What does it really mean to be cloud-first?

Katarina Marinković


“How is your cloud transformation progressing?” is one of the key questions addressed to IT directors and managers in the research conducted by IDG Research. The aim of this research, conducted in the form of a survey of a sample of 200 respondents, was to research progress in the field of cloud transformation in companies of all sizes, from medium to large organizations with 6,250 employees on average. Among other things, the results showed that the journey to IT transformation means much more than reproducing the slogan “we are cloud-first.” What is perhaps surprising is the conclusion of the research that companies with a hybrid cloud approach are closer to their goals than those that defined themselves as cloud-first. Why is that so, and what does this well-known phrase really mean?

Definition of cloud-first approach and understanding of terms

There are individuals (and organizations) who, for the term cloud-first, think that traditional hardware and software are no longer an option to consider. All new technologies must be on the cloud, every IT initiative implemented in the cloud. Given the high growth of cloud computing (Gartner estimates that by 2025, as many as 85% of organizations will adopt cloud-first access), more and more companies consider cloud transformation necessary for survival in the digital world, using cloud-first as a counterpart to cloud only. There is a difference, however.

What is a cloud-first strategy?

The simplest definition of a cloud-first strategy is an approach that involves considering the cloud before all other technologies, whether it is a brand-new IT project or an upgrade of an old system. By adopting a cloud-first approach, the company can reduce the constraints and complexity of maintaining and managing on-premise technology, but also gain additional benefits such as mobility, agility in resource provisioning and faster innovation.

When a company with this strategy decides not to use cloud technologies for a particular project, it will have a good reason for it. For example, some workloads are (for various reasons) better kept in an on-premise environment while others are ideal for the cloud.

What is a cloud only strategy?

Unlike the cloud-first approach, the cloud-only strategy can be limiting as it ignores alternative solutions, such as hybrid and on-premise options. The focus is therefore on using cloud solutions for all services and systems. The fact is that for large systems that use various legacy applications, migration to the cloud-only environment cannot be implemented “in one day”, and for some it will never be an adequate option. In an attempt to discover the optimal “recipe” for IT modernization, a third term has emerged – a “cloud fit” approach based on pillars such as:

Cloud strategy

  • Application performance
  • Data classification / management
  • Complexity of workloads
  • Financial viability (ROI)

Cloud migration

  • Methodologies
  • Organizational structure and processes (eg DevOps)
  • Cross-functional teams, tools and partners

Application of best practice

  • Capacity analysis
  • Service analysis
  • Data transfer optimization

Basically, cloud fit involves a migration approach that carefully coordinates various aspects of the IT ecosystem, enabling the company to step out of the legacy environment in the most efficient and least risky way for it. Business requirements are analysed from the aspect of on-premise functionality and cloud options in order to define the optimal solution – “ideal fit”.

Cloud future is hybrid?

Let us return to the research from the beginning of this text. The companies (25% of the total respondents) that stated that they apply the cloud-first strategy cited security concerns, financial aspects, resistance to changes within the organization and lack of expertise as the main reasons.

At the same time, the organizations that are the most successful in cloud transformation used hybrid cloud strategies to define optimal environments (private and public cloud, on-premises) for determining workloads, streamlining the value of migration and focusing on pre-migration planning and design. One of the conclusions, shared by our clients, is that you don’t have to do everything at once. Cloud transformation is much more than moving a server to a data centre provider – its value is the strategic modernization of the IT ecosystem, and thus business. How to unlock that value? By what approach and through which routes?

The answer requires a thorough assessment of the IT system, and the business requirements that IT needs to meet. If you need specialized support in this domain, Mainstream experts are here to guide you through the complex process of system analysis and design, as well as choosing the best cloud environment for your needs. For more insights on how we can help you accelerate your transformation, check out our approach to cloud strategy or write to our experts.

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What does it really mean to be cloud-first?

“How is your cloud transformation progressing?” is one of the key questions addressed to IT directors and managers in the research conducted by IDG Research.