Make the right move to the cloud

Get your new house in order before you move

More companies than ever are looking to cloud providers to supply their core infrastructure. The cloud's scalable infrastructure services make it easier to match technology investments to business growth, respond to the market quickly, and adjust to fluctuations in seasonal demands.

As companies move to reap the benefits of the cloud, many get stuck in a prolonged stall. They spend lots of time and money and realize little value. Some never fully recover to leverage the advantages that attracted them to the cloud in the first place.

Moving your core infrastructure to the cloud is a lot like moving into a new house. Just as it would be a mistake to pack your furniture, load it into a van and move it to your new home before you knew it was safe and affordable, it would be a mistake to start migrating services to the cloud before you’d assessed the costs and had clear mechanisms to keep your cloud presence secure and compliant.

Some cloud providers recommend that enterprise customers heavily centralize their approach to migration. But few companies have the depth and breadth of expertise to run such an enterprise-wide function. If your organization is like most, it will take a team effort of collaboration, humility and shared learning to get your new house in order before you move. Where to begin?

Put security and compliance first
Focus first on making sure your home in the cloud will be at least as safe and compliant as your current data center. Take a close look at security controls, such as how you handle Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Payment Card Industry (PCI) information, and your compliance with external regulations such as Congress’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Ask your security team, controllership and corporate audit to jointly prepare a comprehensive list of controls to be implemented prior to migration.

Cloud technologies require a whole new set of responsible parties, processes and tools to achieve compliance—a much more distributed set of responsibilities than in a data center. It will likely include a centralized team to develop and maintain the automation to support compliance, together with dozens, even hundreds, of development teams who use those tools and must comply with requirements that cannot be centrally automated.

To optimize the benefits of automation wherever possible, develop a single continuous integration, continuous deployment (CICD) pipeline. A number of tools are available to assist in this process; select a single complementary set of tools and use it on all subsequent deployments.

Know the costs before the build
Your dev team's choice of cloud technologies will have a huge impact on the total cost of migration. Plan classes to educate teams on their choices and the cost impact, get regular reports on cost performance, and create structured opportunities for people to learn from the teams that seem to be leading the way. If possible, budget for an initial phase of cloud migration that focuses on getting services moved to the cloud, and follow-on phases that focus on cost efficiency.

As you assess costs, keep your eyes on the end state: eliminating dependence on the data center. If you don't plan for the decommissioning of data center servers, you risk the crippling costs of maintaining a hybrid state—that costly phase of supporting the same services in both the cloud and the data center. Cloud program leadership must focus on reducing time in that hybrid state. This means assuring that the controls implementation team is focused on outpacing the migrations of the dev teams. The data center reduction team should work closely with the dev team to acquire the information needed to renegotiate leases and remove decommissioned equipment as quickly as possible.

Before actual development work begins, each team should identify its current data center footprint and all users of the services housed on those servers. Each team will also need to have a preliminary plan for achieving full independence from the data center.

Get migration off to the right start
Begin migration with a proof-of-concept effort focused on "lifting and shifting." See if you can move into the cloud the way things are now. Avoid costly delays by having dev teams wait to re-architect solutions until they can take advantage of the new environment and new tools to make it quicker and easier.

Cloud technologies are built with agile development in mind. Teams need to be comfortable with those processes and tools, and with a dev-ops mindset. However, due to the long timeframe of the migration effort, it takes a mix of agile and more traditional project and program management tools to successfully navigate this complicated journey of discovery. Consider using traditional tools for long-term planning, and agile tools to tackle shorter-term goals.

When it's time to test, focus on functionality, network connectivity, latency and data transmission costs. Cloud migrations involve complicated interdependencies between services, and each time data flows between services, you'll want to consider costs, network connectivity to newly migrated services, and latencies. While functional testing is important, testing for latency and its impact on user satisfaction should figure much more prominently in cloud migration.

Keep learning, keep communicating
The cloud is a whole new frontier. Cloud technologies are continuously evolving, and the people who work with them need to be continuously learning. Give dev teams structured opportunities to share their victories and challenges in ways that help all teams accelerate the learning curve. Create a culture in which it's safe for people to make mistakes and share lessons learned. Dedicate a small team to develop workshops, blogs and information libraries to facilitate cross-team communication. In the overall scheme of things, it's a small investment that will pay for itself many times over. Get your new house in order first, and a smoother migration is sure to follow.

About the author
Mike Evans is a consultant with Point B, an integrated management consulting, venture investment, and real estate development firm. Evans has more than 20 years’ experience in the healthcare, banking and insurance industries providing project leadership expertise on a wide variety of projects, including disaster management, vendor selection, process mapping, standardizing policies and procedures, and annual capital planning.

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