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Reimagine the cloud: an engine for startling innovation, but watch out for the pitfalls

Friday 20 March 2020

Ryan Thornley's picture
By Ryan Thornley

The cloud is indispensable. At CACI Information Intelligence, when we’re working in highly complex and secure environments, the cloud allows us to achieve more than ever within the strict confines of our clients’ security requirements. This is how my latest serverless technology services came about – and why I enjoy working in the cloud. I just like solving problems, and the cloud lets me do that.

From physical servers and the explosion of the cloud, to serverless technology, it’s been a long journey of invention and technology revolution. But while the cloud allows me to solve the most complex mission-critical challenges for huge institutions, it's a power that needs to be wielded carefully and responsibly.

 

A shift in thinking; from pets to cattle

The journey to the cloud has been one of amazing innovation, but how did we arrive at this point of continual refinement and testing? It wasn’t so long ago that developers were likely to get very attached to the servers they physically built and refined for optimum performance; they were proud and protective parents of this hardware.

But the explosion of cloud technology prompted a shift in thinking about servers. The relationship to them swiftly changed from being developers’ much-loved pets…to cattle that required herding. The cloud meant setting up a server, using it for a purpose, and then decommissioning it in minutes. Managed en masse, the herd can quickly grow or shrink as needed.

This led to the necessary approach to serverless technology: try and fail fast – then move on.

 

A skills trade-off?

While the cloud has delivered speed, power and possibility, does the ease of use bring a skills atrophy? Things have changed significantly since the meticulous programming of Super Nintendos to fit onto a game cartridge with limited computational power and space, for example. Nowadays it can now be harder to recruit for the right roles.

While cloud technology can now deliver so much in such a short time, the skills required by software developers are changing. Gone are the days of intense, slow, methodical processes working around the limited programming of the 1990s (which created the genius work that brought Super Mario to life). In the current skills climate, and with increased ease of use, it’s easy for programmers to remain unchallenged and lack creative thinking.

It’s therefore more important than ever to increase testing and refresh developers’ skills regularly, with a focus on the quality of coding. There is also a difference in the skills required between migrating software to the cloud and programming cloud-native technology; the latter requires in-demand expertise that covers a breadth of technologies.

As we discussed in our earlier blog ‘How an embedded Agile methodology drives collaboration at CACI IIG’, this requires larger teams that can collaborate and work across their skillsets to find the right solutions.

 

Serverless technology

Serverless has been the next monumental shift since the cloud – but it’s not about using serverless as a straight replacement for traditional servers. Instead, you have to re-think how you design and implement it, in order to take advantage of its features.

If implemented correctly as part of a well-designed system, serverless can deliver excellent value for money over more traditional architectures. The benefits include lower maintenance, greater scalability, and lower running costs; as well as minimising the application’s attack surface. But it’s not always the right answer for every solution. It’s important that troubleshooting and monitoring the system is a built-in process and not an afterthought, as the impact of an unexpected bug, for example, could be greater. Development can also be more complex, meaning a tried and tested approach – rather than a rush job – is essential.

While serverless technology allows for scalability, innovation and future-proofing, there are potential downsides, which developers need to be aware of.

 

The dark side of the cloud

The cloud may allow for innovation in a way that legacy technology can’t, but with this comes risk. It’s now easy to trial services that use AI and machine learning in minutes, moving the focus from getting tech working, to the relevant application of these inventions.

With this ease of implementation comes some worrying technologies. Deepfake AI-driven facial mapping, for example – where the user overrides original video content with a convincing rendering of another person’s face – was once the preserve of those who worked at universities or in industries that had a commercial requirement for such hardware. Now, there’s no need to risk your job over generating these videos, as they are easily available. While this can be used in humorous ways – deepfake impressionist – the potential for deeply disturbing and negative misuse is huge.

This technology is made prevalent by the easy access to powerful compute services which enable people to experiment without the need for expensive hardware. The ethics behind such technology is worth considering. While innovations are constantly cropping up, there have already been numerous examples of less advanced AI technology going wrong. For example, Amazon’s now de-commissioned sexist recruitment tool and Microsoft’s offensive chatbot, Tay.

These examples may seem minor and easily rectified, but they show the importance of thinking about bias and a code of ethics prior to the development process, in order to use cloud technology appropriately. Although the cloud has exponential promise, it’s essential to constantly investigate whether this technology is the right solution for every situation. The role of the cloud engineer is not just to be creative and innovate for the sake of it, but to constantly examine exactly this point.

If you are interested to find out more about CACI IIG then click on the link below or if you have any questions on any of the above email us at info@caci.co.uk.

 

Is the cloud always the best option? The technology is rife for innovation and creativity, but there are challenges that need to be overcome, explains Ryan Thornley, Head of Cloud Technology at CACI IIG.

Reimagine the cloud: an engine for startling innovation, but watch out for the pitfalls

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