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Compare a cloud-first vs. cloud-smart strategy

Is it better to be 'first' or 'smart' in cloud? Compare the two strategies to determine which will help achieve your organization's goals.

Devising a cloud strategy for your organization becomes a balancing act as costs and innovation rank high as priorities. Cloud-first and cloud-smart are both strategies that use cloud services to achieve organizational goals but differ in approach and focus.

  • Cloud-first strategy. A cloud-first strategy prioritizes cloud adoption for new IT projects and initiatives. Cloud then becomes the default option to avoid procuring and building out hardware and infrastructure in a data center.
  • Cloud-smart strategy. A cloud-smart strategy sees the benefits of cloud but also acknowledges the value of on-premises for some workloads. It is more likely to embrace a hybrid cloud mindset and consider various factors, such as data sensitivity and compliance, before choosing a deployment model.

Knowing more about each approach to the cloud is essential, especially if you're facing cloud spending and security questions. Learn more about these cloud strategies and which one to choose.

What is a cloud-first strategy?

Typically, a cloud-first strategy starts with a mandate or organizational-wide initiative related to maximizing cloud usage. This can include rightsizing resources via continuous monitoring and adjusting cloud services to match your organization's actual usage. Without such measures, there is a heightened risk of over-provisioning cloud resources which leads to overspending.

Here are some reasons why businesses choose a cloud-first strategy:

  • Cost efficiency. Cost is a traditional driver of the cloud because businesses can reduce upfront expenditures on hardware and infrastructure. Additionally, they only need to pay for computing resources they use.
  • Scalability and elasticity. Businesses can easily and automatically scale up or down as market conditions change. This enables businesses to be flexible and adapt to changing business requirements -- including adopting new technologies, such as AI.
  • Remote work models. Recent corporate moves to remote and hybrid work are another driver to cloud-first as the usual access models to corporate data and internal applications now depend on the cloud and SaaS services.
  • Automation. Automated resource deployment and management tools are hallmarks of a cloud-first strategy. They free up your cloud team from repetitive tasks and increase efficiency while reducing manual errors.

What is a cloud-smart strategy?

A cloud-smart strategy doesn't reject cloud, but it prioritizes finding the best place for each workload, even if that means on-premises. This can result in a hybrid or multi-cloud approach. It also encourages continuous evaluation and improvement.

Reasons why businesses choose a cloud-smart strategy include the following:

  • Cost optimization. Not all workloads will run cheaper in the cloud. A cloud-smart approach seeks to continuously optimize costs, including changing services or repatriating from cloud.
  • Flexibility. Because this approach isn't against on-premises systems, not everything has to be forced into the cloud. Organizations are able to move workloads wherever they will work best at any time.
  • Security and compliance. Security, compliance and data privacy concerns demand a more balanced approach to cloud services.

However, integration challenges for the cloud remain -- especially with legacy and proprietary systems. Even if an integration is technologically feasible, insufficient in-house cloud skills and expertise can drive up the cost and complexity of the effort.

Should you be first or smart?

Choosing these cloud strategies depends on your organization's needs, priorities and maturity level. A few questions you should ask include the following:

Will it meet your business goals?

Misalignment with business objectives is all too common when the move to the cloud is driven more by technology trends than actual business needs. Or, when there is insufficient understanding of how cloud offerings can support or enhance the business's core functions. Without clear objectives and a comprehensive understanding of cloud capabilities, organizations might not fully realize the benefits of the cloud, leading to inefficient use of resources and increased costs.

How sensitive is your data?

Hybrid and multi-cloud models offer way too much right now to ignore them, especially if your organization operates in a regulated industry, such as finance or healthcare, and handles large amounts of customer or proprietary data that requires varying levels of security and analysis. Only a hybrid or multi-cloud model offers the AI, analytics, storage and security options to keep such data secure and compliant.

Do you have a cost management plan?

Cost efficiency remains a concern which makes cloud cost optimization tools an even more important component of your operations tech stack. Since the start of the pandemic, the risks inherent in a cloud-first strategy have been on the rise, especially with budgets. Furthermore, the rush to the cloud in the pandemic's first months certainly came with overspending incidents and vendor lock-in that organizations are still sorting out.

Is your team prepared for cloud?

Unfortunately, some employees and stakeholders have a cultural resistance to the cloud. Job security concerns are paramount for many of us and a move to the cloud provokes thoughts of job redundancies or diminishing roles. To foster a cloud culture, conduct ongoing cloud education and training. While not every employee needs a cloud certification, entry-level certification training such as AWS Cloud Practitioner and Google Cloud Leader can help educate stakeholders to better work with their team and implement cloud more efficiently and effectively.

Do you have a cloud exit strategy?

In today's business world, cloud bills are spiking, which leads to open talk of cloud repatriation. For example, some organizations are reviewing some of their cloud decisions made during the haste of migrating business applications to operate efficiently and securely in fully remote settings. While these decisions might have been sound at the time, economic and staffing realities have changed for so many enterprises which requires a reassessment and cloud audit.

Will Kelly is a freelance writer and content strategist who has written about cloud, DevOps, AI and enterprise mobility.

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