The need for innovation: Anyone can be disrupted.

We've all seen numerous examples over the past decade where the likes of Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Facebook, to name a few, have transformed the landscape of their respective industries through technology. It is fascinating to see how at the core of their success lies a common factor: a new-age business model, made possible through the power of cloud. In this article I explore how cloud computing is fundamental in enabling these organizations to innovate and become market leaders.

The need for a cloud strategy: How Netflix transformed its business by adopting the cloud

The success of Netflix as a cloud-based organization is well known today, but what many don't realize is that Netflix began life as a traditional company, with all of its IT infrastructure on-premise. It wasn't until they experienced a disastrous database corruption in 2008, which stopped their entire service and shipment of DVDs, that they even thought about turning to the cloud.

The incredible pace at which the company was growing at the time also meant that they were struggling to rack up the servers needed to serve their increasing number of customers. This is where the elasticity of the cloud with its ability to add thousands of virtual servers and petabytes of storage within minutes became a clear strategic choice for the organization.

Netflix also made the decision to rebuild most of its technology in the cloud rather than forklifting it from their infrastructure to enable agility, which fundamentally changed the way in which the company operates today. This strategic move to the cloud allowed Netflix to innovate and grow at a tremendous pace, expanding its service to more than 130 new countries and acquiring eight times as many streaming members.

It is imperative that all organizations today develop a cloud strategy that best serves their business vision. It should be formulated with a long-term view and a degree of flexibility to maximize the true value of cloud investments. Understanding the needs of the business and financial cases of cloud will be critical for CIOs in getting their organization's leadership on board and building a unified cloud vision.

Enabling chaotic innovation: How Faceook's agility is based on its DevOps culture

New ways of working across the industry are fast enabling businesses to operate in a more agile way. As this continues to become ever so important, agility will soon be seen as essential for survival and less as a competitive advantage. Such notable ways of working that make true use of the power of cloud include DevOps. Although it may sound like a recent trend, it has been around a long time. One of the pioneers and practitioners of such practices, Facebook, has used automation and continuous improvement as standard practices for years, even though they may not have called it DevOps in the early days.

Facebook's ability to push new updates every two weeks is what enables it to respond to the ever-changing needs of its business. It's the DevOps culture that the company has created that allows it to have a fast-paced development and delivery cycle, based on its code ownership model. Facebook developers take responsibility for code throughout testing, production and delivery. Cloud is essential to such practices as it enables speed of development and allows developers to offer a self-service catalogue of apps and code hosted on a cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform. The flexibility offered by an IaaS model to scale-up and scale-down is what accelerates innovation by allowing the DevOps teams, and their more traditional development counterparts, to be more agile in their approach to developing and testing new initiatives.

It's also important to note that DevOps is not an expensive product or a solution, only available to the few. It's a shift in ways of working, and with the right leadership and commitment, it can make any organization more competitive in today's fast-paced, continuously evolving market.

Embracing emerging technology: How Airbnb uses AI and ML to deliver incredible UX

Artificial intelligence (AI) as a wider concept has sparked many debates in recent times because of its potential impact on the future of humanity. However, the technology in its form today should very much be viewed as a way to supplement human effort and should be used as an enabler to "work smarter" instead of harder.

We don't need to wait and see how AI and machine learning (ML) will change the world in the future because the tech is already making a huge impact in a number of industries. One such successful example amongst many includes Airbnb, for whom AI has been integral in its mission of transforming the travel industry. The company's former VP of engineering Michael Curtis says that every human interaction with the Airbnb platform today involves ML in some way or another.

As an example, instead of just displaying listings in an alphabetical order when searching for a place to stay, the platform takes into account other factors such as the user's interests in other places and the amount of time they may have spent exploring those places, according to an article published in The Evening Standard. All of this makes for a better user experience, made possible through the AI capabilities embedded within the platform's search rank.

Cloud in most cases is fundamental to driving rapid innovation when it comes to AI, simply because of data storage capacity, scalable compute power and the ability of GPUs to handle the large amounts of data stores and algorithms required by AI solutions. In order to construct an enterprise-ready solution, organizations must turn to the cloud's ecosystem to utilize its abilities to manage the high complexities associated with successfully integrating packaged AI services into a solution. Therefore, organizations looking to innovate and build capabilities using AI should have a clear cloud strategy that enables them to design, experiment and deploy AI services at scale securely.

Pace of innovation exposes enterprise risks: How F5's approach to cloud security could be key

It is important that organizations recognize that all applications today must be viewed as risks to the enterprise. Every application, not just mission-critical ones, must be protected, said Hitesh Patel, director of application services for F5, in his presentation, "Thriving in an Application Economy," at F5 Forum London 2019.

In order to accelerate their journey to the cloud, organizations must keep security at the heart when deploying anything to the cloud. This is easier said than done, especially if an organization is adopting a multicloud model, where development teams face challenges around multiple new architectures and toolsets. Basic, proprietary cloud-native services fail to meet the required security needs, and the lack of visibility and control across multiple clouds only adds to the complexities. All of this opens an organization to potential cyberattacks and data loss, leading to app outages and ultimately reputation damage.

Traditionally developers alone have been held accountable for application security, where they take the approach of configuring unique cloud-native security services and own the responsibility for managing and resolving issues associated with those services. All of this leads to inefficient use of their time and, more importantly, to the critical challenges highlighted in fig 1.1 below.

Traditional approach to multicloud security
Fig 1.1 – Traditional approach to multicloud security
Source: F5 Forum London 2019, Innovating in a multicloud, Thursday 7 March 2019


F5's approach to multicloud security
Fig 1.2 – F5's approach to multicloud security
Source: F5 forum London, Innovating in a multicloud, Thursday 7 March 2019

By contrast, F5 takes the approach of levitating the burden from the development teams by empowering the SecOps teams to provide pre-configured security policies to the developers. This gives developers the freedom to focus on building core application functionality, rather than security code. The responsibility of security management is shifted to SecOps, which allows developers to maintain speed and agility by following guidelines established by NetOps and SecOps. This approach brings much needed consistency across multiple clouds as highlighted in fig 1.2. Ultimately all of this enables development teams to drive innovation without compromising security, which is critical.

Complexities of a multicloud ecosystem: How Uber's use of APIs is key to its success

Success with cloud is very much possible and dependent on fostering the next generation of business and IT hybrid talent and embracing the full cloud ecosystem as a community in which participants are encouraged to deliver value collectively instead of acting alone. This becomes even more crucial for organizations adopting a multicloud model, where cloud teams must learn and up-skill themselves every time they develop on a new cloud platform, which can lead to inefficiencies and impact the pace at which an organization can operate and innovate.

It is crucial that organizations also explore the need to establish collaborative, long-term relationships with partners through mutually beneficial opportunities, where organizations will be able to tap into the API economy and other "open" technologies that allow them to build on top of existing innovation, like Uber has by utilizing Google's navigation capabilities through an API rather than investing heavily in developing its own solution. This approach not only lowers risk, but also increases the speed at which an organization is able to innovate and add new functionalities and capabilities to its portfolio of solutions.

The future of cloud

Cloud computing has arguably leveled the playing field for organizations of all sizes, increasing opportunities for creativity, agility and innovation, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. If there is anything that should be taken away from this article it is the need to innovate regardless of an organization's size and dominance within a market, and how cloud can be fundamental in enabling this with the right strategy and vision.

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WWT helps organizations to formulate, implement and realize their cloud strategy to meet their business vision. We invite you to reach out and discuss how best we can be of service on your cloud journey.