Kevin Bair

Dec 15, 2016

Many organizations we engage with are seriously considering transforming their business and moving some (or all) of their IT operations into the cloud. A lot of executives I have encountered are struggling with the same question: “How do I get started?” There is a strong case to be made that starting with your Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW), or at least a data mart, is the fastest, and most risk-free path, with added upside potential to increase revenue and set you up for future growth. As operational data volumes continue to grow at exponential rates, it’s not a matter of if you go to the cloud to manage your enterprise data, but when.

Before going too far on your cloud journey, I would recommend an exercise in segmenting your business from an IT perspective in a very simple way. To get you started, let me suggest five possible categories, along with some risks to consider for each:

  • Customer-facing Applications – This is the heart and soul of your business. If something goes wrong, you lose business and revenue, and people potentially get fired. Risk: HIGH
  • Internal Applications – Mail, Payroll, General Ledger, AP, AR, things like that. Every person inside the organization relies on at least one of these services, and a lot of analysis needs to take place to figure out all the integration points to ensure nothing gets missed during a migration to the cloud. Risk: HIGH
  • Desktop/Laptop OS and Applications – There are whole books and schools of thought about how to migrate these, which means it’s a big decision and a big deal. Impacting everyone in the company on your first cloud initiative? Risk: HIGH
  • Operations Monitoring and Alerting – Got a Network Operation Center (NOC)? These guys are integrated with every system that is important, so moving them to the cloud could be a large undertaking. Risk: HIGH
  • Reporting and Analytics – Hmmm….if my constituents don’t get their weekly or monthly reports on time, is that a disaster? Can they get by with a small outage during the migration? Risk: LOW

Starting with the Data

Let’s take a closer look at why starting your cloud journey with your EDW could be a viable option, and even have some benefits that could help sell the idea (of the cloud) internally. In no particular order, I would highlight these points:

  • Doesn’t disrupt the business – Many EDW implementations are not mission critical today (as compared to enterprise applications). As more data becomes available through social media or Internet of Things (IOT) applications, businesses need access to much larger volumes of data and they will want access to it earlier in the data pipeline. Traditional DWs contain aggregations and are used for doing trend analysis, analyzing data over a period of time to make strategic, rather than tactical decisions. They are not architected to handle this new influx of raw data in a cost-effective manner. By starting your cloud journey with the EDW, you reduce risk (by going to a more flexible architecture) while getting your team early exposure to working with cloud services.
  • Doesn’t disrupt internal users – When moving to the cloud, you want to show incremental success and don’t want to add a lot of unnecessary risk. It’s simple to keep running your existing EDW in parallel with your new cloud DW, giving you a built-in fall-back plan for the early stages. Or you may decide to start with a small data mart as a pilot project.
  • Start-up costs are a fraction of on-premises, appliance solutions – Some of our customers invested as much as $10 million (or more) years ago on a data warehouse appliance that is now outdated technologically. And the renewal costs to keep that tech going are coming due. If they re-invest another huge sum of money, this will delay them getting to the cloud by another 4-5 years, putting them behind their competition. Rather than outlaying a large capital expenditure to extend the life of the older technology, it may make better sense to move to the cloud. The cloud offers a utility-based model, allowing you to pay for what you use and when you use it, as opposed to what you think you are going to need 2-3 years in the future. As a result, not only is the cost of entry lower, but you are not risking a huge sum of money to make the move.
  • Data is growing at an exponential rate – Will you ever have less data to worry about in your business? If you plan on being successful, I don’t think so. Many organizations are looking at new and different ways to manage and analyze ever-increasing volumes of data coming in various formats from multiple sources (such as semi-structured web logs). Your current on-premises EDW was not designed for this kind of workload or data.  If you are considering changing infrastructure platforms to accommodate it, why not select tools that were built for today’s modern data challenges instead of legacy-based architectures? Moving to the cloud also gives you the opportunity to consolidate operations and streamline business processes.
  • Enable new capability – There are some new analytic paradigms happening in the cloud (such as machine learning). Cloud-based platforms allow you to work with both detailed and aggregated data at scales never imaged (see the case study about DoubleDown as an example). Need to run a complex analytic job with a 256-node Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) cluster for an hour, and then shut it down? No problem. Can your platform support a thousand users without concurrency issues?  How would that change your business if it could dynamically adjust to handle those new demands?

As with any infrastructure move, the benefits have to be clear enough that the status quo mentality can be overcome and analysis paralysis doesn’t push out your journey to the cloud for months or even years. The beauty of the cloud model is that it is easy to start small and scale without risking a huge investment up front. Every business needs some proof before committing time and resources to move anything to the cloud and your EDW is a perfect candidate. Snowflake is the first and only EDW built for the cloud to be truly elastic for all of your analytic and big data needs.

Please feel free to reach out to us at info@snowflake.net. We would love to help you on your journey to the cloud. And keep an eye on this blog or follow us on Twitter (@snowflakedb) to keep up with all the news and happenings here at Snowflake Computing.