Episode 066: Cloud Transformation Foundations | CloudSkills.fm

What’s working well for organizations on their cloud journey? What are some the patterns and best practices of those having the most success? I share some of my thoughts about cloud adoption in this quick episode.

Related resources:

Cloud center of excellence
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cloud-adoption-framework/organize/cloud-center-of-excellence

What is Azure Blueprints?
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/governance/blueprints/overview

Cloud governance methodology
[https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cloud-adoption-framework/govern/methodology

Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cloud-adoption-framework/

Full Transcript:

Mike Pfeiffer:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of the Cloud Skills FM podcast. This is Mike Pfeiffer. Appreciate you being here, and I’m flying solo for this episode. I’m going to be talking about cloud transformation foundations. I live in Phoenix, Arizona here with my wife and my daughter, lived here for a long time, and this is the very first year that I haven’t been on the road like crazy in the beginning of the year. So here we are in March, and I haven’t traveled once yet. And it’s definitely working out for me based on all of the chaos that’s kind of taking place right now out there. But I wanted to talk about something I ran into last week. Here in Phoenix, I actually went on site with a customer last week that I’d never worked with before. They’re a national company, so they’re a good size enterprise customer, but they’re not global. They are a national company here in the United States.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And I was just really pleasantly surprised at how well they were setting their selves up for success in their cloud transformation and their cloud journey. They’ve made the decision to go all in on Azure, and they’ve done a lot of work over the last 12 to 18 months to really set themselves up for success. And it was cool to see it in practice, and it reminded me of some things I’ve seen in the past. And it made me think, man, I wish a lot more people were doing this. So in this episode, I want to kind of highlight some of those things that I’ve seen in my past that I think are transformational foundations. This is not going to be an exhaustive list, but I’m going to share basically kind of the four biggest things that I’ve seen really work. And so this may be doable for you in your organization.

Mike Pfeiffer:
It may not be. This may be a situation where it’s nice to know about, maybe you forward this episode to somebody else in your organization that may be able to make some changes if you’re in a situation where you can’t really make any big changes from where you’re sitting. But these are just common patterns that I’m seeing that enable success for cloud transformation, especially in the enterprise. So the first thing I want to highlight here is one of the things that this customer had done already, and they’ve been working on for a while now, is they had established a cloud center of excellence team within the organization. So if you’re not familiar with the concept of building a center of excellence within your organization, the idea is essentially this. You find some forward thinking individuals inside the organization that are optimistic, open-minded, glass half full, and they’re interested in the prospect of using cloud services.

Mike Pfeiffer:
This does not have to be a gigantic team of people right out of the gates when you’re starting out. This can just be a handful of people. But ideally, you’re going to get people from a diverse set of roles and backgrounds in different teams within the larger organization. So for example, somebody from the database team, somebody from the networking team, the folks over on the app team, the folks that handle the servers, the people on the application development teams, the programmers, all that kind of stuff. You want to assemble basically a dream team of advocates from these different areas of IT, that way you can start a conversation and start actually socializing and understanding the challenges of each and every team inside the organization as you try to transform into a cloud first IT enterprise. So again, this does not have to be a gigantic team to get started.

Mike Pfeiffer:
You could just start with a handful of people. But that group of people does need to have some influence inside the organization. They also need to be given air cover by the leadership of the company to actually enact these changes. Conversations are great, but if you’re working in a group where people can’t actually get things done, then that’s obviously a challenge. So you want to have folks in that group, probably leaders or team leads of some of these different groups. And again, this might not be something that you can pull off, but this is a common pattern. When we have these teams inside an organization, this is a great way to get other people, different groups communicating with each other and establishing some patterns and practices that’s going to set everybody up for success. So here’s the downside to this. You’re going to have naysayers.

