by James Townsend
The benefits of cloud computing are widely known, and most organizations have moved or are planning to move from their on premises data centers to cloud facilities hosted by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google or other providers.
One of the cloud computing benefits is that the cloud provider is responsible for continuously improving the environment that hosts, and that these updates and fixes do not usually require work by the customer. There is a downside to this benefit, however, especially as you move from cloud infrastructure to cloud solutions. The downside is that you must deal with the consequences of constant change and innovation.
Organizations have always had to handle upgrades of hardware and software, but when the computing was inside their data center they had full control of the timing of changes. They could more quickly with inexpensive changes and patches, and choose their timing for major changes.
Today the cloud providers largely choose the timing to introduce new versions and features as well as removing old features. While major versions were formerly one or two years apart, today you can expect noticeable changes every three to six months. As innovation becomes constant, the concept of a major version may go away all together.
Cloud customers must allow for testing and in some cases accreditation of new software versions. This process can take months for government agencies and large institutions, by which time a new version is already available and the process must start again.
Some changes to solutions require retraining users and updating documentation. The training challenge is especially acute for occasional users who return to a system to find it unrecognizable from their last session weeks or months ago.
Perhaps the most dire example of the risk of change is when a cloud vendor discontinues a product altogether. Vendors must periodically consolidate their offerings based on sales or as a result of a corporate merger that results in two overlapping products. Free products may be even more likely to be chopped if they do not gain traction and result in benefits for the offeror.
There is no easy fix for the challenge of constant change. It is driven by competitive forces which promote innovation along with the imperative of providing strong security and patching vulnerabilities as they are discovered. Organizations must become more nimble in order to stay aboard the cloud computing train.