Short-sighted cloud migrations leave most CIOs trapped in technical debt

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Overburdening cloud technical debt is posing significant challenges for CIOs amid a period of budgetary constraints, according to new research.

According to a new survey, 72% of CIOs said digital transformation progress has slowed as a result of mounting technical debt.

Many attributed the issues to the rapid cloud migrations undertaken by many during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than one-third (38%) said that “rushed cloud migrations” during this period had now placed significant strain on their organisation as they look to optimise workloads and applications and streamline operational efficiency.

Crucially, 31% of respondents said that they failed to optimise workloads before commencing cloud migrations, which has had a long-term negative impact.

Phil Dawson, VP analyst at Gartner, told IT Pro that while the pandemic-fuelled cloud shift represented a prime opportunity for businesses to transform operations, short-sighted and rushed approaches among many firms has left an indelible scar on IT infrastructure.

"I think the pandemic did somewhat emphasise the issue of technical debt,” he says. “If you take a pile of trash and virtualise it and move it to the cloud, you get virtual cloudy trash. You’re just moving the problem.”

This rapid ‘lift and shift’ approach adopted by many organisations during the pandemic offered benefits, Dawson noted. However, this initial migration is only part of the process, and many firms may have fallen into the trap of expecting rapid results without considering the long-term implications and requirements of cloud optimisation.

“What you’ve got to look at is what type of skills does this [lift and shift] need? The cloud operator is good at implementation and operational skills. But they’re not good at transitional and transformation skills,” he said.

“So, you can take your SAP, your Oracle, and move it to the cloud, which appears cheaper, but then what do you need to do to modernise it? That’s where the issue of technical debt comes into it. “

As organisations continue to modernise and scale their cloud infrastructure, the issue of technical debt becomes a critical balancing act.

“If you say you’ve got to move to a new version of another application or operating system, then where do you get the skills to do that in the cloud? Is it from the provider? It’s normally from a third party," he said.


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“So, a hidden swing on technical debt is that what appears to be the smoothing of technical debt then become just moving it around. You’re essentially swinging costs.”

Dawson emphasised the need for organisations to treat migration, transition, and transformation as three different components within a broader shift.

“A migration is your lift and shift, transition is upgrading OS’ or databases, and a transformation is moving to a new architecture,” he added. “You can do those three things together, or separate, but do treat them differently. They are not the same. They require different skills and different providers.”

Cloud overspending

A key takeaway from the SoftwareOne survey was that 38% of CIOs believed their organisations “miscalculated” cloud budgets when provisioning for a migration, leading to significant overspending.

Dawson said this is an issue that could affect a range of organisations in the coming year amidst ongoing budgetary constraints and rising cloud costs.

“Cloud can cost more. Don’t assume it’s cheaper,” he said. “I think the infrastructure costs looked to be cheaper at the time, and therefore the lift and shift process was easier.”

Ross Kelly
News and Analysis Editor

Ross Kelly is ITPro's News & Analysis Editor, responsible for leading the brand's news output and in-depth reporting on the latest stories from across the business technology landscape. Ross was previously a Staff Writer, during which time he developed a keen interest in cyber security, business leadership, and emerging technologies.

He graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 2016 with a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and joined ITPro in 2022 after four years working in technology conference research.

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