What Does It Mean to Be Cloud First?

Chapter 1

“Cloud first” has become an overused and over-hyped phrase in the tech industry. What does it really mean? Furthermore, how does this concept translate to from business strategy to reality? No matter your unique business posture, goals and needs, cloud can have an enabling role in achieving an IT vision. But in order to reach this state, it’s important to understand fully the ins and outs of cloud.

Defining “Cloud”

“The definition for the cloud can seem murky, but essentially, it’s a term used to describe a global network of servers, each with a unique function. The cloud is not a physical entity, but instead is a vast network of remote servers around the globe which are hooked together and meant to operate as a single ecosystem. […] Instead of accessing files and data from a local or personal computer, you are accessing them online from any Internet-capable device.”

Microsoft Azure

What is the cloud?

In this digitalized world, it’s software that creates infrastructure. The cloud is the latest innovation that’s a part of this focus on digitalization. Cloud engineers use code to virtualize and automate applications and datasets on remote servers, giving them the ability to function in dynamic, highly accessible, and secure postures. They call this resulting IT environment “cloud.”

Some will ridicule cloud by saying it’s “just a server” in a special location, and to some extent they won’t be wrong since infrastructure plays a role in defining what cloud is, but it’s also about what “cloud infrastructure” entails, how it allows access from anywhere in the world to make iterations. As a result, the cloud becomes a bundle of Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Infrastructure as Code and more—all rolled into one.

There are different cloud postures too, given your company’s intended goals and IT stance.


Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) usually in a smaller, private datacenter for focused attention, often with hybridity to virtualize physical systems.


Leverages multiple hosted or public cloud environments, either for redundancy or specific priorities.


A cloud environment segregated from other cloud environments, often for increased security reasons.


A cloud environment managed by a major provider such as AWS, Azure or Google, where companies have individualized environments, but shared features, tools and infrastructure for cost efficiencies.

Defining Cloud First, and Misuse of the Term

When some think of “cloud first,” they think that anything they select as upgrades or newly provisioned tech must be in the cloud, whereas this might not be true. This leads to a misuse as “cloud only.”

“Cloud first” is considering the cloud before any other possible solution, either when optimizing IT spend or launching new projects. When you opt not to use the cloud for a project, there will be a good reason for not doing so. It’s about looking at your priorities for cloud and making sure to accommodate those priorities moving forward.

Triggers for Going to the Cloud

Shutting down a datacenter

Lease coming up

Existing hardware aging out

Sudden growth of capacity needs

Real or perceived competitive pressure

Merger or acquisition

Improve security and reduce cost

Cloud-first directive

New cloud native application deployment

Big data analytics / artificial intelligence

Seasonal or fluctuating workloads

No current IT disaster recovery in place

Where Does SaaS Fit In?

Most companies now use some sort of cloud, even if they aren’t aware that they are. Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms have gained immense popularity in streamlining business projects. The important point about SaaS is that the IT department must be aware, to check that such use fits within company governance policies. Too often, a business unit may be using a SaaS application, sharing data around to accomplish sensitive projects, and the business isn’t aware they are putting themselves at a potential risk of data exposure. SaaS, in some ways, can become a cloud silo. For companies utilizing lots of datasets for analytics projects, SaaS presents an additional hurdle in collecting and integrating the data needed for these projects.

Signs You Are Ready for a Cloud First Strategy

It’s best to verify your IT readiness before making the jump to cloud. Some signs that your company is ready to embrace a cloud first strategy are the following:

You Have

executive-level support for going to the cloud

You Have

a datacenter lease expiration coming up

You Have

a big Capex expenditure and you want to consider Opex in its place

You Have

a group within your organization that is experimenting and getting technology certifications

You Have

change advocates in IT that are chomping at the bit

Want to learn more about cloud strategy?

Comparing Cloud Platforms