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Moving to Cloud considerations.

What do you need to consider when moving to the cloud?

Part 1
There is increasing pressure for companies to move to the cloud as stories abound of improved business flexibility, speed to market, cost reductions and freedom to innovate. Whilst there are many success stories from companies who have done this well, there is often a sense of information overload or lack of direction for many starting out on their “cloud first” strategy.

A short article cannot solve these problems or provide a roadmap for your business, but it can provide a list of things to think about when starting out. There are several items which should be incorporated into the early planning stages of a migration to the cloud and the amount of time and effort spent planning is always reflected in the success of the project:

  • Business expectations – why does the business need to adopt this strategy? What are the key objectives, perceived benefits, levels of stakeholder sponsorship & change appetite?
  • Measurement metrics – how do you evaluate the current state so that once the anticipated change has been established this can be measured against success criteria and more importantly for ongoing improvements?
  • Risk and Governance – there will be many policies within your organisation enacted through processes & procedures which have been refined over a long time with an assumption of on premise infrastructure and these processes may need to be adjusted to cover cloud based services;
  • Insight and analysis – understanding the chains of services and the value they provide to the business is critical so having a view into how these services are performing and planning capacity is also critical. Therefore, having the right tools to enable this and the right process and controls in place to react to issues are also critical;
  • Service lifecycles – consider what stage the systems and services are at in their lifecycle to establish priority and suitability for migration – this should include license portability;

It is not surprising that there is very little mention of technology in the items above; the cloud is not just infrastructure or “someone else’s computer” – it is a general collection of constantly evolving services and tools upon which your business specific services can be built. As a result, a strategy whose sole goal is to change the infrastructure on which the business services reside is unlikely to provide any long term tangible benefit – just moving servers to the cloud often isn’t cheaper. Instead it is important to analyse your IT enabled value chains and how they can be modelled in a service architecture which is platform & infrastructure agnostic.

When looking at a migration of a significant portion of your IT landscape it is best to start with project which offers good business impact with low risk as it is more likely to be approved and the benefits recognised. It is critical to have an understanding of the dependencies and information flow characteristics of your services and applications to identify a suitable system for migration and that the success criteria are clearly understood and communicated. The success criteria should be based around application performance, speed to deployment, automated scale-out, cost control (e.g. active server footprint) or other business metrics which can be measured and compared.

Once you have migrated your services then operating in a cloud environment also requires a change in mind-set. This means personnel, organisational structure and training will need to be re-evaluated. Constant innovation and business agility require the teams responsible for delivering this to be able to move quickly and this relies on good collaboration and communication. What would this involve for your organisation?

Part 2
It may sound as though in the move to the cloud, the underlying technology is of little importance; of course this is not the case and there are many technical aspects to a cloud migration which need consideration. The list below is a summary of those items which have a high degree of influence over cloud adoption strategies and processes:

  • Data sovereignty – gone are the days where a user can be pointed to the set of disks where their email is stored, however the physical location of their data and the routes through which it is accessed are still key considerations due to regulatory or governance restrictions which will affect the choice of cloud service providers;
  • Automation & orchestration – ensures your environment is consistent and reproducible. By describing your systems in code (configuration templates and deployment scripts) it will be possible to use multiple cloud service providers with minimal change and thereby avoid vendor lock-in;
  • Data encryption – what level of protection is required for data at rest, in-transit & in-process (e.g. within an application)? Which platforms provide which services and does this tie you into a specific vendor/product?
  • Adaptability over customisation – be prepared to adapt existing business & technology processes to capabilities of cloud systems rather than invoking high levels of customisation which ties in to specific products. View the landscape/world in terms of capabilities & services rather than specific products;
  • Data movement & access methods – cloud providers charge you for accessing and moving data between services. Ensure you understand your data flows and the cost models used by cloud providers and the access methods available to your users;
  • Federation – having services residing in different environments but being presented to users transparently requires a single sign-on mechanism and single source of truth for identity and access management. This can be enabled through different federation models so be sure to plan this carefully to ensure application & service compatibility;
  • Licenses – you may be able to “port” your existing licenses to certain cloud providers subject to vendor approval & possible configuration restrictions; however, porting back is usually not possible;
  • Tooling – in order to provide the right dashboards & alerts to ensure service level agreements are met it is important to have the right tools to have insights into the business services and dependencies. These tools need to enable management dashboards & policy events for cloud infrastructure (capacity & sizing), applications (availability, recoverability & auto-scaling) & operations (resource allocation & priority);
  • Backup & recovery – what changes to data protection need to occur and what operational efficiencies can be gained through cloud tools? Balance the benefits of cloud specific tools with any systems requiring long data retention times and the process of data-set management, rehydration & platform portability.

The road to adoption of cloud services is a long and interesting one. In much the same way as holidays are more memorable if research is done on the location, it is advisable not to rush to start the cloud journey but to have a clear set of objectives and set of goals to be achieved before embarking, and to make sure you make you book through the right travel company. In the land of continuous improvement there is always something new to discover and benefit from.