Cloud migrations are no longer a matter of if, but when.
Moving to the cloud offers a laundry list of benefits and advantages. But you need a strategy for realizing them. Otherwise you’ll end up in the “cloud-washing” trap we see so many companies fall into, where physical infrastructure is dumped into a virtual environment with no considerations for best practices.
According to research from Gartner, Forrester, IDC and 451 Research, more than 50 percent of cloud migrations exceed budget, exceed the migration window and/or result in unexpected business disruption. With the right plan and the right partners, you can reduce risk and execute a cloud migration on time and on budget.
Your cloud migration approach should account for three things:
- Your ROI goals
- The assets you’re moving to the cloud and their individual requirements
- How much support your cloud partner can provide
The best cloud migration process is always personal. The individual challenges and requirements of your business should be the only thing shaping your cloud migration strategy — not whatever cloud migration services IBM, HP, AWS, Google or Azure happen to be selling. You’d rightly raise your eyebrows at a one-size-fits-all marketing plan or financial model. And that same healthy skepticism also applies to a one-size-fits-all cloud migration strategy.
Why your cloud migration checklist should be completely unique
All companies start assessing a potential cloud migration with a similar set of questions.
- Will it be more cost effective?
- Is it more reliable?
- Is it easier?
- Does it scale more efficiently?
- Will I get my IT resources back when it’s finished?
All of these smaller questions add up to one big question: Is the business case of a cloud migration strong enough to outweigh the hassle?
We have a case study to show just one way it can be. But the truth is that the answers to these questions vary. To find the honest answers for your business, you first need a strategy for how you’re going to move to the cloud.
At ServerCentral, we offer counterintuitive advice at the start of all cloud discussions — forget about the technologies. The truth is that the key to a cloud project's success lies in the operational details. The public, private and hybrid cloud solutions are abundant. The most complex and important part is understanding your business, its risks and its opportunities.
An overview of the most important cloud migration questions
You should start any cloud migration planning by drafting a clear definition of your company’s cloud migration goals, ranking your priorities. A cloud data migration has a laundry list of positive benefits. It can be an opportunity to clear out capital expenses in favor of operational expenses and to free up your tech team to work on other projects. It can give you better performance and tighter security. It allows you to phase out your legacy systems. Knowing which statistics are most important to your business will help you structure a migration plan that prioritizes those outcomes.
Before you make any tactical decisions, set your strategy with the following questions:
- Why are you migrating?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- What metrics will you use to measure success?
Before you get started, get buy-in on the answers to these three questions from each and every project stakeholder and address any concerns that they have. This is going to save you countless headaches and sleepless nights as you go forward.
How to build a cloud migration roadmap everyone can follow
A good cloud migration plan is simple. Keep it simple. When everyone’s working from the same methodology and the project has clear milestones, you won’t get mired in discussions over which path is correct. To make sure things keep moving according to the agreed-upon plan, follow these steps:
- Establish a clear leader. Assign a project owner, ideally an impartial party who has the authority to demand execution and who can keep everyone on the same page.
- Build a runbook. Outline the tools and methods, then get a copy into the hands of everyone involved in the migration, so they’re all working from the same page.
- Schedule check-ins. Whether they take the form of meetings, calls or emails, set up a systematic way to keep everyone informed and a space for people to voice potential issues as they arise.
Here’s a very simple example that shows why it’s so important to plan ahead and work with all stakeholders to determine your company’s unique cloud needs.
A company wants to move its email to the cloud. It can easily do so — after all, you have Gmail, Office365 and others that are ready and waiting to support cloud email. The company’s IT team is proactive and makes the switch. Email is in the cloud. However, this transition happens without checking in with other departments. Email is running fine, until compliance realizes that sensitive information is exchanged as part of the normal course of business. Now the company finds itself in violation of a specific compliance requirement and must rush to switch over to a private cloud, where it will have total control over the security environment. Looping in the right business units early in the process would have identified the risk and avoided a lot of stress, work and expense by getting the solution right the first time.
It’s not just theoretical. You’d be surprised how often this exact situation occurs.
A 4-step guide to defining your cloud needs: What, Who, Where, How
Start your cloud computing migration by figuring out the basics. What, exactly, you are moving to the cloud. It seems dead simple, but it’s amazing how often we see companies skip this step, then find the project ballooning as they discover more and more applications that need to move. An infrastructure assessment will tell you what needs to go where, so you can start getting a sense of what your cloud should look like.
A good assessment will answer the following questions:
- What are you moving?
- What are the RPO/RTOs of each application?
- What are the compliance and security requirements of each application?
- Who are the owners of each application and infrastructure component?
- Where do all your applications and data live and how much capacity are they utilizing?
- How does everything connect to your network? Where are the dependencies and relationships — technically and operationally — between each application and infrastructure component?
We even have a handy infrastructure assessment worksheet for you to follow:
You need to identify what’s out there and how much capacity it requires, sure. But you also need to know if you shut down a collaboration server, will your email still work? What about your CRM application while your SAN is being migrated?
What data and applications are you migrating?
It all starts with identification — simply understanding exactly what applications you have within your organization and which applications should move to the cloud. This step is often where we’ll find applications that are already in the cloud, completely unbeknownst to our clients.
Once you know what you have, prioritize your list of applications by how critical each is to your business. A straightforward approach is to assign each application a tier based upon its acceptable Recovery Time Objective or Recovery Point Objective (RTO / RPO). For instance, tier 1 could be for applications that can’t be down for more than 10 minutes without significant impact on the business, while tier 5 could be for applications that can be down for more than 24 hours without having a substantial effect on the bottom line. These RTO / RPO windows will vary based on your business, but the point remains — know, in advance, exactly what is at stake. Here’s a Disaster Recovery as a Service application prioritization worksheet to help you:
This is also a good time to also consider what regulatory restrictions your applications and data might have. Find out if anything is subject to HIPAA, PII and PCI compliance, or internal regulations. There is absolutely nothing worse than completing a migration plan only to have the brakes slammed at the last minute because no one bothered to understand the regulatory, compliance and security needs before moving the application or data.
