Cloud migration is the process of moving digital assets like data, applications, IT resources, or digital workloads on to cloud infrastructure. The term cloud migration is generally used to refer to the movement of tools and data from old, legacy infrastructure or an on-premises data center to the cloud. Cloud platforms are broadly classified into public and private cloud platforms. Each of these platforms comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. And, the process of migration of applications and data to public-cloud platforms is often a tricky proposition. However, companies can ease their transition woes with hybrid-cloud configurations that progressively combine both private and public cloud features.
The system of moving workloads progressively into the public cloud instead of attempting to make the shift in one gigantic leap has helped many organisations to reduce their costs of operation and to build IT environments that are modern and eminently capable of development and operations that are not only rapid but also highly integrated.
The challenge that large companies with complex IT architectures face while moving to the cloud are the inevitable and formidable set of technology, operational, security and financial issues. This is one of the chief reasons for the low uptake of public-cloud platforms. About 60 percent of organisations that were surveyed by McKinsey, have migrated less than 10 percent of their workloads into the public cloud.
However, organisations can ease their transition into the cloud by progressively blending public-cloud and private-cloud solutions into hybrid-cloud configurations. They can also gain by taking advantage of sophisticated cloud services and can move sensitive applications into the public cloud without disrupting their IT architectures and operations.
There are three practices that are imperative to successful implementation of progressive cloud models:
- The costs of implementation of a hybrid configuration must be estimated
- A strategic sequence for migrating applications and storage to the cloud needs to be devised.
- A dedicated unit must be set up to migrate applications and storage using agile practices and streamline operations with automated services.
The best of two worlds: The progressive cloud
The two main types of cloud are public and private. Both of these types of cloud have their own unique pros and cons. Essentially, public-cloud platforms allow companies an easy access to a broad range of services, from basic storage and networking to innovative offerings like advanced analytics, machine learning, and virtual-reality development. Also, their menus of services are always expanding. Organisations can take advantage of these offerings without the need to develop them or source them from other vendors. But many organisations are wary about leaving their sensitive data in the data centres that power public-cloud platforms.
The private-cloud platforms can also be equipped with many of the same automation features as public-cloud platforms (for example, one-click provisioning of servers and automated scripting of architecture patterns). This enables organisations to rapidly develop and deploy new capabilities. Organisations can also decide on the kind of security that they need for their critical applications and data.
However, public-cloud platforms have more capabilities than private-cloud platforms. The public-cloud service providers have a lot invested in the development of new services. And, the third-party vendors normally deploy applications in the public cloud prior to making it available in the private cloud.
In order to get the best of both the public cloud and the private cloud, companies these days are looking at a more progressive approach to cloud migration. This approach involves a combination of both public as well as private cloud services. These hybrid-cloud systems are in three primary variants:
· A private-front or back-hauling topology — this is a variant that routes all traffic through private data centers and deploys applications either partially or fully in the public cloud so that an organisation can deploy internal cybersecurity controls while continuing to take advantage of public-cloud services.
· A public-front topology is a variant that also places applications in the public cloud but allows users direct access with CSP-provided cybersecurity controls that are a default setting. Data is therefore stored in a private cloud with additional security controls.
· A public-cloud or cleansheet topology is one that places both applications as well as data in the public cloud. Enterprises are able to deploy cybersecurity controls from third-party services.
With the development of greater and more effective cybersecurity controls, organisations will be able to shift applications from a private cloud into a hybrid cloud with a private-front topology, then into a public-front topology, and eventually into a cleansheet topology.
Three essential practices for deploying progressive cloud systems
Since progressive cloud systems use elements of both public as well as private cloud platforms, organisations that opt for a progressive cloud will need to manage the bigger complexities that a public cloud comes with. These areas can be managed effectively by incorporating the following practices:
1. Know the costs of progressive configurations
The costs of a progressive hybrid-cloud configuration are important. However, the comparison of costs isn’t always easy because the pricing models for public-cloud platforms change often.
The characteristics of individual applications and data-storage systems affect technology costs, too. Sometimes storage is less expensive in the cloud while “egress” fees (whenever web applications make data calls to the company’s private data center) can be quite expensive. Many hybrid cloud solutions could necessitate investments in bandwidth and controls to establish the required connectivity between private-cloud and public-cloud platforms.
