The Essential Guide to Cloud Migration

The Essential Guide to Cloud Migration

cloud migrationAt its core, the term cloud computing refers to the on-demand availability of computer resources like computing power, data storage and others over an Internet connection. Instead of using your own local server or computer to store information, you're using remote servers to host everything online. At that point, every last kilobyte of data within your organization can be accessed from any device with an active Internet connection. For most businesses, the productivity, collaboration and communication gains alone are more than worth the effort cloud migration requires.

There are many different cloud computing services you might choose to explore, including those from Google, IBM, Azure and Amazon Web Services. But if you want to make absolutely certain that your cloud migration is completed with as little disruption as possible, there are a few key things you'll need to keep in mind.

The Four Cloud Computing Models: Explained

Generally speaking, there are four cloud computing models that you'll want to concern yourself with: private, community, public and hybrid.

The private cloud is exactly what it sounds like: it's a model where all cloud services are dedicated to a single organization, usually via a private internal network or over the Internet. A public cloud, on the other hand, sees resources shared between multiple organizations or even with the general public.

To put it another way, a private cloud is exclusively yours. It's created using your hardware and software assets, you're not sharing with anybody, and you are responsible for things like maintenance and management. This, of course, comes with a price. The financial investment is far greater with the private cloud than the public one.

With the public cloud you don't have to deal with the day-to-day management of your resources, but you're also likely sharing them with many people in a way you can't control. It's the difference between a hard drive that is exclusively yours and one that you're sharing with countless other people, some of whom you don't even know.

A community cloud, as the name suggests, is a collaborative affair that sees a cloud-based infrastructure shared between several organizations that all have similar goals and concerns. If you and several other businesses all share a common interest in terms of things like security, compliance or jurisdiction, a community cloud model may be the way to go. In addition to addressing these ideas, the major benefit here comes by way of cost savings. Costs are spread over more users than you would deal with in a private cloud situation, thus allowing people to pay less for the resources they need.

A hybrid cloud is essentially a mixture between the private cloud and the public one. Some of your environment is hosted privately on-premises, while others are taken care of by third party public cloud providers. The information that absolutely needs to be stored privately can stay that way, while everything else (meaning less sensitive data) is in the public cloud.

The two major advantages of this type of infrastructure are cost and flexibility. As your computing needs change, you can easily move resources from the private cloud to the public one and back again. This gives you far more data deployment options than would be available through another setup.


The Types of Cloud Migration

Once you've selected the type of cloud computing model that best aligns with the needs of your organization, your next decision becomes what type of migration you want to orchestrate. To that end, there are three core options available to you.

The first of those is "Lift and Shift," which attempts to take your current infrastructure and all associated data and move it into the cloud with minimal (or ideally no) changes. The major benefit here is one of simplicity. You're not dealing with any application-level changes and security and compliance management are relatively straightforward. You're not changing anything at all - you're merely moving it from "Point A" to "Point B."

A technical migration will still maintain all of your existing applications, but it's a bit more complicated (hence the name) because of a few changes going on "behind the scenes." Usually, an organization will upgrade both their operating system and their database during the migration to meet certain transformational goals. This type of approach would be necessary if you're trying to move to the cloud AND you want to take advantage of concepts like automation or greater scalability, for example.

In an application migration, you're largely transforming your application layer during the cloud migration. All of your data is protected and transferred during this process - however, your applications are either replaced or rebuilt from scratch to account for the totally new environment they're now a part of. This is by far the most complicated of the three options, but it's also an opportunity for a fresh start once your cloud transformation is complete. Depending on your needs as a business, that may be ideal.

In the end, the most important thing to understand about all of this is that there is no "one size fits all" approach to cloud migration. Not every organization needs a private cloud, and something as simple as the "Lift and Shift" approach won't work in every scenario.

Only by carefully considering A) why you're moving into the cloud in the first place, and B) what you hope to accomplish at the end of the process that you can't right now, will you be able to determine the options that have the best chance at meeting your needs and exceeding your expectations.

Generally speaking, all three of the aforementioned migration strategies will help get your organization into the cloud - they just do it in different ways depending on what your goals as a business are. Likewise, they all bring with them their unique advantages and disadvantages - ones that you need to be aware of so that you can adequately prepare yourself, and your organization moving forward.

The Lift and Shift strategy, for example, is ideal for many organizations because it may be the easiest and most effective way to get the job done once all variables are considered. There is minimal work required to move important assets like your business applications, which ultimately leads to a faster migration and an even faster deployment.

The major disadvantage of this, however, is that it doesn't really take advantage of the native features of the cloud itself. You're taking something that was never really designed for the cloud and putting it there - as a result, there are obviously some efficiency and especially productivity gains you're cutting yourself off from. Likewise, those legacy apps may actually cost more to operate in the cloud - the maintenance cost alone can be crippling for a business. In fact, 60-80 percent of IT budgets consist of maintenance expense, this leaves very little room for things like digital transformations, etc.

The major benefit of a technical migration doesn't necessarily have as much to do with today but rather what it is then possible to do tomorrow. This type of cloud migration can better prepare your business for a future application migration, for example, creating an environment built to minimize disruption (and maximize your cloud-based experience), all while setting the stage for what comes next. You also gain access to some of those native features like scalability, automation, ease of management and quicker time to market. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t have these benefits with Lift and Shift.

