5 Reasons Cloud Repatriation Should Be Part of Digital Transformation

Cloud repatriation may be the next stop on the digital transformation journey.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology analyst

August 2, 2021

7 Min Read
5 Reasons Cloud Repatriation Should Be Part of Digital Transformation
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To see the other technologies and approaches highlighted in our Digital Transformation series, read our report: An Enterprise Guide to Digital Transformation in 2021.

If you were charting a digital transformation strategy five or 10 years ago, there is a very good chance that migrating to the cloud was at the heart of it. Today, however, the vast majority of businesses are already in the cloud--and it’s not always working out the way they intended. To continue along the digital transformation journey, forward-thinking organizations might want to consider cloud repatriation. By repatriating cloud workloads, organizations can address mistakes they made in earlier stages of digital transformation. Here’s why cloud repatriation should be a part of modern digital transformation.

Digital Transformation and the Cloud

Cloud computing and digital transformation tend to go hand-in-hand. For any business that is not already using the cloud, migrating to cloud environments is a dead-obvious way to advance digital transformation.

Today, though, most businesses have made the cloud jump, with 94% of enterprises now using a cloud service. Meanwhile, smaller businesses that didn’t traditionally need a full-scale public cloud environment are increasingly taking advantage of cloud-based solutions like desktop-as-a-service and cloud storage.

If you were to go and spout the virtues of the cloud as the basis for enabling digital transformation today, then, you’d sound out of touch. It would be like telling companies that they should start using computers.

Cloud Repatriation: Means Toward a Digital Transformation End

Instead, a more innovative approach to the relationship between the cloud and digital transformation is to focus on cloud repatriation, which means the migration of workloads from the cloud back to on-premises environments.

Cloud repatriation isn’t a radically new concept, but it has grown in popularity in recent years. The main reason is obvious: After businesses moved to the cloud as a means of pursuing digital transformation, many have started to realize that the cloud didn’t always enable all of their digital transformation goals.

For that reason, repatriating public cloud workloads back on-prem--or to a hybrid architecture, which is a variation on cloud repatriation--should be a component of many organizations’ digital transformation strategies today.

Here are five ways in which cloud repatriation can advance digital transformation.

1. Improved app performance and user experience

The cloud can improve application performance--and, by extension, the user experience--in some ways. Above all, it provides access to limitless on-demand resources, which is great in situations where demand for your app suddenly peaks.

But the cloud also has inherent performance drawbacks, especially when it comes to networking. Moving data between cloud data centers and other sites takes a long time, relatively speaking.

Sometimes, then, cloud repatriation may be a way to improve performance. For instance, if your business deploys an in-house app that is used by employees, you may enjoy better performance by hosting the app on-premises, where it can run in close proximity to its users. If it’s in the cloud, network latency and bandwidth issues may become the weakest link in your user experience.

2. Increased financial efficiency

In the early days of the cloud and digital transformation, many a CFO was sold on the idea that the cloud would simplify IT budgeting by allowing many resources to move to a simple pay-as-you-go expense model. Gone were the days of painful capital expenditures and complex amortization schedules.

It’s true that the cloud simplifies finances in these ways. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the cloud is the most cost-efficient way to deploy every type of IT resource. Your total cost of ownership for servers, storage media and network infrastructure could end up being lower if you host some resources in-house.

It’s worth noting, too, that although cloud cost models eliminate capex calculations, they introduce their own morass of complexity. Cloud bills are based on a litany of complex fees and usage rates. Resources hosted on-premises aren’t subject to this type of cost complexity.

3. Improved organizational culture

Building a more cohesive organizational culture is sometimes a goal of digital transformation initiatives. Here, the cloud may help by making it easier for organizations to deploy collaboration platforms that simplify communication. The cloud can also provide large businesses with a more consistent IT environment, which in turn enables a stronger culture across widely dispersed business units.

But the cloud can also threaten organizational culture in some ways. Above all, the cloud makes it easy for individual users or groups to build their own IT fiefs, especially within organizations that lack strong IT governance controls. In the cloud, any employee can quickly launch any type of resource or application with little oversight. That’s not the case on-premises, where you typically can’t just go and stand up a rogue server without anyone noticing.

From this perspective, on-premises IT environments may promote more consistent cultures, at least when it comes to the IT resources that help drive those cultures.

4. Ability to move/change faster

It’s true that the cloud enables agility and promotes faster change, at least in certain ways. When you can deploy servers or storage in minutes rather than having to acquire and set up physical infrastructure, it’s easy to move fast.

Yet the cloud can also undercut agility in one critical respect: Once you’re heavily invested in a certain cloud platform, it’s often hard to move to another one. Sure, migrating VMs from, say, AWS EC2 to Azure Virtual Machines may be easy enough if you have a relatively generic, small-scale environment. But if you have thousands of VMs, and extensive cloud networking, IAM and monitoring configurations tailored to them, you can’t just pick up your images and move to another cloud in a day.

Granted, on-prem environments are not necessarily easy to change, either. But they can be if they are built in the right way. For example, if you host everything on Kubernetes, and you avoid specialized Kubernetes tooling or configurations that only work on certain distributions, you can move easily between on-prem environments and the cloud because Kubernetes works everywhere.

To enable faster change, then, consider repatriating cloud workloads to a platform like Kubernetes.

5. Enhanced security

The idea that the cloud is inherently less secure than on-prem, which once inhibited some businesses from fully embracing the cloud, is a myth.

Yet one key security advantage that on-prem environments offer is that they can be fully disconnected from the network. Public cloud environments can’t--almost by definition, they are always accessible from a network in one way or another.

For certain types of workloads, this is a challenge. For example, if you create data backups and want to maximize their security, you’re best off storing them in on-premises infrastructure that is “air-gapped” from the internet. There, it’s impervious to network-borne threats so long as you leave it disconnected.

Conclusion: Rethinking the Cloud

To be sure, the cloud will remain a central part of most digital transformation strategies for years to come. I’m not here to tell you to stop using the cloud altogether.

Yet, it is worth assessing your cloud strategy to identify its weak points. In some cases, you may find that cloud repatriation will allow you to achieve digital transformation goals that your initial move to the cloud failed to enable.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

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