Awakening architecture with cloud innovation core

Strategic benefits of cloud native thinking, application modernization, and “born in the cloud” architecture  

A point of view on how organizations can reach their technology innovation targets by considering the latest in leading cloud native approaches and their impact across the cloud service landscape.

While more and more businesses understand the value that the cloud brings, achieving the sweet spot of optimally balanced cloud operation still remains evasive for most organizations, especially where there is an expectation that simply lifting and shifting workloads to the cloud will bring business benefits. A cloud strategy that defers the modernization of application workloads as part of a transformation will inevitably underplay or even marginalize innovation opportunity. The ability to truly innovate through the application of technology has now become a critical business enabler.

The most successful cloud implementations are those that offer the now well-recognized potential of reduced cost and increased efficiency while providing a solid innovation platform, allowing businesses to transform in response to market change, whether adverse or opportunistic. The current pandemic highlights the impact of technology enablement in the face of changing market conditions and further supports the case for business agility, underpinned by innovative technology solutions.

This business imperative brings into focus how important it is for organizations to consider the critical design goal of enabling innovation in their cloud strategy, what a foundation for innovation looks like, and what the potential pitfalls along this journey are, a consideration that needs to be weighed against a waning financial benefit of direct lift and shift strategy. On this point, organizations should be looking to implement cloud native architecture wherever possible across all tiers of the IT landscape (infrastructure, cross cutting, or application-focused) whether in the context of greenfield development or legacy workload migration.

In this article we explore how cloud native architecture, focused on establishing core innovation capability across three critical pillars of platform foundations, enterprise data lake, and modern compute services, can help you realize increased business value of cloud while avoiding the common pitfalls of adoption, concluding that:

  • Realizing a cloud-enabled platform for innovation is no longer a “nice to have”; it is a critical business enabler.
  • Cloud native architecture unlocks tangible cloud benefits and offers optimal efficiency in design, development, and operational phases of the application life cycle.
  • Developing a robust reference model for innovation and a core set of modernized cloud services will go a long way to driving adoption across the enterprise.
  • Anticipating and mitigating the common pitfalls experienced by other organizations will accelerate time to value.

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“Innovation core” is a technology perspective that has its roots in traditional modes of enterprise IT realigned to the cloud native paradigm through a set of unified cloud native architecture principles. It introduces an architectural paradigm that organizations can adopt to cover key facets of cloud native adoption and better understand potential approaches toward attaining organizational goals.

Simply stated, the value proposition here is that getting the core services deployed successfully and in a shared model will unlock the desired benefits for the majority of innovation opportunities.

Characteristics and aspects of the innovation core:

We believe that a well-developed innovation core should be recognizable based on several fundamental characteristics.

  • Well-aligned cloud native principles
  • Vendor and deployment model agnostic
  • Robust and agileRelevant and flexible
  • Rigorously defined
  • Curated and actively governed

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Cloud foundations speaks largely to the tactical, cross-cutting concerns of the enterprise cloud capability split across key domains. While it is critical that these static capabilities are robustly implemented, it is equally important that they are bound by an operating model that provides capabilities related to transformation, governance, and engineering. A practical cloud operating model is, of course, an essential part of cloud adoption but is beyond the scope of this article. Concepts of the cloud business office for business-related concerns and the cloud center of excellence for architecture- and technology-related concerns should be also considered for adoption.

Establishing the operational framework can be the most daunting task for organizations as the touchpoints between people, process, and technology frequently converge within cloud foundations given that this is typically a shared domain. In our experience, getting the governance aspects correct is critical to success. We would recommend establishing a cloud business office for strategic guidance and cost control and business value assurance, and a center of excellence for architectural quality assurance, cloud service management, and technology innovation, which is a significant factor in mitigating the pitfalls (more on this in the “Avoiding the pitfalls” section).

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The enterprise data warehouse approach has been a core part of many data strategies since the evolution of online transactional processing and online analytical processing systems and is just as valid, at least conceptually speaking, in today’s cloud-centric landscape. However, the exponential explosion of data creation and subsequent need for timely data processing can prove challenging for traditional, monolithic database products and toolsets. Therefore, the advancement of this critical capability is intrinsically tied to and enabled by cloud native characteristics of instantly variable (and theoretically limitless) scale and capacity.

As a result, more and more siloed data stores are increasingly being subsumed into (or replaced by) a wider enterprise data architecture that offers improved capability for data at scale storage and processing through techniques of distributed architecture and parallel processing. Hadoop is the widely recognized origin of this approach and still provides the underpinnings of what is now commonly termed data lake.

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The modern application platform is concerned with the delivery of compute capabilities of the innovation core (arguably the most recognizable shift over the past decade), driving an immense impact to the application development world with the evolution of virtualization, containerized compute, and serverless architecture.

This recognition is many times manifest in IT strategy as a desire to lift and shift from, or stretch across, on-premise to public cloud in order to mitigate “big bang” risk. Here we suggest that while a lift-and-shift strategy is appropriate with certain workloads and circumstances, it must be considered part of a cloud native strategy. If not, we have seen a tendency to defer innovation benefit in favor of what is decreasing return on investment in the lift-and-shift approach—“wait to innovate” is not an option in today’s market. 

It is worth noting that the fledgling cloud computing offerings from the current top two market share vendors (AWS and Microsoft) came to life as abstracted compute services.
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Inevitably, the more complex the organization, the higher the chances of failure of cloud adoption and transformation during the journey of maturing innovation capability. What follows here is a selection of recurring pitfall themes that we believe can be mitigated with practical application of innovation core thinking.

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