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Focus on Simplification and Specialisation— In the Cloud or on the Cycling Track
Anthony Hodson, Solution Architect
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I’m a fan of similes, and I’ve been searching for one to describe moving applications to the cloud. It didn’t hit me until recently, after my first experience at a velodrome. Slumped over a banister and gulping water after a (disappointing yet illuminating) time trial, I thought about the transformations needed to maximise the features of this specialised venue. It all came down to simplification and specialisation. An overly complex, traditional bicycle wouldn’t get the best results here—you need something to be specialised to make the most of the velodrome.

The same principles apply when moving applications and workloads to the cloud. Whether collaborating with CTOs on their digital transformation initiatives or working toward a track time I’d be proud to share on this blog, the journey is similar. It’s just the vehicles (a carbon-fiber track bike vs. DevOps) and the destination (a personal-best time trial vs. cloud native apps) that are different.

Measure performance before you change anything

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. The first step: define where you are starting from. For cycling, you need an initial time so that you know if changes in equipment or technique are helping lower your time.

In adopting the cloud, if the client’s goal is to increase the performance of their application, you need to know where it previously struggled. If you’re looking to increase release frequency, what is the current cadence?

Once you have this benchmark, then you can measure against it to see if your changes are having the desired impact.

Change the parts that will have the biggest impact

With your benchmark in hand, you can then identify which improvements will make the most impact, and start there. These are the changes that will see the most immediate “return on agility” and will help develop your ability to take full advantage of the unique opportunities the venue grants us.

If you’re using traditional tires, get indoor racing tires that let you climb up the banked turns; these let you power through as if traveling straight and reduce your lap times. If you’re using traditional databases, such as Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server, Amazon Aurora for AWS helps decrease your response times, letting your users feel more connected.

Fitting some dropped handlebars to reduce the friction as you cut through the air is like using Infrastructure as Code to accelerate adoption of change, and saves unnecessary effort.

Later, removing the brakes is like moving to continuous integration or continuous delivery: scary in principle, but safer on the track and a necessity to compete long-term.

Don’t be afraid to specialise 

There will be times when it's necessary to truly maximise performance and optimise for your environment. You can take your commuter bicycle to the velodrome, but don't expect to climb very high up the sides. The same is oftentimes true for a lift-and-shift project (i.e., when you simply move the apps you had on-premises and run them in the cloud).

Sometimes, if you need ultimate performance (and your team is ready to take advantage of it), you need a bike that was designed specifically for the track—just like ultimate performance in the cloud requires an app that was born in the cloud. Of course, this is not an option for most existing solutions, and incremental, worthwhile improvements may be perfect. After all, we’d prefer not to just throw out your old bike!

Find your support team

In sports and in IT, we spend a lot of time talking about understanding the environment and upgrading to the right equipment for it. Just as important is finding the right support team to guide you in your journey. A good coach can make all the difference. Through wisdom and experience, they can provide insight and encouragement and identify opportunities to improve your equipment and the way you leverage it.

Your transformation, in the digital space or at the velodrome, will come as a series of iterative improvements. With the right planning and insight, you will already be able to realise value at each of these stages. Though there may be false starts and spills along the way, smashing your personal-best is well within reach with the right equipment and coaching staff. Who knows, a world record may even be in your future.

About the Author

Anthony is a Amazon Web Services (AWS) focused Solution Architect working with enterprises to bring their technology goals to life. He trained as a Software Engineer and has worked in Fintech, traditional infrastructure, Openstack and DevOps software (Chef). He enjoys keeping a foot in both the technical and business spheres of the industry and sees the future moving ever ‘up-the-stack’, ever more agile and collaborative. When not designing or talking cloud solutions, he can be found with his family in Wales pursuing interests in photography, motorcycles and new shiny technology.