The different ways in which migrating to the cloud will affect day-to-day expenses other than technology also needs to be calculated and considered. Oftentimes, using an Infrastructure-as-a-service capability in the public cloud will need organisations to conduct a lot of the same maintenance activities that they would for a private infrastructure. However, when organisations use cloud solutions that are higher up in the stack, such as Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS), can easily cut down their IT operations and let CSPs handle operating responsibilities.
Organizations need to carefully consider and define the financial gains that they are looking forward to and what metrics they will utilise to measure performance. Care must also be taken to ensure that this is not just a one-time effort but rather an ongoing business discipline similar to the due diligence given to the purchase of other essential resources for the organisation.
2. Development of a cloud-migration road map
Time and experience gained has shown that it is not a best practice to migrate all applications and data to the cloud simultaneously. A carefully planned approach is necessary — one in which organisations begin their cloud migration journey by first uploading those applications which can bring them significant performance improvements and cost savings. A rubric needs to be put in place to assess applications from a performance and cost savings perspective and then stakeholders from different verticals like business, application development, IT infrastructure need to be engaged in co-scoring and co-assessing the applications for upload to the cloud. The following considerations are also significant:
- Dependencies on other applications
- Security controls required by the application
- Services consumed by the application
- Data required by the application
- The underlying technology architecture
- The effort needed to rewrite code, configurations and conduct testing
- The costs of cloud-deployment options
- The business risks of performing a migration
3. Creation of an agile, automation-oriented cloud unit
Because organisations at times consider the cloud as a service that is in line with the provision of infrastructure, they hand over operation of cloud services to their existing infrastructure team. The existing infrastructure team, more often than not, operates the cloud services alongside the legacy services that they were taking care of earlier. Such arrangements are fraught with complications. This is because established infrastructure teams who are well versed in the running of the organisations’ legacy services are often slow to familiarize themselves with new technologies. Added to this, the additional work required can put a strain on the existing infrastructure team.
If there is a dedicated cloud-delivery team that is put in place for the purpose of migration, it’s expertise will ensure that the migration efforts are efficient and effective. The team will be able to focus on the twin tasks of:
a) Designing, building, and maintaining the cloud platform and training developers to use the cloud.
(b) All technical aspects relating to migrating applications, such as managing firewall and network settings, testing, writing code, and designing database structures. Trial and error methodologies along with wastages of time and resources will be avoided and will lead to a smoother transition.
Six key cloud migration challenges and how to overcome them
- The necessity of a cloud migration strategy
It is absolutely unforgivable to attempt cloud migration without a solid strategy in place. A detailed plan of the migration process needs to be worked out before beginning the move to the cloud. There are numerous factors to be considered. Among them are the right provider for the requirement that the organisation has, the cost analysis, projected downtime, security factors, adequate employee training and an estimated time to complete the migration — to name a few.
- Avoiding one giant leap
One of the most crucial things to remember about cloud migration is not to attempt to move everything onto the cloud at once. Organisations are always eager to move to the cloud but they need to have a carefully thought out plan as to the schedule of moving data to the cloud. Good general practice is to start with migration of non-essential data and confirm that the process is smooth and accurate without any data distortion or data loss. Business critical data can be moved once the accuracy of the process has been established.
- Getting the cost estimate right
The cost of moving to the cloud can be an expensive proposition if the potential financial impact is not estimated and budgeted for in advance. While the cloud is often cost-effective in the long term, the up-front expenses could come as a surprise if movement of the volume of data and its corresponding cost is not properly estimated. The financial costs should also account for the cost of training employees on the new technology as well as the costs that could incur in the rewriting or replacing of data to be compatible with the cloud architecture.
- Data security
Most organisations have a healthy concern with regard to allowing their data and sensitive information out of their constant control and monitoring. When adopting cloud solutions, another party has the task of securing an organisation’s data. It is therefore essential that organisations check and confirm certain key aspects regarding the storage, encryption of incoming and outgoing data and the regulations that the cloud provider is compliant with. Regular updates should be sought from the cloud provider with regard to meeting all compliance and regulatory norms.
- The importance of training employees on cloud solutions
Organisations need to ensure that all employees are adequately trained and ready to adopt and use any new technology that is brought into the organisation.
- Prevention of cloud vendor lock-in
Often, even though their existing vendor turns out not to be a good fit, organisations choose to stay with the same vendor because the process of moving data from one cloud to another is a tedious and costly process. It is always best to consider the organisations goals and finalise a vender who would best be able to help meet those goals. A watertight SLA (service level agreement) should also be negotiated and signed with the cloud provider. This SLA should contain details of how the vendor will help in case the organisation wants to move to another cloud service provider.
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