It’s OK that the cloud doesn’t do everything

One thing you won’t hear when a vendor is pitching their cloud solutions to you is that the biggest success factor for your move to the cloud is a willingness to embrace constraints – being OK with the box you’re putting yourself in.

Constraints aren’t inherently bad – I use them all the time in photography. Knowing what my camera can and cannot do pushes me to approach shots differently, often resulting in a photo that is far better than what I would have achieved if I had attacked the problem head-on with all the camera equipment I wanted available to me.

When it comes to the cloud, constraints force you to re-examine what you’re doing. That helps on the technical front, but it is especially powerful when it comes to business processes. The last 60 years of on-premise open-sandbox tech has enabled people to build a lot of really dumb processes.

“So, I type in all the info from these paper tickets into this spreadsheet, then I print it out and fax it to Dorothy. Then she combines my report with the other sites’ reports, prints that out, scans it, then e-mails it to Richard so he can plug it into an Access database.”

If you’re moving off-prem, consider it an opportunity to reset and if you can manage it, forklift as little as possible when you make the transition.

Azure and AWS don’t support all the custom infrastructure hacks you’ve put in place over the last 30 years? Do yourself a favor and leave those hacks behind. Learn the platform and focus on what it can do.

The new SaaS vendor doesn’t support the process you built in your old, on-prem ERP?   Instead of trying to hack something together to get the new system to support your process exactly as-is, call the vendor, describe the problem you’re trying to solve (start with the problem, not your years’  old solution) and work with them to design something new.

Turns out, software companies like Google and Salesforce employ a lot of really smart people, and the best ones understand that as beautiful as their code is, it has to be used in the real world.

These are things I want to shout whenever I’m at an industry event. It never fails that at least one neck-bearded engineer in the room pops up with “I’ll never move to the cloud, it doesn’t do this, this, or this.”

Occasionally, they have one or two valid points out of the handful they toss out.

When pushed though, their reasoning is usually “because we have it now’, which is the perfect rationale to help the business drive itself off a cliff.

Photo credit: Perspecsys

Thoughts on the eve of Cisco Live

In less than 24 hours I will be boarding a plane headed to San Diego. It’s my first year to attend Cisco Live and I’m hopeful I’ll see something different than what I’ve seen from Cisco over the past few years.

That companies are migrating so quickly to op-ex, cloud services models seems to have surprised Cisco – they have been fumbling for a good while now, trying to find their way in the new world.

The Meraki acquisition was smart – it gave Cisco a robust-but-easy-to-deploy, low-overhead infrastructure solution that customers have been clamoring for, but from the outside it appears the legacy product teams are at odds with the Meraki team. The promise of a converged feature-set appears to have stalled out, with internal politics and concerns of sales cannibalization serving as roadblocks.

Last year, Cisco Intercloud was pitched to me as the solution to all my cloud integration problems. Intercloud was going to enable me to easily migrate VMs between cloud providers and extend the LAN across the multi-cloud WAN. Problem is, as a brand new product Intercloud is designed around a paradigm that’s rapidly fading.

Modern IT is not being built around individual VMs or extensible network segments, it’s all about workload. Being able to move VMs around is handy for the near-term in dealing with legacy applications, but workload containerization negates one of the biggest selling points of Intercloud. I don’t want to move VMs from AWS to Azure or On-Prem to Cloud, I want to kick off a Docker push of my app image and let the platform take care of the rest.

Intercloud seems to be targeted at where the puck was, and the game has shifted considerably. It will be very useful for many big businesses, but not for very long.

Even in the datacenter, startup SDN solution providers like Cumulus Networks seem to be getting better at the Cisco stuff faster than Cisco is getting better at rapid innovation.

I say all these things not to beat up on Cisco, but to nudge them towards where I think they should go, where I think they can remain relevant. Right now, Cisco seems to be focused on providing solutions for today, when other IT vendors are pulling their customers into the future.

The Cisco I hope to see at Cisco Live is one that is aware of where it is falling behind and is rapidly moving to correct. I want to hear more about DMVPN than OSPF & BGP. I want to hear more about APIs than integration licenses.

I don’t think Cisco is at any risk of going away (Existing enterprises and telecoms are going to continue rolling out Cisco equipment because that’s what they do by default.), but like any big tech company they are at continual risk of becoming irrelevant and technologically boring – and right now their ship seems to be changing course very slowly.

Photo credit: Andrew Hart