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The cloud is a cliff not a slope

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 4, 2011  |  3 Comments

In recent discussions with IT executives concerning the cloud an interesting thing has come up  – the nature of migration to the cloud.  In talking with executives many see their migration to the cloud as similar to migrating to other technologies.  The migration path is described as a slope with cloud technologies coming from zero to 100% while existing technologies decline at about the same rate.  That type of transition is seen as orderly, smooth, natural, less risky and preserves the option to reverse course and go back.  Hence the term migration.

Unfortunately, only ducks, elk, caribou, reindeer and other animals migrate.  Systems do not migrate, they transition.  The term migration denotes the ability to return as these animals leave one environment for another only to return latter to where they were.

Systems, resources, etc moving onto Internet based services, aka the cloud, definitely do not migrate and they do not transition on a slope.  Not based on conversations with CIOs who have gone to the cloud in a major way.

The transition to the cloud is more like a cliff, one day you are 100% on your current owner operated or managed service and the next you are 100% on the new cloud based service.  Running in parallel, cutting over gradually makes little sense.  That has been the experience with people transitioning apps ranging from email to core systems.

Being a cliff means that it is difficult to go back and undo such a move.  It’s not as drastic as burning your bridges behind you, but it is a significant change from the more gradual transitions, aka migrations, we are used to.

People planning a transition to the cloud therefore need to plan for a complete cutover on day one, limited to no parallel processing and the need to make personnel changes in short order rather than figure these things out over time.  Does this require more planning and preparation work up front, yes, but remember you are not walking up a hill that you can easily walk back down, rather you are setting yourselves at a new height from which it is less possible to climb back down.

Category: 2011  cloud  technology  

Tags: cloud-computing  it-strategy  strategy-and-planning  technology  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The cloud is a cliff not a slope

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark P. McDonald, Bromley Stone, UK Technology News, Toshio Matsuda, Keith Ricketts and others. Keith Ricketts said: The cloud is a cliff not a slope: In recent discussions with IT executives concerning the cloud an interesting t… […]

  2. Neil Moore says:

    In some ways I think that this is one of the advantages of cloud because could is abuot changing culture as well as technology. In this context, making a step change (with all its risks) may be better than a more evolutionary approach.

  3. Lydia Leong says:

    There are two types of transitions that you’re talking about, though — macro transitions vs. micro transitions, so to speak.

    The macro transition — the move from no use of cloud technologies to near-ubiquitous use of cloud technologies — is a gradual one. Taken as a whole over the period of years, it is indeed gradual and the risks are limited.

    The macro transition, however, is comprised of lots of micro transitions — the migrations of single applications or pieces of business functionality into the cloud. Each micro transition is an all-in thing, as you said — you cut over from one solution to the other.

    A substantial number of IT micro-transitions are cutovers, though, and not parallel runs and so forth. For instance, if you are migrating from, let’s say, Lotus to Exchange, it’s not hugely different from a cutover planning perspective than going from Lotus to GMail. Ditto going from a home-grown CRM system to Oracle CRM, vs. to

    Now, I would agree with you that more cloud adoptions tend to be cutovers rather than running the old and new solutions side by side, just due to the nature of the things that people are doing in the cloud.

    But there are also plenty of cloud transitions with parallel operations, especially in the infrastructure arena. For instance, transitioning to cloud IaaS is often treated just like bringing up a new data center, which is often done keeping the old running as a transition to the new is done.

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