model. Trusting their cloud provider also means that they’re trusting that the operations team are going to not just keep stuff running, they’re going to support future innovation. Their view of innovation means doing better with what they manage today and working at the pace of business, or the developer. What does that actually look like?

 

In ‘Cloud Is’ – Part Two we’ll explore further how IT organizations can increase trust and deliver business outcomes for the LoB using the Cloud Operating Model.

 

Based in Palo Alto, Robin Querin is a passionate thought-leader with a depth of experience in cloud, service provider and startup organizations. As the Global Lead for VMware’s Cloud Management Technologists practice, Robin is a regular speaker at VMware events on technology trends, cloud operations, IT transformation and DevOps. He and his team work with executives and technical leaders in VMware’s key accounts and partners, co-developing multi-cloud strategy and initiatives. Before VMware, and prior to his work as a CTO, Robin was a Senior Architect and Advisor to Fortune 500 companies in San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, Toronto and Montreal.