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What should a Modern CTO do on the modern cloud?

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This week the team tackle decisions CTOs need to make to succeed in the Cloud from platform selection through to managing regulations and compliance!

Modern Cloud CTO

Dave Anderson

We are continuing our series on the modern cloud. During our six part series, we’ve covered an ‘’Introduction to Modern Cloud’, and talked about the CEO, Product and Developer perspectives. Today, we’re talking about the technical leader or modern CTO perspective, which is linked to long term value. With a modern cloud approach, there is a long term value proposition. As a CTO, you need to be on top of this because you own the rationale behind the decision to go for modern cloud. It may require a big initial investment despite it being hard to see the pay off at the start. One big pressure ‘straight out of the gates’ for a CTO is platform choice.  You have to bet on a platform. And you have to guess how the platform will evolve in the next 10 years. You don’t want to bet on the wrong horse. You need to have a two way door, as Amazon would say, and not a one way door on your platform. Without mentioning specific names what are the platform choices you can make for the modern cloud

Platform selection

Mike O’Reilly  

It is a hard one to get into without naming specific platforms!  At a CTO and organisational level you need to think about resources, where to apply resources to add business value, and you need to look at evolution and the innovations currently out there. You need to base the decision on the business in order to make the right bet on the platform.

Dave Anderson  

Another decision to make is picking a platform or staying platform agnostic. Will we work with all of the clouds and have a lever to switch between clouds automatically? Or will we work with all three clouds at the same time? That’s a really tough decision.

Mike O’Reilly  

That is a subject and a half to unpack.

Dave Anderson  

I remember somebody, who will remain nameless (and didn’t know what they were talking about) said ‘let’s get good at one cloud, before we start picking all three clouds.’. I thought that was a great quote from a leader (not).

Mark McCann  

As you say Mike, by understanding the needs of your business, you can make sure your choices help to meet those needs now and in the future. Being able to evolve from what you’re doing today to where you need to get to in the future is critical. You need to make sure you’re not over engineering by adding abstraction layers that cost. Being a flexible provider or platform that can do everything for everybody, comes with a price.  You have to pay to maintain it. Is that price worth it? In most cases, probably not. 

You’re probably better off minimising your liabilities and your platform by having the thinnest but valuable platform you can get away with to meet those needs.

The need to evolve

From an evolutionary angle, you can’t stand still. As CTO, you have to create an environment to encourage evolution. We’re seeing it across all play providers. They’re rapidly improving by introducing new capabilities, features and services. If you are not setting up your organisation to evolve and continuously improve, you’re going to get left behind by the organisations that evolve and improve continuously. You may have moved into the cloud and stuck everything on S3 and Veemas five years ago and thought: “hey we are good, we are on modern cloud”.  But if you haven’t evolved since then, you’re going to get left behind by those who continue to evolve and improve their cost, performance and security posture by leveraging emerging features and capabilities. As CTO, you have got to make sure you’re setting up to leverage the modern cloud effectively. And to constantly evolve. Wardley mapping is a great way to do that.

Mike O’Reilly  

There isn’t a single right answer.  You’ll find people at both ends of the spectrum, for example: containers versus serverless. The truth, in a lot of cases, is in the middle. With rapid development, you need to give yourself every opportunity in the market to try out new concepts to expose a new business opportunity. As you scale up, different factors apply and you may decide that you need to change tack.

Building blocks are key

You need to arm yourself with as many building blocks as possible. You may have separate platforms, or separate ways of building things to support your business model. But it’s interesting to look at concepts like ‘innovate, leverage, commoditize’, and ‘pioneer, settler, town planner’ for different modes, to organise, use mixed methods and give teams the right capabilities to operate. A bad scenario for a pioneer team trying to go to market would be a three months provision delay, because another team needs to click a button to provide the compute.  You’ve got to think about those scenarios, when you are a CTO.

Dave Anderson  

As CTO you have to deliberately pick and select a platform! Don’t be too clever and not think about quality. You need to pick a platform that will give you quality. Once you’re on a modern cloud platform, you need a problem preventing culture. You’re thinking about how to build so we don’t have any problems as opposed to problem creation culture, where you’re celebrating people for fixing stuff that should never have been built in the first place. The well architected framework is a great way to put guardrails in place. So you’re saying: ‘this is our platform and here’s our standard’. That becomes many decades of good practice baked into a single sentence. You don’t want a CTO thinking: ‘We’re different. We’re going to write a lot of this ourselves’. It’s not what you need, especially if you’re a startup.

