Think you can skip over the cloud learning curve? Think again.

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Learn what roadblocks arise during the cloud educational process and how to succeed.

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There is one immutable truth I’ve found throughout my career that I think transcends all industries: you can’t leap and hop your way up the learning curve. To be truly successful in your efforts, you have to earn the knowledge for yourself. Why? The knowledge you earn along the journey provides the critical insights necessary to independently make course corrections and deliver a solution not only to the existing problem, but all future problems as well.

When discussing cloud adoption and its challenges, I’m instantly reminded of Jurassic Park. During the initial tour of the grounds, Dr. Ian Malcom sounds a warning to Jurassic Park entrepreneur John Hammond:

“You read what others had done and took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves.”

Big public cloud providers, like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, continue to earn their knowledge every day delivering solutions to buyers in IT and the enterprise. Every company, whether a user or provider, big or small, starts their cloud journey from the same point. The difference in progress between companies is measured by the level of investment and tolerance for failure in gaining knowledge. Today, that knowledge gap is most easily recognized by comparing the big three cloud providers and their numerous challengers who have fallen by the way side. There’s an imbalance of knowledge which manifests as market power pulling the big three further into the lead as the frontrunners of the cloud industry. The same dynamic is winding its way through the Fortune 500, where cloud maturity is quickly becoming a competitive differentiator. Since the big public cloud providers haven’t taken the time to share their secret sauce (the essential recipe for building high value clouds), most CIOs are left to figure it out for themselves.

Cloud, in a confined space, is relatively easy, hence the common focus on private cloud. However, breaching the public cloud dam with hybrid cloud results is a massive torrent of possibility and complexity. Moving outside the four walls makes cloud real; the nuances are amplified and there are multiple blindsides to protect. As a longtime proponent of public cloud, to aid in its adoption I have developed and refined my own Cloud Learning Curve over the years. This chart can be used to show IT leaders which challenges they should expect to face as they pursue cloud capabilities. If read start-to-end, it appears as a list of warnings in somewhat chronological order, with two precarious points where many companies struggle repeatedly to overcome: the Gulf of Dev-Ops and the Gulf of Business Value.

Brian Butte's Cloud Learning Curve

The Gulf of Dev-Ops represents the transition in focus from pure infrastructure to a platform. Cloud is more than just virtualization; it requires the integration of dozens of capabilities which operate like Lego building blocks to simplify as much of the application development and deployment as possible. Crossing that particular gulf is an important step. However, the focus is typically still very tactical, fomenting the next challenge: the Gulf of Business Value. Many early adopters are struggling to cross this chasm in part because, essentially, the toothpaste is out of the tube and they’ve lost control of cloud. 

In contrast to its appearance, I believe the best way to read the diagram is starting at the end and working backwards. Having the end in mind helps in understanding both the overt and subtle links between each of the roadblocks. Knowing some of the major roadblocks other organizations have faced helps to shape the tactics to anticipate the next roadblock. Formulating a strategy by having a clear understanding of the desired end state is a leading indicator of success.

Getting to cloud first and fast initially sounds both compelling and exciting. In reality, the path to cloud nirvana is littered by the hollowed-out shells of failed projects, primarily due to companies trying to jump the learning curve like John Hammond. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to earning knowledge. Just ask John Hammond.

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