We can all agree that the cloud has been an unstoppable force, infiltrating nearly all aspects of IT from cloud servers and storage to software, voice, and collaboration services. In the past five years, everything in the technology stack has been heading towards being cloud-based or software-defined. If it’s not automated, subscription-based, or accessible remotely, it’s probably on its way out.
Many businesses today find themselves rushing into digital transformation and cloud migration without fully understanding or planning for it. It’s an important factor in staying relevant, innovative, and competitive in the market. Unfortunately, the cloud migration mistakes made today will have significant, long-lasting consequences in the future.
In this article, we will look at the positive and negative aspects of cloud migration and what to expect. We will also take a look at eight critical steps to take in planning out your migration to the cloud.
Does Migrating to Cloud Makes Sense?
Moving workloads to the cloud is not only a smart option, but it’s also pivotal to IT strategies and digital transformation initiatives.
In 2002, Amazon Web Services (AWS) changed everything with the first retail option for public cloud servers. Before AWS, the procurement of enterprise physical servers could take weeks or even months to deploy in a colocation data center. Now, it takes only a few moments to spin up or down a cloud server anywhere on the globe.
The powerful combination of public, private, and hybrid cloud infrastructure will meet the needs of any workload from hosting mission-critical enterprise applications and databases in the cloud to High-Performance Compute (HPC) for scientific research. The cloud offers what it’s counterpart, physical servers, and colocation, cannot – on-demand, flexible, scalable, highly available, and redundant infrastructure on a pay-as-you-go basis.
So, should you do it if everyone else is? There are still more than a handful of IT professionals that aren’t sold on the cloud. They’re skeptical of the cloud from a cost, security, compliance and regulatory perspective. Not to mention cloud compatibility and licensing issues. Simply put, some legacy applications run better on dedicated, physical infrastructure.
Despite numerous use cases for the cloud, we will most likely always have hybrid infrastructure – the use of both physical and virtual servers and storage devices. There are also cases where the cloud does not make sense economically. In some instances, cloud servers and storage can be significantly higher than physical infrastructure hosted on-premise or in a colocation facility.
Those that argue against migrating to the cloud also point to its role in promoting data sprawl, causing shadow IT and creating network bottlenecks and bandwidth constraints.
Challenges Associated With Cloud Migration?
Despite the many benefits of migrating to the cloud, there are several important considerations to ponder before deciding. Timing and preparation are everything.
Application and Data Disruptions
Think about minimizing disruptions first. It is important to consider all of the potential operational and user experience disruptions associated with migrating to the cloud.
Given that downtime is a major disruptor, minimizing downtime of applications and data accessibility are critical. When users cannot properly access apps and data, your organization can incur financial losses and damaging hits to its reputation with users.
Security and Compliance Concerns
Another concern commonly associated with the cloud is security. Cloud is often perceived as being less secure and more susceptible to hackers and data breaches. Is it true? Most Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) like AWS, Microsoft, and Google Cloud offer a shared responsibility model for security. The CSP is responsible for the security of the cloud while the customer is responsible for security in the cloud.
The truth is that security holes and data breaches can occur on any infrastructure whether physical or virtual. It is really up to the organization and department heads to make security a priority. With the cloud, nearly anyone with credentials can deploy an insecure server instance or storage bucket and expose critical business data, intellectual property, and customer information. Can you trust everyone in your organization to lock it down with the appropriate security roles and policies?
Budget vs Cloud Cost Expectations
The cloud is great at offering on-demand, highly scalable, and configurable infrastructure. That’s what it is known for. However, this can also be a bad thing if mismanaged. There are major differences in the types of cloud services and pricing tiers offered by CSPs. For many organizations, migrating to the cloud without properly assessing the underlying workloads, applications, and data can lead to significantly higher costs than physical infrastructure.
A multi-tenant public cloud server is significantly less expensive than a dedicated, single-tenant cloud server. Paying on-demand by the hour is more expensive than reserved instances over a one year, three year, or five-year term. The use of multiple cloud availability zones is significantly higher than a single availability zone. Cloud storage types and tiers such as standard, infrequently accessed, archiving and deep archiving can have huge variances in price. Organizations see costs skyrocket when their workloads are not matched with the appropriate cloud infrastructure type, tier, and cost structure.
Internal Resources and Skills Gap
Many of the challenges that organizations face when migrating and managing their cloud infrastructure are directly the result of an internal skills gap and lack of highly experienced, technical resources. Does your organization have sufficient resources and personnel capable of procuring and deploying public, private, hybrid and even multi-cloud environments? The nature of the cloud lends itself to be a self-service model. As a result, many CSPs do not offer managed services for their cloud infrastructure offerings.
Eight Steps for Successful Cloud Migration
Finally, we are at the point in this article where we can highlight eight steps to ensure a successful and non-disruptive cloud migration. Make sure to contact me if you have any questions about cloud migration or would like help with a cloud readiness assessment.
1. Develop a Cloud Migration Plan
Do not just jump into the cloud and hope that it all gets sorted out along the way. Cloud migrations require planning, input, and strategy. Do you know which applications and data are cloud-ready? Do you want to start with the least mission-critical workloads? Do you have a new product or technology requirement that is forcing a migration to the cloud? Start with the business motives and use cases for your organization. Define this first. Build your requirements doc.
Once you understand your workloads and their requirements, it is highly beneficial to create a cloud migration plan that breaks down the migration into different workload priorities and phases. You will also want to research potential CSPs that can meet your requirements from a service offering, cost, management level, location, and compliance and regulatory perspective. Will you be going with one of the big three CSPs or a smaller cloud provider? How do those providers interface with your existing technology stack – internet connectivity, network, disaster recovery, and business continuity, etc?