Think back to our example above, where an email application was humming along on the cloud before anyone realized it was transmitting confidential information across a public cloud. Yes … this happens. All the time. Make sure you’re looping in every stakeholder, including compliance, by identifying the who.
Who should be consulting on your cloud migration?
Once you know what you have, the next step is identifying who manages each application that’s slated to move to the cloud. As you do this, it’s wise to also determine who needs access to these applications. These particular steps are often overlooked simply because it takes time to figure out who really owns each application and which groups are using them. It’s crucial to the success of your migration, however, to meet with the people who have their finger on the pulse of these applications. There’s nothing like watching an application break when it’s moved to the cloud, only to have an irate manager say “I could have told you that.” Start consulting with these people early, so you can score their information, get their sign-off, and keep them informed throughout the process.
Where are your applications running and what capacity are they utilizing?
Now that you know the what and the who, it’s time to find the where. Which servers, hypervisors, etc. are these applications and their associated data running on? Where are they physically located and what shape are they in? A cloud migration is a great time to jettison old infrastructure, and you might consider prioritizing applications that are running on hardware that’s close to the end of its useful life.
Finding the applications is the easy part. You then have to figure out how much capacity they’re really utilizing. All too often we see clients with 40 to 60 percent overhead for each application, just sitting there as unused capacity. It’s bad for business when it’s physical infrastructure, but when that kind of waste gets replicated in your cloud, it can be disastrous. The transfer of this excess capacity eliminates any efficiencies the cloud can deliver, all while driving up costs. We have people come to us everyday complaining that they’re spending 10 times what they planned on their public cloud. This is all because they began by replicating their physical infrastructure into the cloud instead of assessing what they needed and establishing a migration plan with clear, measurable objectives.
At ServerCentral, we begin by identifying exactly how much CPU, memory, storage and bandwidth you’re actually using for each application. Again, we keep it simple. This is extremely logical, very easy to execute and always — ALWAYS — missed. We then translate these requirements into a right-sized cloud.
How should your cloud infrastructure architecture work?
The last step is looking at the how of your applications. Before you start moving them, you need to know how they’re architected and connected. Identify which applications have an architecture for high availability and/or redundancy so you know what can be migrated with minimal to no downtime. The flip side of this process is equally important — knowing which applications can’t be migrated without operational impact. Too many companies have no idea what happens when a maintenance window is declared on an individual application. This step reduces your risk of unhappy customers — or worse, being in breach of contract.
Take the time to understand the relationships — both the technical and operational dependencies between each application and infrastructure component. If you move an app or shutdown a server, what are the ramifications? Trace the potential consequences of your actions before you start migrating. Doing this will save you hours, and tens of thousands of dollars.
How to test your cloud migration plan
We know how crucial insulating the business from risk is to our clients. To realize cloud benefits, after all, you have to make sure you’re not introducing any new vulnerabilities. That’s why we recommend our clients execute test migrations before kicking off a full-scale cloud project. This will help you understand the actual time involved — as well as identify potential connectivity issues that were previously unknown.
Attempting an equipment cool down may sound silly, but it is really important. Each and every customer we migrate has an issue with at least one critical hardware component not coming back from a cool down, or not operating properly after a cool down. It’s much easier to find a solution if you know which devices won’t recover from the power down before you begin moving to the cloud. One customer we migrated found issues with a router’s firmware that would have never come to light without this test. We were able to bring in a new router and address the issue quickly before we migrated. This brief test will save hours of time, thousands of dollars and countless headaches.
Declaring a maintenance window and powering down all of the applications and their associated infrastructure gives your company an opportunity to see just how quickly applications can be brought back online post migration. With real data to work with, you can minimize the unexpected and incorporate the actual times into your cloud migration plan.
When we have the opportunity, the best way to run a test migration is to move a company’s disaster recovery environment to the cloud. This gives everyone a much more accurate sense of how thorough the plan is and where we may run into pitfalls. Any bugs that we find can be worked out here and added to the cloud migration plan, further reducing the risk. It also gives us an opportunity to virtualize the backup environment so it will match the migrated production environment.
How to find a partner that can turn your cloud migration plan into a reality
Of course the best way to control the risk of a cloud migration is to find a partner who has been through the process many times before. At ServerCentral, we’ve spent the past 16 years managing cloud infrastructure for our partners day in and day out. Enterprise cloud migration, hybrid cloud migration, cloud migration for small business — you name it, we’ve done it. While the combination of steps your company takes to move to the cloud will be unique, we’ve guided companies through each individual step hundreds of times before. That experience allows us to not just reduce your risk, but also help you capitalize on the opportunities available to your business.
According to research from Gartner, IDC and 451 Research, more than 60 percent of companies have delayed a data center migration after completing the planning stage. Of that 60 percent, 40 percent said it was a lack of resources holding them back, while 20 percent pointed to their lack of migration experience. Of course! No company should expect to have the resources or the expertise to manage a large-scale cloud migration in-house. This is a major shift for a business, one your average IT team won’t have the capacity to manage. It’s also a one-time affair, meaning your in-house talent is unlikely to have been through it before even once, let alone the thousands of times ServerCentral has.
Let’s combine our experience with your needs to make the best cloud migration plan for your business.
Here is an infrastructure assessment worksheet that will help you understand your cloud needs: