Cloud complaints come in all shapes and sizes. Usage-based pricing and data egress charges lead to mounting monthly bills, eating away at projected savings. Hopes of a sleek, streamlined IT ecosystem are easily dashed by SaaS sprawl and interoperability issues.
As migrations reach deeper into the tech stack and vendor dependency fears set in, second thoughts about shuttering the trusted on-prem data center emerge and repatriation chatter picks up.
Still, repatriation is almost unmentionable. The notion of shifting cloud-based applications back on-premises smacks of cloud incompetence, a weight few IT executives care to bear.
“Going back on-premises after expending considerable time and resources to get to the cloud is a retreat and lends the appearance of failure, archaic strategy, and poor initial planning,” analyst firm Forrester noted in a recent report.
Despite the taboo, cloud has accumulated its share of unhappy customers, according to HFS Research. As many as half of cloud transformations fail, the consulting firm found in a six-month survey of over 500 senior executives conducted in the last year. Fewer than one-third reported achieving their initial goals in cloud.
Cost is a primary pain point.
The rush to cloud resulted in sticker shock, Andy Sealock, senior partner of advisory and transformation at consulting firm West Monroe, told CIO Dive. Companies that were running their on-prem data center at maximum efficiency stood to increase costs post-migration, especially if they neglected to optimize applications for cloud.
Notable examples exist. Dropbox saved $75 million when it repatriated workloads from public cloud in 2018, and software company 37signals pulled back its AWS workloads last year after analyzing its cloud costs.
Forrester said such moves are rare and tend to be confined to tech companies.
“The publicly known examples of mass migration are typically high-tech companies that realized that they needed to own their own data center resources because cloud costs were eating away at their profits to the extent that they couldn’t handle the margins,” the report said.
For most companies, repatriation should be a last resort, or a tactical decision confined to a specific application or a highly interdependent suite of related applications, Forrester advised.
In addition to potential reputational damage, here are three practical reasons Forrester recommends avoiding cloud repatriation:
Access to innovation
Hyperscalers provide far more than infrastructure. Through software marketplaces on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, enterprises gain access to an array of generic and industry-specific solutions, including generative AI and large language model technologies.
“A radical move away from cloud platforms is a big step back from innovation partnerships and vibrant collaboration communities,” the report said.
Tech stack optimization
Organizations adopted cloud to shift data center maintenance responsibilities to the third-party provider, freeing IT workers to focus on building technologies that provide a competitive edge higher in the stack. A move back on-prem undercuts this advantage and, in many cases, restricts technological capabilities.
“A retreat to on-premises eliminates functionality or nonfunctional capabilities that deliver value,” Forrester said. Replicating cloud-based solutions on-premises is expensive and technically challenging, too.
Migrations are difficult, regardless of the direction. While applications modernized in cloud or in advance of migration may be easier to lift-and-shift back to on-prem environments, active directory inconsistencies, unique cloud-native services and networking protocols complicate the repatriation process.
Forrester research found that half of firms that use cloud platforms access specialized infrastructure or services. Replicating those capabilities on-prem would be a heavy lift.
“Once modernized, it’s extremely difficult to revert,” the report said.