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From Super Bowl ads boasting the benefits of machine learning to rappers touting the advantages of artificial intelligence, nearly everyone knows about the cloud, how powerful it is, and the advantages it can provide for both businesses and consumers. Then you also have the pundits adding to the hype with absolute statements like this: “If you have not developed a cloud-first strategy yet, you are likely falling behind your competitors” -Gartner

If you can find a flaw with that statement, then you’re ahead of the game.

Cloud-first is a brilliant strategy that has served as the de facto CIO direction for close to a decade. Nearly every CIO serving entities from the government to leading enterprises publicly embrace this approach. The cloud-first strategy has resulted in a predestined design where cloud-compatible data and applications find their way to the cloud to achieve efficiency and flexibility.

Cloud technologies are so powerful and beneficial that once an organizational cloud standard is in place, it is difficult to see favor in any other information systems. In so many ways, it has never been simpler to get on a cloud platform. One credit card swipe, and you’re on your way. As a result of these conveniences and benefits, we live in a world where public clouds, private clouds, cloud services, and a litany of cloud technologies help improve business power and add to the flexibility of organizations.  

A Cloud Wake-Up Call

Despite all the advantages of cloud computing, many organizations under a cloud mandate today find their technology, operating, and migration costs are not what they anticipated. Many IT departments have legacy applications that are not cloud-ready, plus significant shadow IT and overly complex cloud infrastructures are creating severe cloud sprawl. Other organizations can't build technology around their business initiatives because they don’t have the staff, or the necessary efforts are beyond their capabilities. For these and other cloud situations, a cloud-first approach is making matters worse.

For these and other situations, the cloud-first strategy has uncovered a whole new world of challenges: 

  • The need for cost and consumption control tools 
  • Complex compliance mandates and technical requirements
  • Cloud staff acquisition and retention
  • Increased security needs
  • Lack of visibility and metrics
  • Bifurcation of IT infrastructures
  • Underperformance of legacy applications 

A New Cloud Phase

Hybrid and multi-cloud technologies have proven their effectiveness in the enterprise as the best path forward by adding functional co-existence to the informational technology picture and unlocking the potential for an application-centric cloud strategy. Cloud-leaning philosophies hold untold business values, but not every application out there was built with cloud technologies in mind. There are far more traditionally structured applications than not. Some applications might be better suited to one cloud service over a given cloud-based solution. Factors like security, integrity, auditing, and performance might become more complicated or costly within the constructs of a limitless cloud environment. Depending on your organization’s capabilities, some applications are simpler to leave and integrate through on-premise systems.

Application First

In this second decade of cloud, a new phase is emerging in which business advantages must be achieved by focusing on the user and taking an “application first” strategy rather than a cloud-first strategy. While public cloud and private cloud architectures have extremely powerful benefits, there are too many challenges to navigate when enterprises insist on solely implementing one versus the other. As part of a strategic architectural practice, hybrid cloud and multi-cloud approaches can properly shift the focus to the users and the type of applications they interact with.  

Being smart about the cloud means using its benefits correctly, according to your business, your users, and your applications. We can even go so far as to say that if you have not developed an application and user-first strategy as of 2020, you will fall behind your competitors. Once you’ve built an intelligent strategy, it’s time to move on to a discussion of platform and infrastructure advantages, such as edge computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, hybrid, auto scaling—technologies that are only possible with the more flexible application-first approach within hybrid, multi-cloud solutions, leaving cloud-first as an antiquated ideology.


Emil Sayegh is widely recognized as one of the industry’s cloud visionaries and "fathers of OpenStack" (he launched and led the cloud computing and hosting businesses for HP and Rackspace), can talk about everything from rising decentralization, to hybrid and edge clouds, and the significant impact that AI and Blockchain technologies will have on the industry. 

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