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“Cloud first”: the origins and the current meaning

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With Satya Nadella, the newly appointed CEO of Microsoft now emphasizing “mobile first” together with the already emphasized “cloud first” one is becoming curious about the origins of the “cloud first” concept as well as the meanings attached to it since then:

1. Microsoft was the fast follower of the original federal computing idea interpreting it from a traditional software vendor point of view

From The Midweek Download: July 25th Edition–Graphics in Windows 8 & Getting Started with the New Office Preview [The Official Microsoft Blog, July 25, 2012]

Experiencing modern Office with SkyDrive: Cloud-first. No compromises. Last November, we shared our thoughts on the state of personal cloud storage and our vision for connecting file, app and device clouds to address key customer problems. For example, students start and finish projects in Microsoft Office, but that 75 percent of them use other tools in between, such as email, Google Docs, and Dropbox. Using these different tools can lead to formatting loss, extra steps and versions, or just confusion, since each tool has its own limitations. Announced earlier this week, the new Office puts an end to that. Check out this July 20 post on Inside SkyDrive, Hotmail and Messenger to find out how.

From Microsoft Releases Office 365 Home Premium [press release, Jan 29, 2013]

New consumer cloud service works across devices to help busy people simplify their lives and get more done.

Microsoft also announced it will now deliver many new features and services to the cloud first, transforming the company’s traditional three-year release cycle. Now, new features and services stream to subscribers as soon as they are ready, keeping subscribers always up to date while eliminating the hassles of upgrading.

“This is a major leap forward,” said Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division. “People’s needs change rapidly, and Office 365 Home Premium will change with them.”

From Microsoft unveils what’s next for enterprise IT [press release, June 3, 2013]

New wave of 2013 products brings it all together for hybrid cloud, mobile employees and modern application development.

With advances in virtualization, software-defined networking, data storage and recovery, in-memory transaction processing, and more, these solutions were engineered with Microsoft’s “cloud-firstfocus, including a faster pace of development and release to market. They incorporate Microsoft’s experience running large-scale cloud services, connect to Windows Azure and work together to provide a consistent platform for powerful hybrid cloud scenarios. More information can be found at blog posts by Anderson about Windows Server and System Centerand by Quentin Clark about SQL Server.

From Partners in the enterprise cloud [The Official Microsoft Blog, June 24, 2013]

The following is a post from Satya Nadella, President of Microsoft’s Server & Tools Business.

The cloud computing era – or, as I like to call it, the enterprise cloud eracalls for bold, new thinking. It requires companies to rethink what they build, to rethink how they operate and to rethink whom they partner with. We are doing that by being “cloud first” in everything we do. From our vision of a Cloud OS – a consistent platform spanning our customer’s private clouds, service provider clouds and Windows Azure – to the way we partner to ensure that the applications our customers use run, fully supported, in those clouds.

From: Leading the Enterprise Cloud Era [The Official Microsoft Blog, June 3, 2013]

The following is a post from Satya Nadella, President of the Server & Tools Business at Microsoft.

Today, I sent an internal mail to Microsoft employees to kick off a wave of product updates we are delivering to our customers and partners at TechEd North America 2013. The purpose of my mail was to share both the progress we have made and encourage all of our more than 90,000 employees to keep pushing in our efforts to revolutionize the enterprise cloud landscape.
I am sharing this email with you, our customers, partners and media, to provide context on the transformation we have made, and to highlight Microsoft’s deep focus and commitment on the cloud. I encourage you to tune into the TechEd keynote, read the press release and sign up to receive preview software as it becomes available over the upcoming weeks.
It’s an exciting time for Microsoft, our customers, and the industry. We are entering a new era, and I look forward to sharing more as we continue this journey together.

Leading the Enterprise Cloud Era

Today at TechEd North America we’ll unveil key developments that signal just how far we’ve come as a leader in the enterprise cloud. We are announcing a new wave of Windows Azure services, a significant update to our server line-up (Windows Server, System Center, SQL Server) and new tools (Visual Studio) all built for the cloud.