The downside of this, on the other hand, is that it requires far more work behind the scenes. Because you're upgrading both your operating system and your database while still maintaining existing applications, there are always things that can go wrong. You might inadvertently cause downtime, open yourself up to security vulnerabilities, limited control and flexibility, it might take longer than you thought it would, and there is always the chance that you'll have to change the way you actually work to account for the new environment you're actually running in.

The major benefit of an application migration can be summed up in a single word: flexibility. You essentially have three main techniques to choose from - a new system implementation, a system conversion and a landscape transformation. The first essentially means starting over - but in the end, you either get all of your apps rebuilt from scratch or replaced with newer and more efficient variants. The second transforms your application layer and your database/operating system layers at the same time, which is great if you also want to transition to a managed services model. The third makes a significant change to the way your landscape is structured, but still allows you to do so in a way that dramatically accelerates transformation and helps you control costs (not to mention avoid downtime).

The downside of all of this, as you're probably already aware, is that it can be incredibly complicated. This is by far the most time consuming migration strategy and, because of that, can easily end up being the most costly. Old data will need to be audited and either discarded or reformatted to work with your new system. If your legacy system was A) highly customized and B) improperly documented, you may not realize just how complex it will be to migrate correctly until you're already in the middle of it. Having a reliable technical partner on your side will certainly make things easier, but this isn't necessarily the option to choose if you're looking for "fast" and "easy" at the same time.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Migrating to the Cloud to Begin With
At this point, you also have to stop to make sure that moving to the cloud is the right move to make for your business to begin with. This, too, requires a better understanding of the pros and cons that such a significant shift brings with it.

The good news is that the advantages of moving to the cloud are as meaningful as they are plentiful. Not only will you save a massive amount of money on data storage costs, but you also gain access to reliable backup features that you wouldn't really have through any other way. Of course, for most organizations the increased collaboration and flexibility scalability are the most important advantages of all. Your employees will be able to easily not only work with one another, but to do so from any location on Earth with an active Internet connection. They can be just as productive in an airport lounge halfway around the world as they can be in their own office.

There are disadvantages too, and you need to weigh their potential impact against what you stand to gain when everything is said and done. Chief among them is the increased potential for business downtime - something that there really is no getting around. If your cloud service provider goes down or if your business has an Internet outage, work stops until the issue is fixed. This is true during and especially after migration.

Likewise, there is always the possibility for unexpected migration problems - particularly those already outlined above. Even getting your own people used to the fact that they now have to access data via the cloud as opposed to through "traditional" means is sometimes easier said than done. But again - depending on what your long-term goals are - the benefits may far outweigh the negatives and the risk is likely worth it.

Cloud Computing and Security Concerns

From a certain perspective, cloud computing is actually more secure than an on-premise environment. Hard drives with critical data can be stolen, for example - that's not something you have to worry about when everything is housed in a data center with state-of-the-art physical and cyber security.

However, there ARE important things to know. Namely, you're only as secure as your provider. The public cloud in particular relies heavily on shared resources. If someone else makes a mistake, their problem just became your problem. Likewise, cloud computing does not eliminate the possibility of security risks. An employee who falls victim to a phishing scheme will cause just as much damage in the cloud as they would on-site.

Finally, there is device security to consider. If your employees can access all critical work data from their smartphone, what happens if they leave that smartphone behind in a cab during a night on the town? You've got a major problem on your hands - unless you have the infrastructure in place to mitigate it as quickly as possible. With that said, there are plenty of device management solutions present to ensure your employees are safe and secure while working from their mobile device:

  1. VMware AirWatch
  2. Cisco Meraki
  3. Jamf Pro

So if you were looking to cloud computing as a way to avoid having to think about data security ever again, things aren't going to work out the way you'd hoped. But there ARE techniques you can put in place (like cloud-based network security rules, device policies, etc.) that can help you avoid these types of situations altogether.

The Future of Cloud Computing: Where Do We Go From Here?
The journey that cloud computing has taken to get to this point has been incredible to witness. However, it’s just getting started.

Serverless computing is very much on the horizon, bringing about an era in which IT can dynamically allocate "compute, storage and even memory based on the request for higher order service like a database or a function of code" according to the Director of Emerging Technologies at Deloitte Consulting. This will not only usher in an even greater era of process automation and transformation, but it's one where IT itself can literally be designed in a way that allows business leaders to focus less time on the mechanics of it all and more on the outcomes those mechanics can generate.

Likewise, a big part of the future of the cloud has less to do with the cloud itself and will be more about what the cloud enables us to do. Massive power, coupled with real-time response, is about to make meaningful intelligence and actionable insight available to anyone, at any time, at nearly any price point. This will change the way entire industries operate, creating new business models overnight and spawning products or services that can only be born out of the massive computing power that the cloud represents. At that point, disruption won't be a business goal - it will be every business' standard operating procedure. It will be an inevitability.

Regardless, when you think about how far the cloud has come in just the last five years, it's incredible to think about what the next five (and beyond) have in store for us all.