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Savvy reasons not to use public cloud platforms

Going to the cloud could lead to business benefits aplenty. Yet, for some, sticking to terra firma may be the solid choice.

Public cloud platforms have changed the way companies communicate among themselves and with their customers. It has changed the way they do business and has even helped transform the CIO into a business partner.

For Waste Industries' Hubert Barkley, though, cloud is a way of negotiating constraints.

"If you have capital constraints, you have operating-expense resource constraints, or you have -- I'm going to call it human capital -- people constraints, then you may want to go to the cloud," said Barkley, vice president of information and technology at the Raleigh, N.C., garbage and recycling collection company.

Without those demands -- and with physical IT machinery in good, working condition – subscribing to public cloud platforms would simply be a waste of resources. "Am I for going to the cloud? I am. But I don't have a compelling business reason to because I've already paid for this equipment that has a usable life for five more years," Barkley said.

Hubert BarkleyHubert Barkley

Barkley's story serves as testimony that the public cloud is not a just-add-water recipe for delivering business value and innovation -- though exuberant ads for Amazon Web Services and even earnest, vendor-neutral industry analysts with heaps of supporting data may be leading wide-eyed IT leaders to believe it is. There are practical, substantive reasons for putting IT and business operations in cloud providers' powerful data centers -- and practical, substantive reasons not to.

Public cloud platforms: Who benefits?

Barkley is an IT leader with strong bonds to his company's business. He has tapped internet of things technology to gather information about Waste Industries' trucks, analytics software to crunch data on where they travel and how they're performing, and mobile computing to keep drivers connected. He gets that public cloud platforms help tech chiefs like him deliver business value without getting into the "nuts and bolts" -- or operating and maintaining data centers to provide the processing, memory and storage they rely on.

He gets it because he subscribes to cloud -- a private one in a colocation facility. "It allows us to be agile," he said, giving IT -- and business users -- fast access to the data they need to do their jobs.

Graphic showing public cloud adoption
Public cloud platforms are seeing significant adoption, but not every CIO is eager to sign up.

An organization in the right circumstances would benefit from public cloud, Barkley said. For example, he visited another U.S. waste management company -- he didn't identify it by name -- and did a review of its resources. He found it was short on capital and people who can manage the IT systems. "I absolutely recommended they go to the cloud," he said.

Barkley would consider moving to the public cloud if it someday becomes too expensive to maintain his current systems. Industry wisdom says to go with the option that's cheaper and also maintainable. If they're close in price, Barkley would choose to keep what he has in place. That's because it's down the hall from him, so he has control of it.

"If I have a problem with Amazon and they go down -- guess what? I'm one of 15 million customers that need their help," Barkley said. "That's one of the things that I don't like losing control of if I don't need to. Now, if I needed to because I couldn't afford it, then absolutely I would go to [the public cloud]."

A perplexing ecosystem

Tony Arcadi is the associate CIO for enterprise infrastructure at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He's contemplating a move to Microsoft's cloud productivity software Office 365, which includes email. Still, he said, "I stay awake at night worrying about the availability aspects of that."

The cloud ecosystem is complicated and getting more so, with transport segments between the cloud-subscribing customer and the provider, between IT and the user and then the PC or mobile device the user is on.

"You go back a couple of years ago, and you had the server in the basement and the work station on the fourth floor and the wire between -- and that was your ecosystem," he said. Today, with email in the cloud, "you're traversing maybe four, five, six different carriers to get there. Maybe you leave on AT&T, but you arrive on Sprint, and Verizon carried you halfway through the middle."

The U.S. government declares itself cloud first, which means departments and agencies need to pick public cloud platforms for new initiatives unless there's a compelling reason not to. Considering the promised benefits of cost savings, speed and flexibility, it's a reasonable policy, and Arcadi agrees.

"I'm a proponent of the notion that we should give cloud the strongest consideration," he said. Speaking for himself and not for his employer, he stressed, "Cloud first can also morph into, 'Well, why haven't you done cloud?' And I'm worried that, in fact, there are many places where cloud doesn't work as well as it could."

This was last published in March 2018

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