Old is New – Did COVID Expose the Cloud Cost Model?

by Rob Davis | 5 min Read

The King, the Chessboard and the Cloud

You’ve probably heard the fable of the king and the chessboard. When chess was invented, it’s said the king was so impressed, he offered the inventor any reward he desired. The inventor simply asked for a grain of rice to be placed on the first square of the chessboard, two on the second, four on the third and so on until the chessboard was full. You can guess the rest; the inventor cornered the rice market, the country ran out of rice, the king had the inventor executed because no-one likes a smartass, and so on. It’s a great illustration of how exponential growth works; I think it also teaches us an important lesson for Cloud strategy and how innovative use of ‘old’ tech enables an optimised hybrid Cloud approach.

Exponential growth versus practical friction

Anyone dealing with Cloud spend might sympathise with the king’s rice budget challenge. Organizations surveyed in the Flexera 2020 Cloud report said that they average 23% over budget on Cloud spend, and expect increases of 47% over the next 12 months. The Cloud promise of always-on, never break, and the scaling and cost savings from pushing apps into the Cloud can transform into unexpected costs and commitments. A Forbes article makes an interesting connection between the chess story and the trajectory of movements like Cloud. It points out that in most versions of the story, the inventor is never paid because there’s not enough rice in the land. In other words, theoretical exponential growth tends to hit real-world limits. We see this in technology. For example, Moore’s Law shows signs of coming up against some laws of physics, albeit they may be a blip as optical and quantum computing kick in. The Cloud curve may seem far from hitting this kind of friction. The 2020 IDG Cloud Computing Survey reports accelerating Cloud adoption in the last two years, with 81% of respondents reporting already using Cloud compared to 73% in 2018. Yet there are counter-indicators; performance and uptime shortfalls, networking latency and equipment upgrade costs, security and compliance issues, increased complexity, and some legacy and high-volume apps not playing happily in the Cloud. With the economic uncertainties of the post-Covid business environment, there’s plenty of food for thought around Cloud strategy.

Where next – Old is New?

It’s worth weighing Cloud benefits against the drawbacks, considering options and shaping strategy to fit. In considering options, it’s important to be aware of our legacy blind-spot; the unconscious assumption that any ‘old’ technology must be obsolete. Superseded technology doesn’t necessarily wither and die – often it evolves to address the shortcomings that led to it being superseded. On-prem mainframe risks slipping into the blind-spot despite remaining mainstream. The IDG survey found 54% of organisations’ IT environments are still mostly on-prem. Mainframe is sometimes seen as the high fixed-cost, inflexible, proprietary dinosaur which Cloud left behind when it can be an essential cornerstone of an optimised hybrid Cloud environment.

What’s on offer?

Mainframe technology offers Linux-based, highly secure, flexible, scalable, cost-effective compute and storage capability. I’ve seen organizations with as little as 150TB save 30% off their Cloud storage with a few simple tricks involving shifting to on-prem storage, keeping all the flexibility of Cloud at a much lower cost. With zero trust computing likely to become a necessity for organisations handling large volume sensitive data, IBM’s Hyper Protect Services offer the required centralised control of hyper-secure data and applications. On-prem mainframe offers answers to big-ticket Cloud concerns by complementing and seamlessly interacting with the Cloud environment.

What next?

It’s not sensible to retreat to the shelter of on-prem just because Cloud is looking a bit less white and fluffy. Cloud is too well-established and delivers too many benefits. However, I am seeing a movement towards a hybrid model, mainly from early adopters of Cloud, decoupling their IT strategy into a hybrid approach focused on flexibility. This enables enterprises to cherry-pick infrastructure by workload as needs change, gaining the strengths of Cloud with a cost structure that does not hinder innovation, value or speed. According to the 2020 IDG report, 12% say they have moved an application or workload out of the Cloud, and 15% plan to do so in the next 12 months. This is hardly a Cloud backlash, just a prudent adjustment towards a pragmatic, flexible, best-cost deployment model. Whether and how you undertake this adjustment depends on many factors. The first step is an open-minded assessment of where you stand, taking account of any ‘old’ technology blind-spot. TES offers a free assessment to get you started. If you’re interested, get in touch and let’s continue the conversation.