Cloud adoption: Why you have to get the measure of scalability

People blithely talk about scalability as a driver for moving to the cloud. But unless you define scalability precisely, you'll never know if cloud is the best way of achieving your goals.

Surveys, polls, research — organisations conduct all three to try to take the pulse of the market and understand where a particular technology might be in terms of adoption. This is the second year that Northbridge Ventures conducted its Future of Cloud Computing survey and, like most cloud-related surveys, the results offer up interesting titbits in terms of trends and data points — especially when compared with previous years' findings.

Scalability and agility are as nebulous and open to interpretation as security, which makes it difficult to understand exactly what aspect of cloud is driving or inhibiting adoption

The inhibitors remain fairly constant — security still tops the list — but the drivers have changed over the past year. Where last year agility topped the chart, followed closely by scalability and cost factors, this year scalability moved past agility and cost actually decreased in significance as a driver for the cloud.

What's interesting and frustrating about these kinds of summary surveys is the lack of definition of categories. Scalability and agility are as nebulous and open to interpretation as security, which makes it difficult to understand exactly what aspect of cloud is driving or inhibiting adoption.

Scalability as it relates to cloud is a multi-headed beast — three, to be exact, like the chimera of ancient legend. Scalability can refer to applications, which are probably the first thing you thought of, but in the context of cloud it can also refer to scale of operations or the business.

Intertwined drivers

This point may seem like nit-picking, particularly because all three heads of scalability are intimately related. Automatically scaling applications scales operations because it frees them from tedious manual processes. Automatically scaling applications scales the business because its revenue-generated sources can scale to adjust with demand, which is also an aspect of agility. These drivers are all so intertwined it's difficult to extract any single one, isn't it?

The reason it's important to distinguish what scalability is targeting is because cloud may or may not be the appropriate way in which to realise the goal.

Scalability of apps and ops is not peculiar to cloud, but it's just much simpler and faster to achieve in a cloud environment, something 53 percent of respondents in the survey indicated. Yet that doesn't mean there aren't negatives to the approach.

Efficiency gains from scaling operations through cloud computing adoption can backfire if operational administration of the cloud environment is too disconnected from datacentre operations, resulting in the need to manage two environments. Staff lacking appropriate skillsets in cloud can further degrade gains.

Surveys and polls can't really dig into the specifics, despite the advantages of doing so. But organisations need to be more precise than polls as they move forward.

Cloud computing focus

Understanding which aspect of scalability — apps, ops, or the business — is the primary goal will inform IT and the business of where investments relative to cloud computing need to be focused: staff and training, technology and integration, or provider.

It's important to remember with cloud is how, not what. Cloud may be how you're implementing a strategy to reach a goal, but it isn't or shouldn't be the goal or strategy itself.

To successfully exploit the cloud — and really any new technology — you need to know what your goal is before adoption , to assure it aligns with those goals and is capable of meeting them, as well as fitting into the overall strategy of both the business and IT.