Two years ago we bet our future on the cloud and quietly refocused our 19 billion-dollar [enterprise] software business by completely transforming our products, culture and practices to be cloud-first. We knew the journey would be long and challenging with plenty of doubters. But we forged ahead knowing that the cloud transition would change the face of enterprise computing.

As it turns out we were right to take this risk. Because of the fundamental shifts the cloud brings, more than 2 trillion dollars of overall IT spend is now up for grabs. It starts with the rapidly exploding world of devices and a new generation of connected apps that are revolutionizing life and business. Software-driven datacenters are making access to computing resources infinite and elastic. Big Data is changing the way we gain insight and act in business, science and society. Cloud is the central architectural paradigm that makes all of this possible.

By applying this architectural approach to Microsoft’s own diverse set of internet-scale properties (Bing, Xbox Live, Office 365, SkyDrive, etc.) we’ve gained priceless insights into what it means to be truly enterprise-grade. By living this new paradigm first-hand, we have been able to build a cloud platform that spans IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. We also are unique in that we make our “secret sauce” of cloud infrastructure available to customers and partners to build and operate their own clouds. This is THE most encompassing vision in the industry and far exceeds what our competitors can say.

To enable this transformation we had to make deep changes to our organizational culture, overhauling how we build and deliver products. Every one of our division’s nearly 10,000 people now think and build for the cloud – first. Our engineers live a “live-site” first culture to better respond to our customers in real time. And we are laser-focused on building more complete end-to-end service scenarios, or modern workloads, to deliver more value to our customers and partners.

From TechEd Europe: Big bets and big opportunities [The Official Microsoft Blog, June 24, 2013]

The following is a post from Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President of Windows Server & System Center at Microsoft.

Microsoft has made a big bet on what we call our cloud-first design principles, and many companies are already benefiting. Key examples in Europe include Telefónica and DDM CineTrailer – both of whom are already operating Microsoft hybrid cloud solutions.

Telefónica is the largest telecom company in Spain, and, as of July 2013, will deploy Windows Server Hyper-V and SQL Server, with the goal to virtualize more than 80 percent of its IT services and design for expansion into the Windows Azure platform as needed. The company expects this move to result in a 15 percent cost savings in the next three to five years while making their business more agile and productive.

DDM is a digital media company from Italy that developed its popular movie-viewing app CineTrailer on Windows Azure. DDM’s customers expect to consume content through a variety of device platforms, and the agency’s previous solution, Amazon Web Services (AWS), could not scale easily enough to ensure all the services across PCs, mobile devices and connected TVs could be maintained – especially with the application’s rapid growth rate.

These customer stories illustrate that our cloud-first approach is not dependent on something we’re promising out on the horizon – but it is possible with products that are ready right now.

2. The Vivek Kundra’s initiative of “cloud first” was the origin

Vivek Kundra in Picking the brain of ‘rock star CIO’ Vivek Kundra [ZDNet, April 24, 2013]

I instituted a cloud-first policy because I saw waste. The U.S. government had 2,090 data centers by 2009—at 27 percent utilization! So the government was building all this capacity that wasn’t being used. It’s very easy to say that you’ve got an IT project, you’re building infrastructure, providing compute and storage. But look at the average consumer’s experience with government: you’re on the phone.

U.S. Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, stated on December 9, 2010 in the IT reform plan:

The shift to “light technologies,” that is, cloud services, which can be deployed rapidly, and shared solutions will result in substantial cost savings, allowing agencies to optimize spending, and allowing agencies to reinvest in their most critical mission needs. Agencies must focus on consolidating existing data centers, reducing the need for infrastructure growth by implementing a “Cloud First” policy for services, and increasing their use of available cloud and shared services.

