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Are cloud platforms really retail ready?

For a long time, whenever ‘the cloud’ was mentioned it was like it was something mystical. A platform with magic properties that would never fail. Retailers, especially those who have to run the IT, tend not to believe in magic and, being conservative in nature when it comes to stability, tend to believe in what they can see and put their hands on. It’s a shame as this has led to many retailers lagging behind in technology and spending more time being IT specialists and less time being retailers.

Then reality started to be applied. Some high profile failures in a number of cloud platforms meant that the old sell no longer worked. Service outages at Amazon, Microsoft and Google and a number of other high profile providers hit the regular press as they also underpinned key consumer services and the gloss came off the whole cloud story.

Strangely, this has been a good thing. With the mysticism removed, the cloud capabilities could be seen for what they really are. Superbly architected technical platforms with a focus on automation, scale and resilience or the same old data centre architecture wrapped up in a glossy wrapper. Underneath all of that lovely marketing is a collection of servers, cables, software, scripts, gaffa tape, engineers and blind faith that exists in every data centre (the big ones tend not to rely on the tape and faith but if you look close enough, you’ll find some). The reality is, it’s a blend of both.

The clouds are like banks, another highly relevant example. Banks are based on trust and when the trust goes, the bank will fail. Your average user cannot see what goes on inside the bank so you can only trust that if you put your money in, you will be able to get it out again. As we have seen recently, if you can’t get your money out when you need it then the trust is gone and you will move your money.

It’s the same with the cloud.

We’ve seen the recent impact on services from the Amazon cloud-based network (with NetFlix, Pinterest and Instagram very public sufferers) and the on-going threats to migrate. I suspect some companies are finding that getting out is significantly harder than getting in (just like banks) but they will all have the same problem. Who can do it better?

It all comes down to the same old question that IT has always struggled with. Do I do it myself or pay someone to do it for me?

If I do it myself I may not be the best, but at least I’ll know where the weaknesses are and I am master of my own destiny. If I let someone else do it, I trust that they have the best people, the best equipment, and the best processes that I could never afford. It’s the IT equivalent of putting your money under the bed or using a bank. Personally I think that this is good for the future of IT. It’s never sensible to get caught up in the hype of an idea without understanding what you are actually getting into. Once you understand that you are just buying a service from someone who does one thing that you need better than you could ever do it, life gets a lot easier. But the important bit about the cloud is the thing that often gets forgotten. The network.

So when considering running part of your critical systems in the cloud, make sure you put it somewhere with the best network…

It all comes down to the same old question that IT has always struggled with. Do I do it myself or pay someone to do it for me?

If I do it myself I may not be the best, but at least I’ll know where the weaknesses are and I am master of my own destiny. If I let someone else do it, I trust that they have the best people, the best equipment, and the best processes that I could never afford. It’s the IT equivalent of putting your money under the bed or using a bank. Personally I think that this is good for the future of IT. It’s never sensible to get caught up in the hype of an idea without understanding what you are actually getting into. Once you understand that you are just buying a service from someone who does one thing that you need better than you could ever do it, life gets a lot easier. But the important bit about the cloud is the thing that often gets forgotten. The network.

So when considering running part of your critical systems in the cloud, make sure you put it somewhere with the best network…

Posted by Mike King, CTO, BT Expedite

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