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Cloud migration - Roadmap to success

(Image credit: Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock)

COVID-19 has been a radical moment of disruption for businesses, forcing leaders to rapidly deliver tech-driven solutions at scale. Gartner research revealed that 69 percent of boards of directors accelerated their digital business initiatives due to the pandemic. Years of change has unfolded in a matter of months, and one technology has benefited perhaps more than any other: cloud. IT leaders have significantly increased their spending on cloud, as organisations looked to support the digital-first ‘new normal’ – both for internal and customer-facing operations. Little wonder that the worldwide public cloud services market is forecast to hit $257.9 billion this year – up 6.3 percent on 2019.

In this cloud-first world, it is more important than ever that organisations understand its benefits and have a clear roadmap to help bring their operations successfully onto the cloud.

Obstacles to cloud migration

There are many obstacles which can delay or even postpone an organisation’s journey to the cloud. According to Ensono research, 58 percent SAP IT leaders believe COVID-19 is the biggest problem affecting their migration to cloud – a signal of the economic uncertainty the pandemic has created for lots of firms. Security was another significant concern (43 percent) as companies weigh up the potential risk/reward of entrusting their data to a cloud provider. 

Many IT leaders are particularly concerned about a lack of skills to make the most of cloud. Ensono’s research found SAP skills (35 percent) and public cloud skills (31 percent) were holding up cloud migrations. If an organisation looks to pursue a cloud strategy, it is essential that businesses take the time to invest in developing those internal centres of excellence for cloud skills first; it will pay dividends down the line.

Infrastructure complexity is another major barrier regularly cited by CIOs and IT leaders. The problem is that a large majority of organisations are running IT infrastructure and services that have developed over an extended period, with a mix of in-house and external providers. This creates complex and heterogeneous environments which are comprised of lots of moving and independent parts, which can introduce significant challenges during migration.

Modernising or re-architecting certain business applications can also slow an organisations journey to the cloud. Assessing and re-architecting apps is vital to ensure they continue to function after migration and receive all the benefits of being cloud-native.  Even if firms have the in-house skills to overcome these issues, finding time for their IT teams to fix them can be difficult as they are frequently tied up with operational tasks. This can lead to de facto skills shortages which require outsourcing, resulting in a hit to the cloud’s cost-effectiveness.

How to deliver a successful cloud migration journey

Many of these barriers can be lessened, or even removed if your cloud migration journey is mapped out correctly and effectively before making any major decisions. Organisations must have a clear strategy to map out a realistic project timeline, which will in-turn limit the number of variables and dependencies for transitioning on-premises applications and infrastructure to the cloud. This approach should be supported by a realistic assessment of the range of cloud options on offer to identify which cloud provider delivers the best set of services for your organisation’s needs.

The first step would be to pilot to see if it is possible to move the application to the cloud. This is done by assessing and analysing the current environment, identifying workload and application dependencies. Then the organisation, or their managed service provider (MSP), should look to leverage tools to analyse the current IT environment to assess the current cloud operational maturity including people, process, and technology.

During this stage, it’s important to assess applications to determine the readiness for migration and the most suitable migration strategy for each workload.

Designing the cloud environment landing zone is next – the first real move into the new environment. This stage takes various factors into account such as security, compliance, and technical requirements, along with specifics considerations for each cloud provider – for AWS set up a secure, multi-account AWS environment based on AWS best practices. which can be easily deployed using a Landing Zone Solution – for Microsoft Azure you may want to ensure that a particular compliance is followed by taking advantage of Cloud Adoption Framework (CAF) blueprints that allow you to automatically deploy all the necessary shared services to securely support a clients IT portfolio.

Once prepared, organisations should deploy a landing zone into their chosen cloud environment, ready to test the first application.

This is where the pilot begins, migrating a group of applications (or a single one), to your landing zone to test whether the platform is working as desired and the application is fully functional and can be accessed in a secure way. If this goes well, and challenges are overcome, then you are ready to plan and execute your migration.

