Hybrid cloud architecture: What to expect in an AWS migration

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According to RightScale’s 2017 State of the Cloud Report, 58 percent of enterprises now have a hybrid cloud architecture, with the numbers going up. A hybrid cloud architecture enables companies to maintain control of an internally managed private cloud while relying on the public cloud as needed.

In addition to being cost-effective, hybrid cloud approaches enable greater security, accessibility, and flexibility if planned and executed correctly. Of course, one of the most challenging steps is planning a data migration strategy, which involves numerous factors. With most enterprises making AWS a part of their hybrid cloud architecture, they must have a grounded understanding of what to expect in an AWS migration. 

Migration: Strategy and Execution  

Because each cloud migration is going to be different with unexpected changes along the way, it’s imperative that the strategy encompass assessment of: 

  • Current infrastructure  
  • Applications and workloads  
  • Staff skill set and training needs pre- and post-migration  
  • Necessary migration tools  
  • Projected migration timetables  
  • Pre- and post-migration capex and opex  
  • Staffing and training needs 

This partial list along with many other factors will help determine the overall best migration path for each workload in order to optimize costs and outcomes of the migration process. For example, AWS has more than 50 options for instances to meet the needs of specific workloads and applications.  

Making the determination about what workloads will reside where and how to accommodate them in the migration process (lift and shift, refactoring, etc.) requires a full assessment and mapping of all workloads, applications, and their dependencies. A hybrid cloud architecture of public and private cloud as well as on-premise can be a complex formula for enterprises to devise, but the foundation is the assessment of all workloads.  

Infrastructure assessment and application mapping are critical to determining application and workload placement within the hybrid architecture to maximize cost savings and accessibility as well as security, backup, and disaster recovery options. The use of very basic unmanaged migration tools to move data is clearly untenable, but how does the AWS suite of services fit into the mix? 

Available Services  

AWS provides a comprehensive suite of services to address most aspects of the migration process from transport to instance options. For example, the primary services include: 

  • AWS Direct Connect enables a dedicated physical connection without public internet data transfer.  
  • AWS Import/Export Snowball with IAM and AWS Key Management Service integration to encrypt data at rest stored on AWS Snowball  AWS Storage Gateway for in-transit data to and from AWS (uses SSL/TLS with at-rest encryption using AES-256)  
  • Amazon S3 Transfer Acceleration encrypts data both at rest and in transit, as well as client-side encryption, and has access restrictions that can be written via an access policy.  
  • AWS Kinesis Firehose secures data in transit, and also uses IAM to control access toAWS Database Migration Service for moving databases within homogeneous and heterogeneous migrations (across database platforms). 

Properly moving any application to the public cloud and ensuring it performs the same as it did on premises is never easy. The move requires IT teams to closely follow an established set of best practices and the learning curve can be steep in many cases. The constant improvements and additions of different variables can be overwhelming for an in-house IT team. Because these tools have their limitations, AWS partners with third-party providers to fill the gaps, but what are the limitations that you will face? 

Migration Tool Limitations  

One of the primary limitations of these services is that AWS cloud migration tools only move data in one direction. In a world in which workloads are constantly in flux in terms of size, use, and IT security needs, enterprises look to hybrid models for agility as much as cost savings, so cloud lock-in can’t be an issue.  

Let’s move back for a minute to the idea of cost, which can be another limitation of the AWS tools and public cloud overall. For example, though data transfer in using Snowball is free, data transfer out can be cost-prohibitive at the petabyte scale. In addition, other tools have variable costs depending on business needs.  

Cost will always be a driver of how businesses design and use their hybrid cloud architecture. Most now understand that the public cloud is not a magic cost-savings bullet for everything as some workloads grow to a point that the billing cost is prohibitive in the public cloud. Consequently, the ability to repatriate applications and workloads into an on-premise/private cloud scenario when necessary is paramount.  

Overall, third-party tools are for analyzing the existing environment and informing decisions about what is to be moved, but they aren’t always intuitive and often have a significant learning curve. While there are a growing number of third-party tools for moving workloads into and out of the cloud, many still have limitations in terms of interoperability, integration, and simplicity. In terms of hybrid cloud management, AWS and VMware have the most concentrated resources available.  

Still, the P2V and V2V tools have their limitations, not the least of which are full compatibility, integration, interoperability, and a single-pane-of-glass view to the entire pre- to post-migration window across the hybrid environment. Although AWS support provides advisement, it cannot tell each business what, when, and how to move workloads in a way that is simple and intuitive. Having a migration support partner that understands the intricacies and complexities of hybrid cloud architecture development as well as the tools and options of an AWS public cloud migration is paramount for businesses. 

Partners That Can Help  

Creating a hybrid cloud architecture that is flexible, agile, secure, and cost-effective is a major undertaking. As the centerpiece of that undertaking, an AWS migration is equally challenging and complex. The myriad number of options as well as challenges that will be specific to an enterprise in this type of project often go beyond the knowledge and skill set of on-premise IT teams.  

Although AWS provides robust tools and support, there are many limitations to both that will require support. The ideal scenario is to partner with a migration support provider that can make assessments, help develop migration plans, and provide the needed skills and solutions for a successful migration.     

Larry Long, Director of Engineering at First National Technology Solutions 

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