Developing a cloud strategy: weighing both sides of the coin

The age of the cloud is here. The economies of scale associated with cloud computing not only allow IT services to run more efficiently, but also create entirely new possibilities for their functionality, development and operation. Many organizations migrate to the cloud spontaneously, their decision to take the leap usually being motivated by a single factor, like an aging server. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it would be better still to adopt a more systematic approach. Any first-time migration project should start with answering the following questions: How will my applications benefit from cloud computing? What is the target outcome and how can it be achieved? How do I get started?

Starting out: Assess the benefits
A good migration strategy begins with a careful analysis of the benefits that the cloud brings. First, you should examine the current state of your hardware and software infrastructure, application by application. Does it meet availability, security and performance requirements? Does the current inhouse operation come with significant issues or costs? Based on your findings, think about how each application will benefit from migrating to the cloud.

IT services can benefit from cloud computing in many ways. It enables dynamic resource allocation and can scale quickly, thus supporting organizational agility. It eliminates the need for significant IT investments and often lowers TCO significantly. Cloud providers offer better security and availability than what most organizations have the resources, experience or even time to build themselves. The cloud also makes IT costs more transparent, and has positive effects on the environment by being typically much more energy-efficient than on-premises environments. All of these potential values of the cloud should be taken into consideration and, ideally, quantified.

The cloud transforms IT services, and more
The success of your first steps inside the cloud also depends on how you choose to walk in. Simple one-to-one re-hosting of virtual servers requires little effort, but may not bring about the desired changes. Consider making the application more cloud-aware, use platform services like SharePoint Online. Have you heard about Microsoft’s Cosmos DB, which seems to cross the barrier between traditional relational and modern No-SQL databases? Change monolithic applications into horizontally scaled ones, replace block storage with object storage. Only then will you unleash the real power of the cloud.

Completing a simple one-to-one migration is like moving between houses and placing old furniture into new rooms in its original layout: You may be missing a big opportunity to improve and innovate. The cloud is not just another house, either: It represents the most disruptive change in computing since the arrival of the Internet, and a whole new way of “living”.

Sometimes, it may be more effective to migrate to the cloud by completely replacing the IT service with a new SaaS application. Are you thinking about re-hosting on-premises Exchange servers to IaaS? Why not just switch all of your e-mail to O365? This is especially true for backend IT services, which should all use mostly standardized applications. Learn to concentrate custom development on customer frontend apps.

Difficulties and risks of cloud migration
The operational and transformational benefits of the cloud, however, are just one side of the coin. The decision of whether or not to migrate should be made by weighing these benefits against the associated difficulties and risks. The latter arise from the fact that the cloud is distant, has a different, shared architecture and is owned by a separate entity – its provider. The migration process itself brings change and therefore carries a certain degree of risk.

While security is clearly one of the cloud’s major benefits, it is also the shared responsibility of the provider and customer to design and implement a secure cloud infrastructure accompanied by appropriate access mechanisms. Possible technical issues associated with a migration include older operating systems not being supported, as well as problems with custom code such as hard-coded IP addresses or file paths and custom configurations. Software licenses are sometimes tied to specific hardware, which can create licensing issues. Connectivity is another particular risk, as some applications may require high network bandwidth or low latency. In many cases, IT staff also needs to be trained to use cloud-based tools.

One way to visualize each application’s suitability for cloud migration is the following graph, which plots the benefits of migrating on one axis, its difficulties or risks on the other, and represents each application as a single point. Applications for which a cloud migration is associated with high benefits and low risks would appear in the upper left-hand corner: They would be the most suitable for migration, and therefore the right ones to start with.

Migration plan
In addition to the two abovementioned dimensions to be considered, it may not be the best idea to begin a cloud experience with a mission-critical application. Things like testing or development are better services to start off with. In the first experimental migration stage, it is advisable to test relevant processes and measure migration speeds. Start with simple one-to-one migrations before progressing to more transformational projects utilizing platform services.

It is also smart to build brand new applications right into the cloud. Save everyone the future migration hassle. The cloud era is clearly here: New apps should be cloud-based by default, and if not, there should be a clear reason why. What else is needed for a successful cloud migration? Oh, just some minor things like management support, solid inhouse knowledge of the cloud, and a taste for trying out new things – but a competent partner should be able to help you with all of that.

Author: Miroslav Pikus Cloud Expert
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