Using the successful pilot programme as a basis for the next decision, an organisation should then begin to plan their full migration – bringing the remaining workloads to the organisations' cloud environment. This is where a roadmap to cloud for the business should be drafted or updated, ensuring each step along the way is included.

The only remaining step is to begin executing the migration plan, keeping in mind the strategy and reasoning behind migration.

The benefits of successful cloud migration

If executed well, migration to the cloud can bring an array of benefits which outweigh the barriers businesses need to overcome to get here. 

As mentioned previously, 43 percent of IT leaders believe security is their biggest concern when thinking about cloud migration. However, public cloud can bring increased security and protection because of the significant investment which cloud providers and MSPs put into data protection. At a basic level, most providers should offer built-in security measures with multi-layer protection through user verification, preventing unauthorised access, malicious insiders and outside threats. The cloud provider should also be certified to a certain security standard, employing both software-based and physical security solutions.

Equally, cloud computing protects against one of the main strategies of an attack on IT resources: physical access from unauthorised users. If an organisation’s computer systems are all close to the enterprise, it makes it significantly easier to launch a malicious attack. Whereas if some or all of that data is stored on the cloud, it could be on a server anywhere in the world – it could even exist in two places at once – making a physical attack much less likely. Top public cloud providers protect these data centres with everything from guards and fences to biometric security measures and security cameras.

This is where the specific tools provided by cloud providers can really help.

As well as the added security which remote cloud servers can bring, it also increases resiliency. If data is backed-up on-site, there a lot of things that can go wrong. Natural disasters, hurricanes, wildfires are all things which could destroy data which is backed up on-premises – making it much less effective, if not useless. Good cybersecurity practice is ensuring data is available and protected as much as possible. If data is backed-up off-premises with a cloud provider, it can make it much easier to rebound from unexpected disasters and events.

COVID-19 is the perfect example of an unexpected event which has encouraged more organisations to take the jump to the cloud, encouraged by the unparalleled availability and flexibility it offers. An organisation’s data can be accessed securely, easily and at any time through their cloud provider, meaning they are no longer entirely reliant on the physical site or office to be able to access your data – plus they benefit from the cost savings of outsourcing hardware costs to a cloud provider or MSP.

Cloud providers provide organisations with the ability to increase or shrink their computing resources based on business need. Cloud providers can deliver this scalability because they can leverage multiple redundant servers and other technologies to increase organisations’ uptime. And the longer a business is with an MSP, the more they will be able to understand your needs and work to support them, providing proactive cloud care.

In addition to scalability, there’s also another cost-saving benefit of public cloud; organisations’ only pay for the hours of IT time used – resulting in billing which is lower and more consistent. Which is especially useful for businesses which go through predictable levels of demand. This can result in your business being able to dedicate resources and release budget so it can be better used elsewhere.

Finally, it is important to remember the advantages of the specific tools offered by each cloud provider. AWS users can benefit from AWS CodeCommit, which is a cloud-based source control service – essentially a replacement of your version control system, Microsoft Azure users can take advantage of Azure DevOps and GitHub which allows for Faster and more reliable releases application through Continuous Integration (CI)* and Continuous Deployment (CD). These Cloud Native functions significantly reduced the time it takes to deploy, manage and update software and ensure its quality. It is imperative that an organisation thoroughly audits the different tools and assets offered by each cloud provider, identifying which provider offers the best package for the needs of the business – cloud for cloud’s sake will not find a sustainable place for the technology within the enterprise.

Cloud can change the way a business operates. From increased agility and business flexibility to greater security and support. And with the future looking uncertain, and COVID-19 not going anywhere soon, an effective cloud migration strategy can help businesses

Gordon McKenna, CTO of Public Cloud, Ensono

Gordon McKenna is a Microsoft Cloud and data centre management MVP with over 20 years’ experience. Gordon is currently CTO of Public Cloud at leading hybrid IT provider, Ensono.