Aug 29, 2019

Best Practices

Taking IT to the Cloud

Written by Nathan Johnston, Chief Technology Officer

Cloud solution providers such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure are continually increasing their capabilities; allowing more companies to consider moving their internal IT infrastructure to the cloud. If you are considering such a move there are several best practices you need to apply to ensure a successful transition.

Whether you’re considering moving just a single application or an entire data center, there are many factors you must consider for a successful migration. Any technology transformation initiative will require careful consideration to provide continuous operation. For many organizations, this type of move can be complicated and prone to errors.

Understand the Current State

To understand the implications of moving to the cloud, a complete understanding of your current infrastructure is required.  Most organizations have developed their IT environment over the course of many years and may have incomplete or nonexistent documentation.  You need to do a comprehensive assessment of your environment to understand what lies ahead for your cloud transformation. This assessment must have a broad scope to ensure that any unexpected dependencies or requirements are discovered early in the process.  Some areas to consider are: 

  • Infrastructure
    1. Network
    2. Servers & Virtual Machines
    3. Storage Requirements
    4. Backup Requirements
    5. Disaster Recovery
    6. Monitoring
    7. Tools in Use (provisioning, patching, image management, performance, etc.)
  • Security
    1. Control Framework & Policies
    2. Regulatory Drivers
    3. Security Assessment Reports
  • End-User Infrastructure
    1. Count of Users & Type
    2. Application Usage & Bandwidth Requirements
  • IT Operations
    1. IT Organization
    2. Relevant 3rd Party Providers
    3. End-User Facility Locations (office, home, etc.)
  • Compliance
    1. Internal
    2. Regulatory
    3. Industry

Understand the Service

Cloud providers offer a dizzying array of services, many of which you may be able to take advantage of in your transformation. Everything from core infrastructure services like virtual machines, networking, and firewalls; to software as a service such as email, calendar, CRM, accounting, and more. As described earlier, a current state assessment is required to map current capabilities and identify the most applicable services in the cloud. It’s tempting to want to take advantage of all that is new and shiny, but a careful approach is required here. Keep focused on business value and make sure that you’re only doing what is required for the task at hand.

As part of your service assessment, you need to consider what commitments a provider is willing to make in supplying their advertised services. Consider the service level agreement offered by the service provider and determine if that meets your needs. In many cases, service levels can be amplified by purchasing a higher tier of the offering or making implementation choices like geographic redundancy; increasing the resiliency of your application.

All service providers provide extensive information about their compliance with various industries and regulatory standards. You must analyze what standards apply to your organization and what documentation is required for your compliance needs. Be aware of what services are covered by specific compliance requirements. With service providers adding services at such a rapid pace, not all configurations will be covered right out of the gate.

Understand the Costs

It’s easy to say that a move to the cloud makes economic sense, but without doing a careful analysis, it can result in unexpected costs. Careful analysis of the technology footprint, cloud capabilities, anticipated load and performance requirements is a must to produce a workable total cost of ownership (TCO).

In many cases, merely doing a lift-and-shift migration of your existing servers and virtual machines to the cloud may not bring you the full cost and availability advantages that cloud providers offer. Consider utilizing native cloud capabilities, where possible, to offer your applications the ability to respond to changes in user activity. These capabilities can result in lower costs as many of these services can scale down when usage is low and scale up only as needed. Caution is required here as applications that use their resources inefficiently may not bring the expected cost savings without changes to how they work.

Understand the Implementation Strategy

Very few cloud transitions are completed in just one go; most involve many steps and often require a coexistence strategy with on-premises resources. Once you have created a vision for your end-state, carefully plan your transformation. You need to consider outage windows, data migration planning, help desk, and user training; IT support training, customer communication and many other factors specific to your applications and business. A full transition can take years to complete, therefore, be sure to prioritize your implementation to bring real business value as early as possible in the process.

Cloud transformation projects can be complicated, but by understanding your current state, services available, costs, and possible implementation strategies; significant advantages can be gained by moving to the cloud.

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