The coronavirus pandemic has magnified the importance of cloud-based technologies in major, life-altering ways and ushered in a new paradigm. Before COVID-19, experts projected the worldwide public cloud services market would jump by 17% this year, reaching $266.4 million. Software as a service is the largest segment within that market, but the second-largest — infrastructure as a service — claims the fastest growth rate.
A number of factors are driving businesses to choose the cloud as the standard for applications, data, and storage. They migrate to gain flexible computing power, to lower the cost of backup/recovery, or to turn capital expenses into operational costs. Beyond any single benefit, however, companies migrate to facilitate organisational change in ways that only the cloud can offer.
Take artificial intelligence as just one example. Companies that have already implemented AI saw an uptick in revenue, and 44% experienced a reduction in costs. Executives across industries want (and need) to use this technology effectively, and that’s possible from a technical and logistical standpoint only if the technology runs out of the cloud. To put it simply, the cloud is where the future happens, meaning companies either migrate or get left behind.
Unfortunately, knowing where to go rarely makes the journey easier. In terms of cloud migration challenges, spinning down a monolithic legacy system can be an exhausting undertaking — like demolishing a building brick by brick. Moving around data and abandoning traditions also raises concerns about security and compliance. Plus, changing any kind of enterprise IT requires a massive retraining effort and necessitates interrupting the normal workflow for extended periods. Make no mistake: Cloud migration isn’t easy, even if it makes IT easier over the long run.
Planning: The first and most important step
When companies fail to create a cloud migration plan, they rarely make it to the cloud on time, under budget, or with the results they expected. Given the speed and scale of what’s involved, migrations can derail in countless ways if they’re not carefully organized in advance.
Cloud networking/infrastructure setup seems simple at first, for instance, but then developers need to build guardrails for usage while also finding and closing any vulnerabilities hackers could exploit. Balancing accessibility and security involves an endless barrage of difficult choices that are better to plan for in advance rather than try to work through on the fly.
Another common cloud migration challenge happens when product teams maintaining the applications to be migrated aren’t directly involved in the migration. Because these product teams lack experience with the underlying architecture, they’re not prepared to properly manage the tools moving forward (even though they have that responsibility). In this way, companies must strike another balancing act between migration specialists and product teams, ensuring that both parties are integrally involved without processes becoming inefficient — something that only advanced planning can achieve.
Several elements characterise effective migrations, such as self-service learning, teams working autonomously, showcasing best practices, and crowdsourced assistance with the organisation. Each one of those pillars is a major undertaking, which emphasises why deep, detailed plans are so important. Granted, cloud migration strategies take time to prepare and involve complicated, difficult choices, but the effort you put into planning before the migration proves its worth the minute things start moving.
The pillars of planning explained
As you start to plan for the challenges of moving to the cloud, make sure you’re thinking through each issue individually and in-depth.
- Self-service learning: Create sandbox environments for experimentation where developers can explore cloud tools safely, and document everything to institutionalise the discoveries. You should also provide code samples harvested from proof-of-concept applications along with resources for self-driven courses. Throughout the teaching and learning effort, ensure that progress is measurable and that employees are accountable
- Autonomous teams: Give teams complete control over the application stack from top to bottom and end to end. That includes application code, infrastructure code, the CI/CD pipeline, and any deployments. With adequate resources, teams shouldn’t be reliant on infrastructure or DevOps when taking responsibility for all aspects of the environment from development to production. They should, however, be able to make decisions within parameters, including decisions about whether specific cloud tools don’t fit their use cases and what might work better
- Best practices: Use reference architectures to showcase best practices, targeting the most common patterns across the application suite. Document these as proofs of concept and communicate them throughout the organisation to raise awareness and set expectations for future migrations. Areas outside of applications also merit having their architecture documented, including data storage patterns, identity management and compliance monitoring, and ingress and egress trends, among others. In all cases, best practice documentation should incorporate screenshots explaining exactly what to do and solicit feedback to continuously improve.
- Crowdsourced learning: Avoid traditional training efforts in favour of using platforms for shared learning. Teams will document learning as they go and turn that information into communal resources that grow and evolve with the migration. Improve that effort by creating venues for demos, scheduling team code reviews, enabling cross-team communications, and creating a centralised documentation repository. As a general rule of thumb, make information and access as widespread as possible.
Realistically, planning a cloud migration may be as hard as executing the plan itself. That’s why many companies partner with migration specialists to ensure they’re considering every contingency and meeting every benchmark. Partners with a shared purpose and concrete aims applied consistently in the organisation go a long way to turn good intentions into tangible outcomes. The best advice for cloud migration really applies to any journey — don’t set out without a guide and a map.
Editor’s note: Nathan Murray, Ian Lenora, Aaron Fisher, Ben Neese, Ryan Bennett and Dave Allen helped co-write the article.
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