September 27, 2013

How to Migrate Successfully to the Cloud

When an enterprise decides to move a section of their business functions to the cloud, there are a lot of steps to take and not all involve technical decisions. Who makes the decisions and how the transition is phased-in are just as important as the decision made.

The Cloud Team

It may not seem obvious, but who makes the cloud decision should not be left only to the IT staff. The process of determining what to move to the cloud and how it will affect the business must be a group effort involving all those who will be most affected by the cloud services. Cloud usage may provide advantages that cannot be delivered by an on-premises system, with mobile access being one such advantage.

When choosing team members, select those that serve in executive positions for the departments that will be most affected by the transition and who will offer cross-discipline capabilities. The team leader can be someone in authority from IT, but the IT staff should not hold the majority of positions on the team. The team leader should have good presentation skills and exercise leadership, not dictating the cloud solution. Be aware of IT staff that want to try the cloud because it is something new to learn, rather than a justified business solution.

The Business Case

The cloud team should define the scope of the functions that are candidates for the cloud. Some rationales for moving functions to the cloud include:
  • Reducing cost
  • Introducing new functions
  • Supporting business continuity
  • Expanding customer and/or supplier support
  • Extending mobile support
  • Reducing time-to-sale time

Make sure that goals are short-term in justification. The economics of IT continually change, so do not look for more than a 3-year justification. If cloud services have not been used before, then select business cases that are low in risk. Make the Return on Investment (ROI) and Total cost of Ownership (TCO) calculations that will easily allow justification for cloud series. If the ROI and/or TCO are marginal, eliminate these business cases for later analysis. Select goals carefully - the measure of cloud success equals the success of meeting the goals.

Cloud Advantages

When evaluating a move to the cloud, the enterprise will be able to take advantage of other benefits provided by cloud services. These additional advantages can also be used to justify the move to the cloud and can be part of the business case:
  • Flexible sizing - The cloud solution can expand or reduce the number of seats very quickly. This is especially useful when the number of active seats varies by season or for special events, situations, or emergencies.
  • Business continuity/reliability - The cost of high availability (99.999%) may be beyond most budgets. However, when a disaster occurs, the continued operation and rapid recovery of communications services is financially more affordable with a cloud solution than if the enterprise tried to produce the same level of business continuity on the enterprise site(s).
  • Staffing - With a cloud solution, the enterprise IT staff responsibilities are significantly less and staff size can be smaller and require less expensive certification training to support premise based/owned systems. The IT staff function will primarily deal with cloud service administration.
  • Software - The enterprise does not have to pay for or deal with software subscription fees and licensing costs.
  • Management - The enterprise does not have to allocate significant time to managing the solution. Enterprise management will deal with a contract that can have very specific deliverables and Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
  • Features and functions - The enterprise can gain access to features and functions not available on their existing system/service or that may be too expensive to implement.

Which Cloud to Choose

The enterprise has to review the business case(s) to determine whether a public or private cloud is the better choice.

A cloud is public when the services are offered over a network that is open for public use. Enterprise security considerations are different for services that are available from a service provider for a public audience. Access to  the public services are delivered over a non-trusted network, like the Internet. The service provider does not provide the communications access. Public cloud service providers own and operate their infrastructure. Management of the infrastructure, applications, and storage is performed by the service provider, requiring little enterprise IT staff support. The enterprise risk of operation is the ability of the provider to deliver a successful operation.

A private cloud is an infrastructure operated and dedicated to a single enterprise. It could be managed by the enterprise or by a third-party. A private cloud project requires more enterprise IT staff involvement and a degree of engagement to virtualize the business environment. This requires the enterprise to reevaluate decisions about existing resources. The risk in this case is with the provider for the infrastructure, but the access and applications are the responsibility of the enterprise.

In either case, public or private, the enterprise must be provided with the information to understand the technical limitations of the service. The provider's architecture and systems should be fully exposed to the enterprise.

The enterprise must be fully aware of the legal jurisdictions where the provider operates. For example:
Where is data stored? 
  • Does data move from one jurisdiction to another? 
  • Will data stored in a jurisdiction help or hinder the enterprise from meeting their legal and regulatory requirements? 
  • Will the provider's data storage possibly violate a jurisdiction's legal requirements and will this affect HIPAA, the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act, or Sarbanes-Oxley?
  • All of these considerations should be part of the provider evaluation and risks that the enterprise may have to accept.

Creating a Transition Framework

There is a discovery process that needs to be completed before the cloud migration can be planned. The enterprise needs to have full and accurate knowledge of its existing assets, hardware, software, licenses, and staff, as will as how they are presently allocated and configured.

Next, the enterprise needs to analyze the feature and fit benefits. This means that the portfolio of applications existing in the enterprise needs to be compared to the portfolio of services offered by a cloud service. Several candidate cloud providers should be analyzed to select those that most closely match the requirements of the enterprise. The provider analysis should also include contract models, payment structures, pre- and post-migration support, and the ability of the cloud provider to scale to the needs of the enterprise.

A migration tool kit should also be developed so that a single and/or multiple installations can be performed with ease and accuracy. The most likely candidate application to move to the cloud should be the one that is either a new low-risk application or an existing application that is the least likely to impact the enterprise if it fails.

Don't forget to establish a training program for both the users and the responsible IT staff.

Don't forget the SLAs

Service level agreements (SLAs) are an integral part of the selection and migration to the cloud. The SLA defines availability and the responsibilities of the provider. Check these points when evaluating the SLA:
  • What is the availability metric, (e.g. 99.9%) and what is included and excluded in the SLA?
  • What responsibilities does the provider accept relative to security and what will be done if security is breached?
  • What are the responsibilities of the enterprise?
  • What penalties exist when the provider does not deliver the SLA and do the penalties cover the potential financial and reputation losses of the enterprise?
  • The enterprise must be informed in advance of any changes that will affect their use and performance of the service and business processes.

Successful Migration

Even if the enterprise does not migrate to the cloud, the above process is still valid. The process can be used to decide to keep the applications on premises until the cloud evaluation team is satisfied. There will be other issues that will eventually arise such as APIs and cloud interoperability, which have yet to be standardized. Both of these issues will result in vendor lock-in, a condition that at present is hard to avoid. So base the cloud decision on the ability of the cloud provider to become a long-term partner.

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