Migrating computing resources to the cloud has become a proven approach to generating cost savings while simultaneously gaining flexibility and capacity for your technology infrastructure. The first benefit is evident: the racks of servers and other gear move to a cloud provider’s location. In addition, you can refocus individuals who once tended to hardware or spent hours pouring over specifications before procuring devices and negotiating purchase orders. But how can your company ensure the smoothest migration?
Common Cloud Migration Challenges
Cloud migrations are not without their challenges. The most prevalent should be familiar to leaders of all stripes: failing to develop a thoughtful plan that realizes your technology and business strategy.
For example, the ease of provisioning cloud services might cause your company to end up with several vendors and utter chaos as you try to integrate and manage disparate clouds. Similarly, not planning for cloud-specific security considerations might open your new cloud to an unforeseen attack vector.
In short, the tired axiom of “failing to plan is planning to fail” rings true when migrating resources to the cloud. A thoughtful migration plan following four basic steps can make the difference between a straightforward and smooth migration and unforeseen surprises along the way.
Step 1: Strategy
The overarching objective of the first phase of a successful cloud migration is understanding the “why” of the cloud migration process. Are you focused primarily on cutting costs? Are technology performance and flexibility critical to your organization’s success? Do you have a new product launch that needs cloud support?
This exercise should move beyond a few meetings and whiteboarding sessions and result in a formal, documented strategy for why you’re migrating to the cloud, what your key benchmarks are for success, and how you’ll measure and manage your infrastructure once your migration is complete.
Your strategy should also detail which components of your IT infrastructure you’ll migrate and which will remain in house. For some companies, their strategy dictates that critical or proprietary applications are maintained in house. In contrast, others see the resiliency of the cloud as a rationale to relocate business-critical apps.
Your strategy should also consider which vendor or vendors will be used to host your cloud environment and an approach to calculating and managing costs. Calculating and comparing cloud versus on-site hosting is not a simple exercise, and having a thoughtful baseline and metrics in your strategy will allow you to judge success later.
Step 2: Planning
Just as your strategy should answer the “why” of your cloud migration, your plan should answer the “how.” Once you’ve identified which components of your technology infrastructure will be migrated, you can start sequencing and planning the details of their migration.
Your plan should also include various checkpoints and “failure modes” that allow you to pause or roll back elements of the migration should a problem be encountered along the way.
The best cloud migration plans skillfully balance the details of the migration with building a foundation that meets your strategic needs longer term. For example, your plan should include which systems, workloads, and applications are migrated, along with details as to the schedule, testing, and how users will be migrated. In addition, your plan should include any setup for configuration that allows your workloads to expand or provides additional functionality that makes future application deployments or development activities easier and more efficient.
Your plan should also include frequent verification and testing, as well as any communications that need to be carried out. Cloud migrations can be fully transparent to end users or might require action on their part, so be sure to include any needed updates to users and key stakeholders in your planning.
If your company is new to the cloud, consider creating a series of “mini plans” that migrate a subset of your infrastructure; execute, optimize, and refine the strategy; and plan for the subsequent migration. Start with the most straightforward elements of your infrastructure to create quick wins that generate momentum and build your organization’s confidence in its ability to execute more complex migrations.
Step 3: Execution
Many teams regard execution as the most challenging phase of any project, but if steps 1 and 2 are done thoroughly and effectively, execution should largely be carried out on autopilot. For most cloud migrations, execution starts with lower-level services, including account setup, networking and firewall rules, and infrastructure migration. Once these core infrastructure components are configured and migrated, proceed to critical services like Active Directory, databases, web services, and file shares.
As you migrate each component, execute the testing procedure you articulated in your planning step. You might be tempted to skip testing or ignore a seemingly small anomaly that could have significant repercussions later. After a component is migrated and tested, a formal sign-off should be completed, acknowledging the results and allowing the team to consciously proceed to the next stage of the plan.
Step 4: Optimization
The last step of any technology endeavor is often neglected, yet it can be one of the most valuable elements, particularly in a cloud migration. Once the plan is fully executed, it can be tempting to consider your cloud migration done, disburse the team and end the formal migration effort. This is a mistake since there will likely be optimizations in the near and longer terms.
Invariably, some unforeseen bumps in the road during your migration might require corrective action. There will also be unexpected opportunities. Perhaps you overestimated computing needs for an application and can reconfigure for significant cost savings, or you may discover a new capability on your cloud platform that can streamline data analysis for a business unit.
You likely don’t need as much input from your migration team after completing the migration effort. However, plan for regular meetings to identify optimization opportunities and plan when they’ll be completed.
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of cloud computing. The variety of architectures that range from fully cloud-hosted computing to various hybrid models allows all manner of workloads and organizations to take advantage of the cloud. Some effort in identifying your strategy and developing a detailed and considered plan can make the migration painless, and some investment in optimization will allow the benefits of the cloud to accrue even faster.