2. Create a Cloud Governance Framework
This is especially critical, and I cannot emphasize it enough. Security and compliance are important to all organizations regardless of the vertical or industry they are in. This is only amplified when your organization is trusted with personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, emails, phone numbers, credit card information, social security numbers, tax information, and healthcare records.
The creation and implementation of a cloud governance framework will help guide your entire organization with clear, policy-based principles to support safe cloud adoption. Input and feedback from your team and other teams spanning IT to DevOps, SysOps, SecOps will be critical in constructing a solid cloud governance framework and plan.
Cloud governance should be an extension of your IT governance. It takes into careful consideration of the inherent dangers and threats posed by both internal and external resources. It defines the who, what, where, and why of cloud service deployment. It includes a wealth of information such as structures, roles, responsibilities, policies, plans, objectives, principles, measures, and also a decision framework.
3. Define Network & Bandwidth Requirements
Will the cloud slow the performance of your existing network? Will it create bottlenecks? Yes. It is the cloud after all and accessible from anywhere with an internet connection and the right authorizations to access infrastructure.
Many organizations that we talk to experience challenges by not planning ahead for the increased strain on the network from cloud adoption. Imagine that your entire office creates files and stores them locally. Backups of those files occur once or twice a day and most likely during off-peak times. Bandwidth is primarily used for emails, voice, conferencing, accessing applications, and the internet.
Now imagine that you have your entire office creating files and storing them in the cloud. The files are being saved, synced, and uploaded to the cloud. They are also being downloaded from the cloud back to local machines. Your organization is also using bandwidth for emails, voice, conferencing, accessing applications, and the internet. Network performance will suffer if not addressed.
Luckily, there are options. Nearly all large CSPs offer dedicated internet connections to their cloud infrastructure. Cloud direct connects from AWS, Microsoft, Google Cloud, and IBM establish a connection directly between your office, network, or colocation data center to the provider’s infrastructure, bypassing the public internet.
4. Create Organization & User Trainings
Because most organizations have a skills gap and lack technical cloud experience, it makes sense to train staff and personnel on the cloud as soon as possible. Create a series of cloud trainings starting with the cloud governance framework and work towards user-defined trainings on the cloud services they will interact with most often in their role. Cross-training is important for understanding the different aspects of a cloud environment and the different user roles and responsibilities associated with each.
5. Determine Software Licensing Portability
Software licensing for the cloud draws similar comparisons to streaming music or audio files before that was a thing. Major roadblocks can arise when an organization does not evaluate or plan for software licensing issues. Do your existing licenses for on-premise software extend into the cloud? Some software vendors offer Bring Your Own Software and License (BYOSL) programs. These allow your organization to express permission to migrate their applications to the cloud. Other vendors specify use rights per the number of concurrent users. It gets a little sticky when installing certain software licenses in a multi-tenant, public cloud environment.
Avoid this documenting all enterprise applications before your cloud migration. Find out if the licenses are portable to the cloud. If uncertain, talk to the vendor to find out if existing licenses you have purchased can be updated for the application to be used from the cloud. Software Asset Management (SAM) tools can prove useful in reducing risks, costs, and complexities associated with extending license management to your cloud.
6. Leverage Automation & Migration Tools
Downtime and service disruption is not something that you want to have to explain to your boss or bosses. Luckily, all of the major CSPs such as AWS, Microsoft, and Google Cloud offer automation and migration tools and templates to assist with your cloud migration. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are being used in many cloud services to automate, right-size, and deploy workloads to the cloud.
There are hundreds and maybe thousands of pre-defined server images, templates, and security policies that you can use and customize to create your cloud infrastructure and virtual private cloud environment.
7. Monitor Cloud Usage
Are your cloud costs skyrocketing out of control? Budgets out of whack? This should not be the case but unfortunately, it is for many organizations. All major CSPs offer cloud budgeting and monitoring services. One of the first things you should do when migrating to the cloud is to set up budgets and alarms based on costs or usage of cloud infrastructure.
We all know that the cloud is scalable, and this is usually a good thing. However, what if it is a malicious attack that auto-scales your infrastructure? This could be a very bad thing for your budget. Setting up usage notifications, access control lists, firewalls, and gateways are critical for your public, private, or hybrid cloud environment.
Another benefit of the cloud is performance. It is also highly configurable, and you can leverage numerous cloud services to meet performance demands or cost targets. Leverage your existing data on usage to determine a benchmark for the cloud. Adjust accordingly.
8. Managed Services & Support
Will your cloud environment be managed or unmanaged? Will certain services be managed while others are unmanaged? Will you purchase managed services for your cloud from a third party or rely on the support provided by your CSP? For most organizations, this is determined by internal resources and cloud expertise as well as budget.
One major complaint from many organizations during a cloud migration throughout the cloud adoption phase centers on the lack of support provided by cloud providers. Therefore, it is critical to determine your managed service requirements.
Conclusion: Cloud Migrations Require Planning
If there was just one takeaway from this article, it is that planning for your cloud migration is critical to your success. Don’t rush it and be conscious that the cloud may not be the answer for every application or workload. We’ve seen more than a handful of organizations enthusiastically go all-in on the cloud only to rip it all out and go back to physical servers, storage devices, and colocation. Why? The main culprit has been out of control cloud costs that were unexpected and unmanageable.
Need help with your cloud readiness assessment or cloud migration? Contact me to learn more about how we can help build an inventory of your servers, storage devices, databases, software licenses, internet, network, colocation facilities, and other critical elements of your IT infrastructure.