The future is cloudy, with a chance of success

I would have titled this post, “How to be a rainmaker in the cloud,” except the term rainmaker often refers to the selling process, which is already succeeding, and that success is a key contributing factor to why so many cloud initiatives are all wet. If nothing else, the popularity of cloud services has made the use of metaphors in technical articles much easier!

In this post, I write about some of the slipperier aspects of cloud services, how to reap the most benefits, and ways to identity potential pitfalls before a sinking feeling sets in.

AI, big data, and the cloud

A great expression going around about AI and big data is that they are “like teenage sex: Everyone talks about it; nobody really knows how to do it; everyone thinks everyone else is doing it; so everyone claims they are doing it.” I want to add to that that “and most of those that are doing are not having nearly as much fun as they could be.” The same can be said for the cloud, even though it has been around a lot longer and is relatively more mature. And many people actually already have it, though they might not know it, so maybe it is more like insanity.

These three technologies were all drivers for each other. The ease of getting started in the cloud (the quality of which I will ignore for now) was a multiplier for the data accumulation that had already been growing exponentially. The amount of data was so big, it needed a separate category of, well, big. Then, trying to manage that much data while it was still of business value (or even determine if it is of value) quickly became too much for human manipulation or even basic algorithms, so more complex algorithms were created, followed by algorithms that create algorithms and then AI became a battle cry to save us all from drowning in the data lakes (that we probably wouldn’t have created if we had true AI to start with).

The lack of quality in initial cloud forays that we ignored at the start of the last paragraph combined with the ease of getting into the cloud is what led the way for so many being overwhelmed with data. The truth is most cloud initiatives that have real business value are still in their early stages. The early adopters (that are now trying to hire more data scientists than then there are in order to help dam the floods) have given the rest of us a great example of what not to do. So let’s use their hindsight to build our vision.

If you don’t know what it is, don’t handle it with familiarity

Anyone with kids or animals learns fairly early that they should never pick anything up from the floor barehanded if they are not positive of what it is. Technology deserves the same wary respect. If someone says, “Everyone is moving to the cloud,” I know they are either misinformed or not being truthful (sometimes both). First, because everyone rarely does anything at the same time, no matter how much marketers and salespeople tell us otherwise. And second, because lots of us have been there for years and just didn’t think of it that way. Financial services is one very common area where storage, processing, and source-of-truth data has been entrusted by the customers to the service provider and accessed over the internet since “internet” was spelled with a capital “I.”

The truth is, there are many different types of cloud services and the value of a given service and provider varies according to the enterprise needs. I know this is really obvious and what I am calling out here is how it is often forgotten after seeing a press release or the conclusion of a well-rehearsed and intricately orchestrated sales demo. There is no doubt in my mind that cloud services will benefit most (maybe even all) businesses. But not every type of cloud service is needed by every business and how one business uses a specific service is not how every business should even if they will benefit from the same service.

Data storage is a great example, because it has become a universal need. There are businesses that can and should keep all of their data in cloud services. The plural is on purpose, because if you are going to commit your entire business to the cloud you need to have some kind of backup. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are many small companies that have neither the volume nor the budget to properly maintain all data safely in the cloud. In the middle (and the latter example is far more common than the first) there are the majority of businesses that will benefit storing certain types of data in the cloud and applying both MDM synchronization to ensure availability and continuity.

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