Cloud computing deep-dives at FWD50 2019

Alistair Croll
Published in
4 min readNov 4, 2019


Fifteen years ago, the term “cloud computing” was on the front page of every tech magazine. For that matter, fifteen years ago, we had tech magazines. Today, the term has almost lost its meaning in many IT conversations. We don’t say, “cloud storage”; we say “storage,” and assume on-demand, third-party-operated computing systems are part of that strategy.

Photo by Thomas Jensen on Unsplash

And this is a big year for Federal cloud infrastructure. More than a dozen government departments are embracing a cloud-first strategy.

To understand the magnitude of this shift, we first need to nail down terminology — which, even a decade after the first real cloud adoption, can still cause confusion.

Three cloud flavours

Clouds come in three distinct types:

  • Software as a Service is simply a web application. It’s software functionality, delivered via a web interface. There’s nothing to install; and you migrate by moving content and permissions to the cloud.
  • Platform as a Service is a place to build applications where you don’t see the underlyiing components. Sometimes called serverless, you migrate by moving your code.
  • Infrastructure as a Service is access to virtual building blocks — servers, storage devices, and so on. You migrate by moving machine images.
A taxonomy of cloud approaches, circa 2009.

There are myriad variations on this simple category. Some platforms, like Airtable or Google Sheets, have powerful programming languages built into them that blur the line between SaaS and PaaS. And many on-demand functions, from image processing to search lookups to content delivery networks, are simply services.

Behind this all is one fundamental idea: Own the base, rent the spike. Computer workloads are bursty, particularly those that are seasonal (like tax filings) or deal with data (like building a machine learning model from unlabelled data sources.) Making compute resources shareable makes them more cost-effective; making them easy to use reduces the time to create a new app or run a prototype.

Here be dragons

But look to these strengths, and you’ll find some of the issues that still plague cloud adoption:

  • Risk of lock-in: Turnkey programming interfaces make it easy to add a new feature — like search or backups — with just a few lines of code. But each time you use one of these interfaces, you’re entangling yourself with the cloud provider, making it harder to migrate. Unless you hew rigidly to cross-vendor standards, you get locked in. But if you’re rigid, you lose access to some of the most powerful things clouds have to offer.
  • Unbounded costs: If you see a spike in demand on servers you own, things get slow for your users. But your costs don’t go up. By contrast, in an elastic cloud, you pay for what your users consume — so capital expenses give way to variable operasting costs.
  • Compliance worries: The original “cloud” was the Internet — data went in somewhere and came out somewhere else, and we didn’t worry about what was in the middle. Out of sight isn’t out of mind; depending on the sensitivity of data, clouds may not be appropriate to store certain information or do certain processing. Building all the rules needed to ensure compliance is lots more work.

Drawing the right line between what you control, and what you use in the cloud, is critical if you’re to retain data sovereignty, effective cost management, and the ability to move workloads around. This is complicated stuff you need to get right.

Years ago, during the peak of cloud hype, Ian Rae made this image ironically. It became the top search result for cloud computing in the world. Clearly, clouds meant lots of things to many people.

So we’ve packed this year’s event with lots of expert content on cloud migration and adoption, including:

The move to cloud is one of the most significant shifts in government IT adoption since we moved off mainframes and onto distributed clients. It’s important to get it right — and FWD50 has experts from around the world teaching can’t miss content. Grab your ticket here to chart your best move to the cloud.



Alistair Croll

Writer, speaker, accelerant. Intersection of tech & society. Strata, Startupfest, Bitnorth, FWD50. Lean Analytics, Tilt the Windmill, HBS, Just Evil Enough.