Mike Pfeiffer:
You’re going to have haters. There’s going to be people that are risk averse. There’s going to be people that don’t like change. The hardest part about building a cloud center of excellence is you’re going to be met with lots of resistance. You’re going to be met with skepticism and people that don’t want to change just because that’s what human beings are. We get in our routines and it’s easy to just stay there. It’s harder to change. So you have to expect that, and you have to also kind of be empathetic to that and take your time to show people slowly how you can add value by doing this cloud transformation. Now, obviously you don’t have to call it a cloud center of excellence, but having a team with multiple representatives at the very top that are kind of setting the stage, setting the tone and coming up with the best practices and patterns is super important.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Now, the second pattern that I would say is consistent with the companies that are really doing a great job here of getting started to going cloud first is they actually have reference architectures built, and they distribute and share those reference architectures internally. Now, if you haven’t worked with reference architectures in the past, think about it this way. If you’re deploying servers, one of the things you can do to automate those deployments is you could build a virtual machine template, you could have a golden image, so it’s repeatable. Every time you launch that thing, it’s just the same. Everybody knows what they’re going to get when they launch the virtual machine template to build that system. A reference architecture is the same exact thing. So internally as you’re trying to become cloud first, it makes a whole lot of sense to document the environment or the environments that the different teams are going to need to build support and deploy to.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And I have to tell you, especially for medium sized customers, this is something that very rarely ever gets done. Diagrams very rarely get done or updated, and reference architecture is a whole nother question. Because there’s a lot of work that comes into that. So when I’m talking about reference architectures, I’m really talking about everything, not just the diagram of the environment and what it looks like, not just a couple of notes about the architecture itself and why it’s built that way, but also an infrastructure as code template, also all of the role assignment information or custom policy information as code. All of the assets that somebody is going to need to go off into a sandbox environment, for example, to spend the thing up, not only to understand what the basic components are, but how does it actually look and feel, and what are the different knobs and different controls and what’s it look like when I actually deploy an app to that reference architecture?

Mike Pfeiffer:
In large organizations, having a service catalog is a very common thing where people can just go in there and do self service. This is very similar to that concept. You could end up having an IT portfolio internally for these different architectures in the cloud that support the business’ applications. Again, in my mind, this all goes back to communicating with other people inside the company. This goes back to education and understanding the components involved, and we got to do a way better job of documenting the things that we’re building. And we need to share that openly with everybody that has a potential to be involved with these projects. This customer that I was working with was going all in on Azure, so it was really interesting to see what they were doing with ARM templates and Azure DevOps pipelines and the things they were thinking about around Azure Blueprints and stuff like that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Very, very interesting. So if you haven’t heard of Azure Blueprints, definitely something worth checking out. But Blueprints is a really interesting service that allows you to bundle up ARM templates, Azure policy and role based access control assignments onto one deployable artifact. But regardless of what platform you’re using, that pattern is insanely useful. Now, a big number three here for cloud transformation foundations that I’ve noticed when looking at companies, especially working at Amazon, seeing it inside Amazon but also seeing it in their customers, is the concept of embracing a culture of experimentation. One of the biggest anti-patterns that I’ve probably seen in working with customers is when they’re looking at a new technology and they’re afraid to try something new because they’re afraid of the judgment from within the organization itself or that they’re going to get reprimanded from leadership. So we all know, of course, that the leadership of the company is going to have to give the business units the ability to experiment and try new things.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So that’s step number one. But we also have to mentally embrace this concept. We have to get past perfectionism. We have to get past having things blow up in front of other people. Do you know how many times I’ve done a demo in some kind of presentation and things just totally exploded, errors, everything failed completely? It happens a lot. And one of the things that I’m glad that I got into presenting 10 years ago and sharing information is eventually I got over that issue of, oh, I always have to be 100% right. Human beings are not 100% right all of the time, and the reality is we just need more honest conversations. We need people to basically say, “Hey, I tried this, didn’t work. Here’s what I’ve learned. Let’s go ahead and try it again.” Now look, I understand people don’t want to look bad and neither do I, but the reality is we got to be more conscious about the fact here that people are trying to consume way more information than they ever had to before.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Things are different now. We’re learning new stuff every single day. It’s not like it used to be. So we need to do a better job of actually trying stuff out, letting it fail, and then trying another approach. One time I was listening to a talk with Jeff Bezos when I was working in Amazon, and one of the things he said was, “It’s not an experiment if you know it’s going to work.” So I would say as an organization, you’ve got to open up to that concept of allowing experimentation. That requires giving your teams autonomy to go off and do their thing. One of the things that AWS talks a lot about and was my experience as well is the concept of two pizza teams, meaning keeping the teams really small and letting them basically run what they build. And so when I first joined Amazon way back in 2013 or 2014, whenever it was, the first team that I was on only had four people on it at the beginning for the first year.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And we pretty much had the air cover to do whatever we wanted to hit the targets for what our team was building. Having that autonomy and the ability to experiment and just shake off things when it didn’t work out the way we wanted to was awesome, and that allowed us to iterate, continue to show up every single day, try something different and just try to get 1% better on a daily basis. And when you’re doing this type of work, when you’ve established kind of a center of excellence and you’ve got reference architectures that are being shared across teams so people know what things actually look like and what they’re dealing with, and you’ve got a culture of experimentation, people start trying things that they wouldn’t have tried before. They start coming up with context and data based on things they never would have thought of before. And now that could be something that is used to make a decision about a possible solution down the road.

