By Adrian McGrath, Digital Strategist and Digital Business Lead
13th January 2021
In my view, the big advantage that the cloud provides, especially when cloud platform services are used, is around enabling companies to change and innovate at speed. This is so important for companies that wish to gain, and then sustain, their operation as a Digital Business, one that can continually invent and adapt in response to change.
Key to achieving this is having a Cloud Transformation approach that both plans how your applications can be re-hosted in the cloud and also how they can be transformed to fully leverage and maximise the benefits that cloud platform services offer. In other words, leveraging the pre-built platform frameworks from a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) perspective to accelerate application development, delivery and operation of digital products/services, over and above the hosting of applications in the cloud from an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) perspective.
Platform services enable the most value
If you visualise an application as a cube, showing the individual building blocks that make up the application, then you can start to see where many of the blocks can be fulfilled by a variety of cloud services that span infrastructure (such as storage, compute and availability zones) and platform (such as API Management, Service Bus and Machine Learning). This concept is illustrated below.
Utilising the cloud purely in an IaaS capacity is, in itself, hugely advantageous in terms of factors such as on-demand elastic scalability, disaster recovery, paying only for what you consume from an operating expenditure perspective and, overall, lower Total Cost of Ownership. However, when the additional PaaS services are utilised, that is where the biggest benefits kick-in:
- You can get up and going much faster as you are essentially plugging into pre-built and tested platform services. It is then easier, faster and more cost effective to run Proof-of-Concepts / Proof-of-Values.
- You don’t have to worry about the maintenance of the platforms (such as keeping patches up to date and upgrades). This can become a major headache over time if running multiple 3rd party platforms on an IaaS in a scenario where they all need to work in unison.
- It is much easier to write the scripts to automate deployment using the platforms and ramping up/down environments.
- It is usually more cost effective, not just in terms of the licence cost, but also the additional staff required to address the points above.
- It helps to de-risk the project as the cloud platforms have already been tested and proven to work together, with an SLA contract with the cloud provider.
In essence, leveraging cloud PaaS services gives you back more time to focus on your core business requirements, plus an increased level of agility to innovate so as to continually drive improved customer experience.
Although Cloud Transformation, driven by both IaaS and PaaS, is a key enabler for innovation at speed, it is not an activity that is performed in isolation. Rather, as a core ingredient, it is very much part of the wider, interconnected Digital Transformation picture, as illustrated below.
Being a core ingredient for Digital Transformation, this has fueled huge growth in the adoption of cloud, as illustrated in the figure below (using data from Gartner). The overall Public Cloud Service has seen revenues in the order of $260B in 2020, and this is expected to grow to $364B within a further two years. Although Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) takes the biggest chunk of the cloud market, the two biggest growth areas over the next two years are IaaS and PaaS, both expected to grow 62% and 66% respectfully by the end of 2022. This is compared to equivalent growth of SaaS in the same period of 34%.
There are lots of fantastic case studies from the “big three” Public Cloud Service providers that bring home why cloud adoption is rising so fast:
In practice, executing a Cloud Transformation strategy for established businesses that have most of their applications on-premise tends to roughly track the following pattern:
- Lift & Shift – Migrating and re-hosting applications and associated data into the cloud (in an IaaS model), with minimal or no design changes to the applications. The complexity tends to be around changes to the network design for re-hosted applications in order to adapt to the multi-tenancy, dynamic network design model used in the cloud.
- Re-platform – This involves switching one or more platforms (for example, a database) used by the application to a platform service provisioned by the cloud. This will need some code changes within the application, but doesn’t break the application or alter its core design. Typically this might be done to avoid expensive licence costs by a third party platform and/or to improve maintenance and disaster recovery.
- Transform – This phase is focused on fully leveraging the platform services offered by the cloud and, for many older applications, will involve a re-architecture (modernisation) of the application so as to move towards a more modular, decoupled architecture. This will enable the application to utilise and broker platform services from the cloud to address business requirements rather than re-inventing them. The modernised applications will also be much more aware of the underlying cloud infrastructure and be designed to work across, and failover into, different availability zones.
As applications move through the phases, their usage of cloud services increases. However, not all applications will be moved in sequence through these phases. Some applications may skip straight into Transform in cases where they are identified as core enablers for a Digital Transformation strategy. Such applications may even use native cloud platform services from multiple cloud providers, a “polycloud” approach discussed in a very good article by ThoughtWorks. Some applications may be dropped altogether, replaced by a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application, which will need to be integrated into the core applications. Some applications will remain on-premise due to specific business/regulatory reasons or because they are soon to reach end-of-life.
Overall, the more applications that have successfully gone through the Transform phase, the greater the benefit realisation. With modernised applications, it will be much more technically and commercially feasible to sustain continuous change to adapt to market needs, continually improve customer experience and open up new revenue opportunities.
When considering moving applications to the cloud, don’t just consider Lift & Shift. The biggest payback, in terms of business agility, innovation, speed to market, cost savings and potential new revenue generation, will come when your applications are optimised and fully leveraging the cloud. Don’t settle for IaaS. In the majority of cases, the advantages of PaaS will outweigh potential concerns, such as lock-in to a specific cloud provider. Take the time to explore the platform services from the Public Cloud Service providers and make PaaS part of your Cloud Transformation strategy.