Do and don'ts of navigating data analytics in the cloud

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What you’ve heard is true: the cloud is drastically changing enterprise operations across the board, including how data and analytics are processed, managed and stored.

However, while it’s easy to feel as if a 100 percent public cloud deployment option is the only way to go after reading the latest success story, it’s important to remember that the cloud isn’t magic. In fact, it’s just like any other infrastructure option available to the enterprise, with its own unique benefits and challenges.

The cloud came with the promise of eliminating the frustration of vendor “lock in” and being tied to that technology until either the hardware became obsolete, or the cost/benefit analysis of the environment reached its logical financial end. With today’s cloud deployments, particularly in the realm of data analytics, this lock in still exists – it just comes in the form of being locked in to a single cloud environment. (As a result, more organizations are actually trending towards a multi-cloud strategy, further evidence that the cloud itself is not a panacea.)

Many find out after the fact that there is often difficulty and expense to transition your data between hyper-cloud vendors or even back to an on-premises environment.

It’s possible to take advantage of the cloud’s benefits while avoiding unwanted lock ins and other side effects. However, it requires giving your organization the time and tools to create a fruitful cloud strategy based on an optimal balance between the benefits and risks of infrastructure technologies. To find out what’s right for your company’s unique needs, ask yourself these questions before committing to the cloud.

Why are you looking at the cloud?

Consider what aspects and benefits of the cloud most excite you and how those fit in with your organization’s daily operations and long-term goals. If you’re a company whose processing needs scale drastically throughout the year, the benefits you’ll receive from utilizing the cloud may be worth any adverse consequences.

For example, in-store and online sales rise drastically for retail organizations during the holiday season and other specific times of the year, such as Labor Day weekend. The cloud can allow them to prep for, endure and ramp down from those “high points” without paying for that amount of bandwidth throughout the whole year.

On the other hand, if you’re a small business with only one office, the scalability power of the cloud that you’d be paying for – which allows you to distribute analytics power globally to thousands of different employees, customers, suppliers and partners – wouldn’t really be necessary.

Are you looking to reduce costs or complexity?

The marketing hype on the cloud positioning it as being an “easy button” can draw you in, but the reality is moving an enterprise data warehouse or another type of analytical environment to the cloud is just like moving one database platform to another – and it comes with the same challenges.

You and your team need to be ready to migrate, monitor and test the new environment, and when you are migrating systems that have developed over time, “lifting-and-shifting” does not come without running into technology issues or making functional decisions that impact how a business or application is run.

It’s true that with the cloud, you never have to complete low-level administration of your environment such as software updates and server sizing. However, higher-level administration such as database performance, usage analysis, cost management, and security and privacy management will always be a requirement. And while the technology issues can be significant, the cultural and business process issues of moving to the cloud are often even more painful and time-consuming.

So, give yourself some honest answers to these questions: will the cloud save costs in the short or long-term? Does your organization have the bandwidth to support its complexities? Is there a lack of internal resources that require looking at an alternative?

What are you looking to gain from a data and analytics perspective?

Take a realistic view of what your company is going to be doing with its analytics. The cloud enables organizations to move up the analytical workload ladder – from reporting, to business intelligence to artificial intelligence and machine learning – without the barriers of traditional on-premises deployments.

Additionally, the cloud’s ability to span from one workload to the next allows organizations to more easily become “data-driven,” meaning that data is embedded into all business processes. You’ll also need to consider which vendor is right for your business based upon how data-driven your organization plans to become.

Traditional vendors with extensive database management system will typically be better able to handle your unique needs compared to public cloud providers, who are addressing a variety of business needs, that may not have the specialty or experience to work through these sophisticated problems.

While it’s important to remember while migrating to or from the cloud will have its challenges, you can maximize your investment by keeping the benefits and hurdles in mind.

A data and analytics-centric approach to the cloud built around your unique business strategy allows you to flex between on-premises, hyper-cloud or a specialized managed cloud, eliminating unnecessary technology constraints while providing the most value. This level of flexibility will allow you to avoid lock-in, “flow” to the deployment option that’s best for your needs and focus on your business rather than your past technology choices.

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