Typical IT infrastructure in days gone by consisted of racks upon racks of best-of-breed equipment filling niche applications. Shiny boxes from a variety of vendors sat blinking away in server rooms, proudly signaling to admins that they were performing their specific tasks with diligence and skill.
Server, storage, network, security – each box was supplied by a vendor who'd poured their resources into addressing a specific problem until they'd developed a "point product" exquisitely suited to a narrow purpose. It then fell on the IT professionals to stitch those solutions together into a “platform” for the business to deploy.
Today’s technology platforms have matured; they now offer a wider range of useful services. Those IT departments who continue down the best-of-breed, Frankenstein’s-monster approach to infrastructure and security services do their employers a disservice, and leadership should strive to overhaul this mentality where they encounter it in their employees.
Consume, don’t provide, services
Cloud platforms have led to the consolidation of many of the services those shiny boxes used to deliver, with the most significant concentration in the server, storage, and application verticals. In other areas of IT, best-of-breed approaches stubbornly persist. Either it's thought that the needed services don't exist in the cloud or aren't able to perform up to standards.
Network and security departments, in particular, cling to best-of-breed thinking due to the complexities of their roles and the perceived risks associated with doing anything "new." (They may also just be attached to the nifty tech housed in their special boxes.) But what value does that thinking add for businesses? If shifting to cloud-centric infrastructure advances capabilities, do they really still need all those knobs to turn?
Why go cloud-first?
There are many reasons to say yes to cloud, and not just hyperscale vendors like AWS and Azure. There are many more domain-focused providers that specialize in fields like identity management, unified communications, SD-WAN, and, of course, zero trust security.
These specialized cloud platforms outperform the best-of-breed approach through:
- Reduced operational overhead – When maintenance is the cloud provider’s responsibility, the workload for normal operations is reduced and employees are able to spend more time on activities that directly contribute to the business.
- More frequent addition of new features – It's easier and more cost-effective to push out new features and updates to cloud platforms than on-premise products, so vendors are more likely to do it (and do it more often).
- Cost flexibility – Though it's not necessarily cheaper, the ability to provision services via a pay-as-you-go model or per-user, per-month makes it simpler to flex services according to business demands when compared to the traditional DIY approach.
Why businesses cling to best-of-breed
With the odd exception, the reasons for hanging onto a best-of-breed approach – and the reasons an organization should still evolve – typically fall into one of the following five categories:
- A lack of capabilities in any one platform – "We've always done it this way" and "it's just our policy" are phrases that excuse stagnation. Instead, why not consider changing business requirements to suit the capabilities of market-leading solutions?
- The cost of making a change – An IT budget isn’t just for keeping the lights on. At least some of it must be allocated to evolving with technology. Instead of waiting for on-premise solutions to increase productivity and agility, ask how much you're losing out on by not moving to the cloud.
- Resistance to technical evolution – Change can be hard, and some don't react well to it. But that's not a luxury IT leaders can afford. Rather than remaining in a corporate comfort zone, consider investing in an internal upskilling program to arm staff with the skills they need to grow.
- Policies or regulatory compliance requirements block change – People tend to block transformations more than technologies do. Leadership teams should hold IT departments accountable when they fail to move their organizations forward into the new, cloud-first business environment.
- It is cheaper to do things the old way – For some, “going cloud” does not make sense financially and/or there is no need for new technological features or advancements for their business. This is fine, but is it truly the case?
Moving beyond best-of-breed
Migrating to the cloud is not without its own set of risks and challenges. In most cases, it's a people, process, or policy problem that holds up change. If you’re a member of an organization that’s saddled with technical debt due to an inability to leave the best-of-breed mindset behind, consider these core focus areas:
- Embrace the redesign – Going cloud-native requires architectures to be designed with high availability in mind. Services need to be tolerable of interruptions and outages and security strategies need to shift. One of the things I preferred was starting with a clean slate – design something new and work out a migration, as opposed to shoehorning in the latest infrastructure addition.
- Understand the distinction between configuration and customization – There is a distinction between configuring a service and customizing it to fit organizational needs. While many cloud platforms don't allow for customization, those that can are typically upgraded with little tolerance for complex customizations. Businesses must balance adapting to the tools as opposed to changing the tool to fit their needs.
- Prioritize flexibility and growth – IT leaders must institutionalize a preference for employees with the ability to evolve with technology. These internal “changemakers” can introduce cost savings, operational efficiencies, competitive advantages, and other business-defining transformations. This can be started by creating internal opportunities for skills growth and nurturing those employees who show initiative and a desire to broaden their skillsets.
Never let resistance to change chain your organization to best-of-breed thinking. The future is cloud-first, and an organization that starts off on the journey now will arrive at its destination sooner and better prepared than those who hesitate to begin.
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