Government Saves $45 Million by Moving Email to the Cloud [DellLargeEnterprise YouTube channel, Oct 17, 2011]

Dell Cloud: http://content.dell.com/us/en/fedgov/… The cloud first policy says that the Government doesn’t need all of the current infrastructure they have. It’s better to leverage the infrastructure of companies that are doing it better rather it be a public cloud or private cloud. The General Services Administration and the Department of Agriculture were able to save $45 million dollars by moving email to the cloud. It’s better to leverage the infrastructure of companies that are doing it better rather it be a public cloud or private cloud. The General Services Administration and the Department of Agriculture were able to save $45 million dollars by moving email to the cloud. http://content.dell.com/us/en/fedgov/cloud-computing.aspx

Three years after US ‘Cloud First’ mandate, federal agencies struggle with implementation [Business Cloud News, Feb 10, 2014]

Three years after the US government implemented a ‘Cloud First’ mandate that would require federal agencies to consider cloud-based IT services for certain systems, the federal public service continues to struggle with cloud implementations according to recently published research from Accenture. Annette Rippert, managing director of technology solutions and Accenture’s lead on federal cloud work said a lack of critical skills is the leading factor at play here.

In early 2011 the then US chief information officer Vivek Kundra released the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, which became known as ‘Cloud First’ because it required agencies to evaluate cloud-based IT solutions in many cases before making any new IT investments.

But according to Accenture, which polled and interviewed 286 US federal government technology leaders, most agencies continue to struggle to develop and implement cloud strategies three years on.

For instance, of the 20 cloud migration plans submitted to the Government Accountability Office for approval in 2012, only one has been completed. 11 of the projects failed to report performance metrics and seven did not include thorough enough cost estimates.

Less than half of managers (43 per cent) are familiar with their agency’s cloud strategy. And only 30 per cent of survey respondents claim to be implementing cloud strategies, with just 4 per cent of agencies building out new (mostly private) cloud platforms.

Rippert explained that while security and cost are still seen as key barriers, the central issue stems from these agencies not having the necessary skills in-house. More than two third of respondents (68 per cent) don’t believe their departments have the necessary skills to implement a cloud strategy.

At least 31 per cent of respondents believe they would need to hire at least one more person to implement a cloud strategy, and 45 per cent of respondents feel their agency would have to invest somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000.

At a time when the US is undergoing significant budget cutbacks, due in part to the 2013 budget sequestration, it’s difficult to get a sense of when these challenges will let up. Research and analysis firm IDC believes US federal government IT spending will remain flat well into 2015, which includes spending on training.

“While there are initial challenges in the adoption of cloud computing, it holds the potential to play a major role in increasing government efficiency and service delivery,” Rippert said, adding that when properly executed US federal government agencies have too much to gain not to shift their IT systems to the cloud.

Although not challenged by public sector budget cutbacks on the same scale, the UK government has seen similarly low levels of cloud uptake despite pushing its version of ‘Cloud First’, the G-Cloud framework. According to a survey released in December last year over 90 per cent of the wider UK public sector has yet to procure a service from G-Cloud, and 76 per cent of those surveyed claimed to have no idea what G-Cloud is.

From the Wikipedia article Vivek Kundra:

Vivek Kundra (Hindi: विवेक कुंद्रा; born October 9, 1974) is an Indian Americanadministrator who served as the first chief information officer of the United States from March, 2009 to August, 2011 under President Barack Obama.[1] He is currently the Executive Vice President of Emerging Markets for Salesforce[2] and a visiting Fellow atHarvard University.[3]

He previously served in D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s cabinet as the District’s Chief Technology Officer and in Virginia Governor Tim Kaine‘s cabinet as Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Technology.

On December 9, 2010, Kundra published the “25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management”, which included Cloud First as one of its top priorities for achieving IT efficiency. Cloud First required each agency to identify three cloud initiatives.[48] He announced his decision to leave the federal government and join Harvard University within 7 months of this strategy, too short for any of cloud first initiatives to have demonstrated cost savings.[49] After a short 5 months at Harvard he left to join Salesforce, a cloud SaaS and PaaS provider.

