Breaking free from legacy constraints in a cloud world

In the world of on-premise delivery, services are constrained to stop people from damaging the service for everyone else. A great example of this is storage quotas that stop people from having an email mailbox or file larger than a certain size.

Likely, when the technical infrastructure was being procured for the on-premise service, someone looked at the costs and said something like, “That’s a lot of equipment. Why do we need all of that? Tell them they can only have 100MB. Why would anyone need to store more than 100MB of email?” As a result, people invest their time and energy in managing within 100 MB.

The equipment costs of 100 MB were visible and constrained, but no one knew the hidden costs of managing within the quota, and no one knew the cost of the missed opportunities resulting from people managing within the derisory 100 MB.

In a cloud-first world, many of these constraints have gone away. We no longer need to have a 100 MB mailbox; our subscription, to whichever cloud service we use, gives us practically unlimited storage.

Yet, the legacy constraints continue to exert themselves within organizations. So why haven’t people broken free?

  • The “Other Reason” Reason – In most organizations, the people who created the initial constraint are long gone and with them the reasoning behind the initial constraint. Sometimes organizations faced with a removal of the constraint convince themselves that there must be other reasons for having the constraint in place. They reason that “the cost of equipment can’t be the only reason we created this constraint.” The problem for those of us fighting this reasoning is that it’s like fighting a ghost; it’s hard to reason with something that no longer exists (and probably never existed in the first place).
  • The “Hierarchy” Reason – In a world of constraint, seniority defines the level of privilege; privilege is expressed by how much of the constrained item they get compared to normal people. How do you reflect privilege in a world without constraints? You reinstate the constraint.
  • The “I’ve Always Done It This Way” Reason – To manage within a constraint, people build coping mechanisms. People don’t naturally move away from these coping mechanisms once the constraint has been removed. People compress files to save on storage even though infinite amounts of storage have already been provided, even when doing so adds effort and reduces the value. Changing the working practice gives them value, but they’ve always done it “this way.”

The reality is that none of these are good or sensible reasons to retain the constraints, but that’s precisely what I see being done.

Cloud service providers give people the ability to reenact the constraints because the market tells them it’s a required feature. It doesn’t cost providers very much to offer these capabilities, but it’s not really adding anything of value to the offer.

The organizations that completely remove the constraints and communicate with their people that they no longer have to manage around constraints get immediate value. But more than that, they open themselves to a whole set of opportunities that didn’t exist in the constrained world.

That value can be greatly enhanced by freeing the mindset of the people stuck in “I’ve always done it this way” reasoning, which requires communication and coaching.

Once organisations remove the constraints, they often uncover other issues that the unconstrained world enables. The way to deal with these issues is not to reenact the old constraints, but rather to find new solutions more appropriate to the world of cloud that retain the value of freedom.

As people enter the workforce without previous knowledge of constraints, the retention of constraints will look strange to them, even archaic. For this cloud-native workforce it won’t be enough that your organization has cloud services available; it will need to be available in an unconstrained way, so that these workers can gain the value they expect.

The old constraints were just a pain in the old world. Don’t continue the pain by bringing them into the new world. Declare freedom!

Graham Chastney

Graham Chastney is a Senior Principal Technologist in DXC. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for over 25 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with DXC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.

Twitter: @grahamchastney


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  1. Yasin Kara says:

    Excellent piece. Not cloud related but great example of this is the 90-day domain password rotation policy. UK Gov security agencies now advises against this rotation policy (see NCSC link below) but we still expect ourselves and clients to adopt this practice. Removing just this one constraint would remove so many headaches for end-users and IT support. I’ve been banging on about this for ages but i’m just a lowly tech.


    There is a big challenge in moving legacy systems to the cloud, considering that these systems require old technology such as server (ex HPUX) or old operational systems due to their lack of support for new technologies. Move a dedicated machine to the cloud still not pay off, the cloud advantages mostly rely on scale advantage. Beyond of cloud vendors that still charging infrastructure as traditional pricing instead of as service. There are vendors that capture the cloud spirit, but there are indeed old mind set vendors selling cloud.

  3. Ian Turner says:

    There maybe another just as illogical reason, building on your example for email, I wonder if there’s a view that leaving the 100MB limit might encourage users to consider other more appropriate methods of sharing documents, radical thought I know but perhaps storing in content in document management systems or even god forbid records management systems rather than a reliance on email.

    I’d call this the “I’ll force them to do it properly reason”… but typically I’d suggest most organisations forget the business change or enabling tech.deployment perhaps that’s too specific to my views on email and there’s a more generic option.


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