Photo by Firmbee on Unsplash.com

Establishing principles

Mark McCann  

Establishing those principles is critical for the CTO. What are your principles for containers versus serverless? What are your principles for innovation or for leadership? You need to empower and enable teams to make decisions. You need to arm them with good principles so that they can assess their choices. As they’re starting to pick technologies, they’re starting to leverage the building blocks that you talked about Mike.  They are using core principles from the CTO and organisation to make assessments.  As CTO, you need to create an environment for success, to enable teams to run with it, embrace it and challenge as well. You need a feedback loop on what works and what doesn’t work.

Mike O’Reilly  

It’s a shared responsibility thing. As a team, we apply well architected approaches to our implementations and to our architecture. But then again you need to trust your cloud providers in relation to things like HA and availability, and factor that into your decision as well. As CTO, when you’re in platform selection mode, there can be a lot of mistrust. Sometimes an industry demands availability at all times. It depends on the industry. When you are in conversations at that level, you need to factor those things. 

The ‘build your own’ trap

Dave Anderson  

I think that’s really important for a technical leader, architect or CTO.  A good example of that is using industry standards.  Look for a standard and use it.  Sometimes there’s a lack of trust when people don’t do that. I enjoy hearing stories where people say things like: ‘we’re going to do eventing, but we’re going to write our own eventing standard’. And you think: “you’re a pizza company, what are you doing? Just use something else, it’s not like your Netflix”. 

Companies that have to customise are very small in number and they are pioneers. 99% of companies can use the standard and be very successful. Whatever business you’re in, having an event structure that is not quite optimal, is not going to bring the business down. You need to be clear about using standards and not deviating except for a good reason. And usually there’s not a good reason.  Otherwise it can come back to bite you with issues around data, security etc. 

Mark McCann  

A modern cloud CTO, should ask for a well architected solution and set up their organisation to answer that question. As CTO you should be able to ask your leaders to deliver a well architected solution. If you’ve done it right and empowered, enabled and educated your teams, they should give you an informed answer.

Dave Anderson  

If somebody asks: ‘what does that mean?’, you can give them an 86 page white paper from Amazon and tell them to go read it. There’s no debate or grey area. It’s very clear. 

Regulations and Compliance for Modern CTOs

Mike O’Reilly  

The hardest thing for CTO’s is dealing with regulations and compliance, like SOC compliance, for example. At a certain point in time, managed services may not be 100% SOC compliant. But typically, I find over a short period of time, they become compliant.

Dave Anderson  

You ask for them to be compliant.

Mike O’Reilly  

Yes, you ask for them to be compliant. You have got to be on it! You have to factor that in your decisions as well.  Unfortunately, people go down the ‘Build Your Own’ route and the teams and orgs that waited, pass them by because they don’t have to invest in Ops to maintain their own custom solution with its limitations. You need strategies and solutions for these issues. There’s many ways ‘to skin a cat’ in the modern cloud. So there’s always been options in my experience. 

Mark McCann  

As CTO, you do not need to know the fine grained details of emerging services and capabilities, but you need to be able to ask your team about them. You need to be able to ask well informed questions about leveraging these things. Because, like you said Mike, waiting may be the best option. But if you’re not well informed, you might make a decision you’ll regret later.

The new sustainability challenge

Dave Anderson  

In the role of CTO of the modern cloud, sustainability has to be something to start thinking about. Whatever application or stack you build in the cloud, there will eventually be a carbon burn measure for how much carbon you’re using. And if you’ve designed your app or stack badly, that is going to be very high. That’s something that’s still quite new. But I think as we go on there’ll be more metrics, regulations and expectations for your sustainability score. So that’s definitely one to watch. We already have a metric for technical debt.

Mark McCann  

It’s a forcing function for all the other practices we have just talked about. If you’re able to deliver a well architected, serverless first solution across your entire org, as CTO, you are building the right foundation to deliver a sustainable solution. 

Mike O’Reilly  

If you can hand off to someone who’s going to work to make that a wee bit more sustainable, you should be considering that as an option too.

Dave Anderson  

Good luck optimising if you have custom built! 

So that’s the craic!  I think we’ll close off our series on the modern cloud at the next session!  In the meantime, visit our blog at TheServerlessEdge.com. Follow us on Twitter @ServerlessEdge. And you can pre order ‘The Flywheel Effect’ book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thanks very much. Thanks, everyone.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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