Are you really ready for the cloud?
Moving to the cloud isn’t as simple as flicking a switch - you need to make sure you’re prepared
The rise of cloud platforms and services has arguably been the most important development in business computing since the birth of the internet. Cloud vendors now allow organisations across the world to take advantage of cutting-edge IT capabilities with little more than a credit card.
Moving to a cloud-based IT model has a huge amount of advantages. There's a much lower cost-of-entry than a traditional approach, and the pay-as-you-go' consumption model makes it much easier for companies to scale up as they grow. On top of that, there's more flexibility and greater choice, and access to a much wider range of capabilities than would be possible with on-premise infrastructure.
With this in mind, it's not very hard to see why, according to a survey of IT professionals, 77% ranked cloud technologies as the most important tool in their arsenal. However, migrating your IT to the cloud isn't an easy process. In fact, if not properly managed, it can become a black hole of time, money and effort which ends up adding stress rather than reducing it.
There are many moving parts to consider when planning a cloud migration, and it's imperative that you fully think through your migration strategy and plan out your roadmap. Without a comprehensive roadmap, you run the risk that your migration could fall at the first hurdle.
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The first step is to ensure that all of the organisation's primary stakeholders are in agreement about the migration, including the board, the IT department and so on. This may sound like a simple and obvious step, but skipping over it can lead to major trouble later on, if one of your board members decides to oppose the project when it's already underway.
For Joel Berwitz, the head of cloud services at CDW, this dovetails with some key questions that arise when considering cloud migration: "Is the organisation setup to understand, migrate and run services in the cloud, and is there sufficient skills and desire from the business to undergo the changes required?"
With everyone on board, you can start planning your migration in earnest, and the first decision to make is whether you want to use a public, private or hybrid cloud infrastructure. Public cloud infrastructure involves renting server capacity from a third-party provider like Microsoft or Google, while private cloud infrastructure involves hosting your own cloud servers in your own data centre (or a third-party host's). Hybrid cloud, as the name suggests, is a mix of both strategies.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Public cloud gives you effectively infinite capacity without having to purchase expensive hardware, but it also means you'll be sharing server space with other clients. Private clouds, however, are more expensive to set up and maintain but allow for greater customisation of the stack itself, ensuring that problematic but essential legacy apps can be supported.
Hybrid is proving to be a very popular option, as it can offer a best of both worlds' approach - workloads that are high-volume but non-critical can be run in the public cloud, but anything particularly sensitive can be hosted on a private cloud for security and peace-of-mind.
Once you've decided on a cloud strategy, the next step is to take a full inventory of all of the workloads that run in your data centre. This is an excellent chance to do some spring cleaning; work out which workloads and apps are still useful and which ones you no longer need to support. This can trim down your consumption significantly, saving you money when using metered public cloud services.
In addition to data centre workloads, you should also make a note of what business software is in use by your staff. It's worth incorporating cloud-based replacements into your roadmap so you can ensure compatibility with the rest of your IT estate.
With a full catalogue of your workloads, identify which ones can be ported over to the cloud with minimal fuss, which ones will need to be tweaked, and which ones will need to be revised or replaced altogether. This is a crucial step, as you don't want to get halfway through the process only to find out that a critical workload won't run on your new cloud.
Berwitz also notes that businesses need to ensure that their migration is underpinned by a solid commercial strategy, and that all of their services and applications are properly cloud-optimised, "whether that's a lift-and-shift to Infrastructure-as-a-Service or re-architecting the applications into code which can be run more effectively.
"We're seeing organisations who are migrating to the cloud hit some common hurdles along the way," he says. "Certainly, ensuring that the services and applications are right sized in the first instance is key to making the move commercially viable. Network architecture, alongside resilience/backup and DR should also be discussed, as utilisation in the cloud can mitigate many of the risks that companies traditionally see on premise."
At this point, you should start comparing cloud providers. It's tempting to just go for the lowest-cost provider, but take some time to talk to them about your specific requirements to be sure that they can fully support you - not just now, but in the future. It's worth looking outside the big three', too - unless you're a giant multinational company, you may find that a smaller local cloud provider is actually better-suited to meeting your individual needs.
Once you've picked your provider, you'll want to start working on the roll-out, but pacing is key. Stagger the deployment of your new cloud tools, making sure that each one is running as expected before moving on to the next one. This makes it much easier to test each one thoroughly, and minimises business disruption; rather than your staff having to learn how to operate multiple new systems all at once, they only have to learn one at a time.
Speaking of which, staff training is paramount. Make sure that team leaders and department heads are briefed and trained on how to use any new tools and systems that are relevant to their roles, before they're deployed to the rest of the company.
Once a system is rolled out, you'll need to make sure that all staff have easy access to user-friendly guides and documentation on how to use it, and training courses are a good idea for anything particularly complex or business-critical. Adopting a new cloud system is pointless if your staff don't utilise it effectively, and if they don't know how it works, they're not going to use it.
Naturally, it's important to thoroughly test your cloud-based workloads - not just to make sure they're working, but to make sure that they're delivering the efficiency, performance and value that you anticipated at the start of your cloud journey. Ensure that you continuously monitor and tweak your cloud estate - identify new technologies and tools you want to deploy, and regularly check that your cloud tools are serving their intended purpose.
As you may have gathered by now, migrating to a cloud-based infrastructure model isn't as simple as it may first appear. There's a whole range of hidden pitfalls that an unprepared company could fall foul of. Making sure that your cloud migration roadmap is airtight can be a big task, especially when you're also trying to run your business at the same time - but you can make this mammoth undertaking quicker and easier by working with a capable and experienced partner.
Thanks to its team of experienced cloud architects, CDW can work together with your business to draft and implement a migration roadmap, offering an end-to-end service to support you at every stage. CDW understands that cloud deployments should be built around business needs rather than the other way around, and has the experience and expertise to help you craft the cloud model that's perfect for your specific business goals.
"We have a portfolio of cloud services which can help organisations understand their current environment and help to make the right decisions on which services and applications are right for which platforms," says Berwitz. "We also represent the market, helping make the transition more risk free by using our experience across the many hundreds of customers who we've assisted in their migrations to cloud services. Alongside the technical design, we're also able to assist with the managed services to optimise and transform customer environments as they continue to make the most out of these investments."
A well implemented cloud solution could deliver your business improved efficiency, productivity, availability and resilience, and with the right planning and partner, the migration needn't be a worry.