Five cloud problems nobody saw coming

As many shifted to fully remote working during the pandemic, the cloud was that miracle technology that enabled businesses to 'keep calm and carry on'. But, was the cloud mis-sold?


Cloud computing was always going to hit CIOs with hidden surprises. The nebulous name for a simple concept sounded like an in-joke among IT vendors. Did they call it The Cloud because it’s shadowy, disorientating and accumulates deadly charges?

It’s pretty well documented that the charging structures for web services were put together with such fiendish cunning that even the world’s canniest chief information and finance officers could be bill shocked.

The price plans for computing instances became such a deadly money trap problem that companies like Apstra actually had to invent entire systems to keep track of them. Even then Apstra’s learning machines had to be empowered with artificial intelligence to keep up. What was their opponent? It was the endlessly shifting ‘game changer’ called The Cloud. Hang on, what happened? Wasn’t the cloud supposed to be the CIO’s ally?

Obviously, pooling all your units of storage, memory and processing power and giving them complete liquidity creates the best of all worlds for the computer buyer. It would be a perfect market - if only the buyer had perfect information. Which is why the information is rigged by vendors with bamboozling price plans. Analysts knew all that when the cloud was launched and some independent minded ones even said as much. These were the known unknowns of cloud computing.

What about the unknown unknowns though? What were the cloud problems that nobody saw coming?

Office politics

There are always power struggles in large enterprises and it’s a dangerous policy to arm one side of a conflict and not the other. Partisan interventions in other people’s relationships are never advisable. That is exactly what happened with the cloud though. Cloud service suppliers gave the development operations (DevOps) teams within companies the tools to endlessly spin up virtual offices all, over the place.

Which was great for them but their growth was at everyone else’s expense. Other departments had to face the consequences of their actions. Pity, for example, the poor networking engineer who had to link all the new virtual domains. Many of the tasks involved have not been automated, so the poor network administrator had to painstakingly configure firewalls and assign addresses.

In many cases, because there was no system for doing this, they had to sit down and work out all the values and type them all in. Meanwhile, the DevOps people were creating more work at the click of a mouse. You can see where toxic pools of resentment might accumulate.

Networking: the fences got knocked over

The rapid growth of the networking department’s neighbour means they struggle to keep up and the DevOps people have more time to prepare for strategic meetings with important executives higher up the company hierarchy.

Gradually, those with the best tools will assume power, setting the agenda for others to follow. Meanwhile, the network engineers are burning themselves out.

Luckily, there are companies inventing systems that automate the creations of networks now. The concept of software defined networks (SDN) was a start because it broke every function of a network down and gave it the sort of liquidity that cloud computing gave to the units of processing power, memory and storage.

Alkira Networks founder Amir Khan was an SDN pioneer who went on to create the concept of cloud networking as a service (CNaaS) to simplify and reduce the cost of networking in the cloud. The idea is to redress the imbalance by giving network managers a tool as powerful to match those owned by DevOPs.

You can’t quite ‘spin up’ a network in an instance, but it does speed things up. The software can provision network resources – assigning routes and slices of bandwidth and, most importantly, automating a lot of the ‘book keeping’, where are the tedious details of firewall addresses are calculated and assigned.


Cloud technology and web services enabled developers to slice and dice company resources at will. Instead of one huge potato, they chopped it up into hundreds of chips. We all know that chips expose more of the potato’s surface area to fat, which increases the eater’s chances of a fatal heart attack.

The proliferation of virtual machines multiplies the amount of exposed IT systems surface area, which gives the cyber crooks more license to attack. This makes the enterprise massively vulnerable to hijacking, hooliganism and ransom demands.

It’s bad enough that many software as a service applications are inherently insecure but the lack of attention paid to firewalls and other settings exacerbates the security risk.

Worse still, the cloud makes everyone an instant expert, but only on a superficial level. Virtual experts are almost as dangerous to a CIO’s well-being as the criminals. These shadow IT people - as Khan calls them - multiply and each in turn will spin up virtual private clouds all the time without ever worrying about the consequences. Then the poor network admin has to go back and fix that problem by changing the addresses or translating them.

There are endless virtual instances for them to find and fix, all tied together through tunnels and chaotic mechanisms. No administrator could ever keep up because they are overstretched as it is. “They were so busy it was becoming a nightmare for them to meet any compliance or security requirements," says Khan.   

Just as monolithic applications were broken down and placed into containers, microservices, and lambda functions, the same needed to be done to the network, says Galeal Zino, who started NetFoundry with this mission in mind. The good news is that enterprises have an opportunity to orchestrate secure networking, the way they orchestrated the cloud software. “And that's really exciting,” says Netfoundry CEO Zino, “it turns secure networking into a software function.”

The time to market got slower in some cases

Before you can launch anything new, every aspect of delivery has to be in place.

You could build the world’s biggest Airbus but it’s going to be useless if it’s too big for the runways. This is what happens in corporations. As Ralph Munsen, CIO of Warner Music Group put it: “when they built the cloud, they forgot about the network”.

Building enterprise networks in the cloud is time-consuming if you do it right, and risky if you do it fast. So the network bit is holding up enterprises as they try to roll out new IT services to support new business processes or customers – to the extent that after DevOps has produced the Next Big Thing it could take the network and security teams a year or more to get it out. In their excitement, the IT industry forgot that the cloud needed networking as well as computing and storage services, says Munsen. He remains unconvinced that public cloud providers can cater for clients like Warner Music who wants multiple clouds.

In the end, Munsen was able to buy capacity cheaper from Alkira than from Amazon Web Services (AWS), despite the fact that Alkira relies on the AWS infrastructure. What is the explanation for this, other than the theory of bamboozling tariffs applies?

Ironically, with the cloud, it can take you longer to get to market, because extra staff have to be recruited to support problems nobody envisaged. Such as patching up security.

Disorientation: Culture change

The conceptual seeds of disruption, enabled by the cloud, were arguably sown in 1998 by the influential management book Who Moved My Cheese? which shamed people who don’t like change. If you don’t high five your colleagues every time you’re given a new app to learn, then you must be a ‘Boomer’ who needs to be ushered down the pathway of constructive dismissal.

With the cloud, priorities are distorted, which leads to a panic management response in which headcounts and budgets are reassigned.

The biggest problem with moving to the public cloud isn’t a technical one – despite what some executives believe. It’s a cultural one. So the cloud has forced companies to change their applications. Notice what’s happening here? Aren’t applications supposed to work around business processes? Are we witnessing companies being bent out of shape to work around the new web services that come with The Cloud? When did the computers become our bosses?

It’s enough to make a Bishop kick in a Kubernetes container!

But this is not good enough in the customer centric world. “It will not be enough just to be better than the next mobile operator. You need to be as good as Amazon and Apple,” says Danielle Royston, CEO of cloud consultancy TelcoDR.

Or is it a good thing that companies are shedding bad habits that have been ingrained by decades of bad habits? According Net Foundry’s Zino, the wide area network is doomed to oblivion, and that is a good thing.

To be fair, The Cloud is now helping businesses reimagine how they can interact with their customers, says Mohamed Zamzam, cloud migrations and managed services practice lead at BJSS. So let’s give him the last word: “As a result of the cloud, new business models are being created. These are the developments that nobody saw coming.”