Mike Pfeiffer:
One of the things that came out of this for this customer I was working with last week in Phoenix, and this is a very common pattern you see in an organization that’s got this really built out the right way, is using continuous integration and continuous delivery pipelines to deliver their changes completely. So the CCOE, the cloud center of excellence, basically built out all the guard rails, basically all the frameworks, all the pipeline definitions of how things need to change. So if somebody inside the organization needs to spin up some kind of new resource, that happens through a delivery pipeline. One of the things that I noticed that kind of came out of this when I was talking with that customer last week was basically they had built continuous delivery pipelines and Azure DevOps for everything that they were doing. So anytime they wanted to launch a new environment or some new infrastructure, it had to go through a pipeline using templates that they had built.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So they had prescriptive ARM templates and answer files, and all of the configurations for everything was completely figured out. So they were able to teach everybody else within the organization and the different teams, here’s what you need to do, here’s the things that you need to deploy or whatever the process was, and everything runs through the pipeline. All the changes go through code. So it’s in version control. We know what it was before, we know what it is after, we know who changed it and when. We know what tests all of that is going to go through. And we understand what it looks like when it hits development, staging, and then ultimately production. So a pretty interesting framework, and not saying that every single company has to go through that pattern, but that’s the type of things that enable you to do. If you want to actually go fast and actually be able to make changes to production systems every day and not have to go through change control meetings, this is the path.

Mike Pfeiffer:
The last thing I’ll note here is something that every company is going to need if they don’t have it already. And that’s a culture of learning. I know I’m preaching to the choir here and I know that I’m biased, as somebody that’s doing a lot of trainings, I sell books and different training classes and stuff like that. But I really believe personally that that is really the crux of the issue. People need more facts. They need more context. They need to be able to communicate with other people and learn really what this is all about. Because without it, everything’s just a black box and you don’t know what’s going on. So number one, what I would say here is one of the anti-patterns for the customers that I’ve seen in the field that screwed this up is they usually tend to think they got to hire a bunch of new people to do stuff.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Reality is, that’s not usually the case. You’ve got all these people in the IT group that have been doing things for years, compute, storage, networking and security. Well guess what? Every cloud service is predicated on those things. There’s so many transferable skills for anybody that’s an on premises operator, software developer. Any role in the IT organization can be leveraged somehow in the cloud. And we tend to talk only about development and operations, but there’s lots of value in other areas of the IT organization. But really one of the things that I honestly believe is to take a look internally at the team that you have now and find out where you can start putting them in the game with these cloud projects. You don’t have to go hire a bunch of new people. Embrace a culture of learning because you’re going to need it.

Mike Pfeiffer:
The reality is all of this stuff is going to be moving fast forever, every single year from here on out. So it’s going to be our jobs as practitioners to embrace this change business and make it part of the process, actually giving people time to ramp up on technologies. How will businesses do that? Well, Google is a common one that people bring up the 20% time concept where they give people Fridays to ramp up, and they’ve also been called out where that may not even be true. But regardless of the case, you got to come up with some kind of system for your company to let people ramp up, whether that’s sending them to training, sending them to conferences, doing trainings internally, creating hackathons, creating your own internal training systems, institutionalizing your own flavor of training for your own organization. There’s just a lot of work that needs to be done there.

Mike Pfeiffer:
And I’m excited because we’re in the early stages of this. There’s lots of value that’s yet to be pumped into the system, and we’re the ones that have the opportunity to do it. So those are just some thoughts from me. Just one man’s opinion. I’m sure that there’s people out there that disagree with some of these things, and that’s fine. So as individuals, we got to keep a positive mindset about this. We got to keep an optimistic view of how this is going to play out. And I think that if you’re listening to this show, you are one of those people. I don’t think that anybody that isn’t excited about cloud takes their own free time to listen to a show like this. So as usual, I want to recognize your commitment to learning. I want to say thanks for listening to the show. All right, everybody, that’s it for me today.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Catch up with you next week here on the Cloud Skills FM podcast. Hey everybody, if you want to keep up with what’s going on in the cloud, we have a weekly email newsletter called Cloud Skills Weekly, and you can subscribe for free by going to cloudskills.io/subscribe. Every single week, I’ll send out my five best tips and resources that cover what’s going on in the cloud. We’ll focus on Microsoft Azure, Amazon web services, Google cloud, and more. Topics will include things like cloud architecture, application developments, containerized applications, DevOps and automation, certification strategy, career tips, and more. So if that sounds awesome to you, head over to cloudskills.io/subscribe and join the Cloud Skills Weekly newsletter today.

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