The first major cloud project during his tenure was GSA’s migration of e-mail/Lotus Notes to the Gmail and Salesforce.com’s platform. GSA awarded a contract for e-mail in December 2010 and a five-year contract to salesforce Salesforce.com in August 2011.[49] A September 2012 Inspector General report found the savings and cost analysis not verifiable and recommended GSA update its cost analysis. GSA office of CIO was unable to provide documentation supporting its analysis regarding the initial projected savings for government staffing and contractor support. The audit found that the agency could neither verify those savings nor clearly determine if the cloud migration is meeting agency expectations despite initial claims that indicated 50% [50] cost savings [51] 

Kundra’s efforts to use cloud-based web applications in the D.C. government have also been considered innovative.[16] Following the D.C. example driven by Kundra, the city of Los Angeles is now taking steps to adopt the cloud computing model for its IT needs.[17] A D.C. spokeswoman said that the District of Columbia paid $479,560 for the Enterprise Google Apps license, which is $3.5 million less than what it had planned to spend on an alternative plan.[17] Since its deployment in July 2008 Google Apps is available to 38,000 D.C. city employees, but only 1,000–2,000 are actively using Google Docs. Only 200 employees are actively using Gmail.[18] In late 2010, hoping to spur use of Gmail, the city ran a pilot program, selecting about 300 users and having them use the Google product for three months. Google participated closely in the project, but Gmail ultimately didn’t pass the “as good or better” test with the users, who preferred Exchange/Outlook. In July 2011, the General Services Administration (GSA) became the first federal agency to migrate its email services for 17,000 employees and contractors to the cloud-based Google Apps for Government, saving $15.2 million over 5 years.[19] In January 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) became the largest federal agency to migrate email and collaboration applications to the cloud, moving 25,000 employees to Google Apps for Government and saving 50% over the legacy Microsoft Exchange solution.[20] As of July 2011, government agencies in 42 states are leveraging cloud-based messaging and collaboration services.[21]

Kundra also moved the city’s geographic information systems department to a middle school.[22]

From Wikipedia article UK Government G-Cloud

The UK Government G-Cloud is an initiative targeted at easing procurement by public sector bodies in departments of the United Kingdom Government of commodity information technology services that use cloud computing.[1] The G-Cloud consists of:

  • A series of framework agreements with suppliers, from which public sector organisations can call off services without needing to run a full tender or competition procurement process
  • An online store – the “CloudStore” that allows public sector bodies to search for services that are covered by the G-Cloud frameworks

The service began in 2012, and had several calls for contracts.[2] By May 2013 there were over 700 suppliers – over 80% of which aresmall and medium enterprises.[3] £18.2 million (US$27.7 million) of sales were made by April 2013.[4] 

Cloud computing caused a step change in the way information systems can be delivered. Given this, the UK Government initiated the G-Cloud programme of work to deliver computing based capability (from fundamental resources such as storage and processing to full fledged applications) using cloud computing.[5]

G-Cloud established framework agreements with a large number of service providers; and lists those services on a publicly accessible portal known a the CloudStore. Public Sector organisations can call off the services listed on CloudStore without needing to go through a full tender process.

After plans were announced in March 2011, the government aimed to shift 50% of new government IT spending to cloud based services by 2015.[6] Furthermore the government established a “Cloud First” approach to IT, mandating that central government purchases IT services through the cloud unless it can be proven that an alternative is more cost effective.[3][7][8]

In June 2013 G-Cloud moved to become part of Government Digital Service (GDS) with the director Denise McDonagh moving to be CTO of the Home Office. Tony Singleton, COO of GDS, took over as director of G-Cloud.[9][10]

Public Sector Internal Identity Federation will offer authentication services for public-sector access to G-cloud services.

Cloud computing? No way, say half of SMEs [Computing (UK), Feb 7, 2014]

As a statement of reality, the oft-repeated mantra “Cloud computing is ideally suited to smaller businesses” is about as helpful as “Brown-eyed people like biscuits”.

