infrastructure

You’re Doing It Wrong! Own Your Talent, Not Your Infrastructure

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There was a time when owning land was a necessity, if you wanted to be anybody at all. With a large enough piece of land, you were likely to have an income. Your tenants needed to know how to grow and harvest crops, and take care of themselves, but not much more.

And there was a time when success in business might depend more on having a shop with a good location than it did on the distinctive abilities of your employees. Physical infrastructure was what mattered, and the people you hired to work for you simply needed to be competent at very standardised jobs.

For a long time, that’s what mattered when it came to Information Technology. The quantity, capacity, speed, and configuration of your physical servers mattered more than the talents of your IT staff, as long as they were reasonably competent. Owning (or leasing) physical infrastructure was important—you could always hire people to operate it.

Infrastructure as a liability

But that was in the past. Today, everything has changed. Owning infrastructure today is a liability, not an asset.

Along with all of the obvious costs, maintaining physical IT infrastructure can be (and very often is) a major drain on time and attention. It takes up space, it requires maintenance and it’s likely to break down at just the wrong time. It always was a liability, of course (and in just those ways), but with no practical alternative, there was nothing to do but put up with it. If you needed servers, there was no other choice.

It’s as if you’d have to spend time maintaining and repairing your office building as well as attending to your core business. You would very quickly realise that it makes more sense to hire someone to take care of building maintenance and repair, so that you could concentrate on the business.

Freeing yourself from infrastructure

The cloud, however, can free you from the time/attention drain of physical IT infrastructure. It does everything that traditional infrastructure did, and it does it very well, without taking up space in your facility, adding to your electricity bill, or requiring maintenance on your part. You still pay for all these things, of course, but you split the cost with other cloud users, so your portion is likely to be considerably less than if you had to foot the whole bill.

But more than anything, moving your infrastructure to a cloud platform such as Amazon Web Services frees you, your developers, and your IT staff from the need to spend time setting up and maintaining physical infrastructure.

What you’re left to deal with is largely infrastructure as code—configuring and deploying virtual machines and containers, monitoring them, and keeping track of metrics. Provisioning in the cloud is fast, and maintenance is often a matter of quick reprovisioning. And unlike setting up physical servers and tracking down hardware bugs, deploying your software and making it work is part of your core business.

Focusing on what matters

This allows you to concentrate on the things that really matter, such as the uniqueness and quality of your software and your services, and the talent of the people who develop and maintain them. These are the things upon which the value of your business rests. By building a unique business offering and a team to go with it, you can stand out from (and move ahead of) your competitors. Freedom from the need to maintain physical infrastructure gives you the time and resources to do this. The advanced features and flexibility of cloud deployment make it easy.

Building value and talent

How can outsourcing application hosting and deployment to the cloud help you shift the focus of your business to uniqueness and talent? When planning the shift from physical servers to the cloud, consider these points:

What’s the core value that your business gives to customers?

You want to be spending as much time as possible honing, promoting and delivering that value, rather than maintaining the support structure – IT infrastructure, building maintenance, administration, etc. – around it.

How can your team support value creation?

Over the longer-term you can shift your focus from managing infrastructure to securing the fresh digital skills that will enable you to rapidly iterate on your value proposition, secure quick market feedback and then respond in an agile manner: DevOps, Continuous Integration/Delivery, containers, microservices, serverless, and so on.

This process is self-reinforcing. As your company takes on more and more DevOps/Agile-style technologies, methods and processes the culture changes and becomes more attractive to precisely those individual who have the skills that you need to accelerate the software delivery pipeline.

How can they develop skills in directions that will make your products and services truly stand out?

Your developers and IT people are not just part of your technical staff, they are part of your creative team as well. Maximise their creativity to maximise the value that you can provide to your customers.

The effects of focusing on talent, rather than infrastructure, over the long term are enormous as market-differentiating value creation compounds over time to secure real competitive advantage for your business.

The cloud

How can the cloud help your business stand out? Look at the features offered by cloud providers, and how those features can support the best and most unique qualities of your software. AWS, for example, offers a remarkable range of services, from serverless Lambda deployment to highly configurable cloud-based server ecosystems with high-volume persistent storage. The key thing to keep in mind is that you aren’t tied to the capabilities and limitations of your hardware. If it can be done in the cloud, you can do it.

New things under the sun (or in the cloud)
Pay particular attention to ways that the cloud can let you do things that you couldn’t do before. Virtualisation means that your infrastructure is mutable, mobile, and portable. It is as fluid as you want to make it. If you’re not tied to hardware, then your software infrastructure can be as plastic and changeable as any code. Being unique may not be as difficult as you think in a world where it is possible to do things that nobody had been capable of doing before.

So there it is. Physical infrastructure is not a necessity. Soft, cloud-based infrastructure will do the job as well, or better. The unique services that you offer and the talent that you can assemble to support those services are what will make your business succeed. Move to the cloud, and shift your focus to the things that really matter.

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Andrew is a full-stack developer, automation specialist and technologist, leading and delivering large financial and media projects. Andrew’s favorite tool DevOps tool has most likely been replaced with something better by now.


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