First, like brown-eyed people, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are an extremely varied bunch. SMEs make up well over 90 per cent of all businesses in the UK. It is a sector that embraces everything from an app developer in London’s trendy Shoreditch to a family farm in the Scottish Highlands. And like biscuits, cloud services come in a variety of flavours, from simple storage space, to more complex software such as collaboration, mobility, CRM or office suites, to infrastructure or platform as a service, and even private cloud infrastructure. So, like many marketing mantras, this one is pretty meaningless.

That aside, one thing that most SMEs do have in common is a small IT department, and renting rather than buying IT services and software may be a sensible way of stretching limited resources further. But is this enough to make them particularly suitable candidates for cloud, above and beyond large firms?

Among the benefits of cloud most frequently cited by the industry are these: access to enterprise-grade technology; moving capital expenditure onto the operational budget; increased flexibility and agility as technicians are freed up to do more strategic work; and being able to expand and contract operations at will.

You can see why all these would appeal, but on the other hand, the needs of smaller businesses can be very specialised, and as such may be better served by dedicated staff in-house.

We surveyed a sample of 120 IT managers at UK firms with between five and 250 employees. Fifty-eight per cent operated from a single building, while at the other end of the scale five per cent had more than 10 premises. All sectors were represented, but as subscribers to Computing, the sample was slightly skewed towards the technical, so one might expect the respondents to be more receptive to the benefits proffered by cloud than average.

imageNevertheless, one-half of the respondents said they run all their IT in-house. Equally the sample was split pretty much down the middle between those who perceived cloud to offer particular benefits to small businesses and those that did not (figure 1).

Among the enthusiasts were a few firms (five per cent) who were already in the process of shifting their IT wholesale to one of the big public cloud providers: “We run all our SaaS products from AWS,” said the CIO of a small technology company, explaining that all in-house servers were being decommissioned in favour of a “cloud-firstpolicy.

A further 11 per cent said they are undecided on further server investment and that ultimately their decision would depend on developments in the market.

Far more common, though, was a hybrid approach. As firms develop and markets change, many will find it expedient to offload certain applications or administrative functions (most frequently email and backup, respectively, according to the survey) while retaining core IT services in house.

“Our ticketing system needs to be highly available, highly resilient, and able to deal with huge peaks in demand. It’s not cost effective for us to serve this sort of system in-house or on-premise,” said the IT manager at an entertainments venue, an exponent of the hybrid approach who also confirmed that “local servers are and will remain the cornerstone of our IT infrastructure for the next three years.”

In settling broadly on a hybrid model, smaller firms are no different to their larger counterparts.

Overall levels of cloud adoption among UK SMEs seem little different to that by UK enterprises – if anything they are rather less. Half of those surveyed said they run everything in-house, while in a separate Computing survey conducted in November 2013 only 39 per cent of medium to large organisations said the same.

If cloud really is ideally suited to smaller firms it would seem they’ve yet to get the message.

Dropped connections

Connectivity is one area where there is a real differentiation between large and small. Larger organisations will generally have the wherewithal to overcome deficiencies in local broadband provision, perhaps drawing on high-bandwidth services from several different providers. However, SMEs may not be able to afford this, having to make do with a single ADSL line while they wait for fibre to reach their area.

Among the small organisations surveyed, only 76 per cent were fully satisfied with their broadband service in terms of available bandwidth, and 17 per cent said their connection is unreliable. This was sometimes due to a lack of fast broadband in their area. “We’re rural, so no fibre yet,” said one; “Desperate for FTTC, promised via the county council by December 2014” said another;

“Sometimes it hangs, other times it drops totally,” complained a third. However an urban location may be no guarantee of good service: “City centre location but still limited to standard DSL, no Infinity, cable or other,” lamented an IT services firm from the heart of Belfast.

For public-facing applications, the potential frustration and losses in productivity caused by unreliable connections to the internet makes on-premise systems the better choice. So, until connectivity issues are resolved, there will always be a proportion of SMEs that will not even consider the cloud option.


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