The Cloud (Part 4): Your Journey to the Cloud

The Cloud (Part 4): Your Journey to the Cloud

The Cloud (Part 2) of our blog series argued that as organisations move to a higher level of cloud adoption, a planned strategic approach is required. The ten key questions to address when developing a cloud strategy were then addressed in The Cloud (Part 3).

In this penultimate post in the series, we examine two of the most important issues in ensuring the success of your journey to the cloud – knowing your destination and the staging posts in getting there.

Knowing Your Destination

Moving to the cloud is disruptive. It transforms your IT infrastructure and is the foundation for digitally transforming your organisation. A major benefit of migrating to the cloud is that it should release IT resource and expertise from mundane technical services, allowing key IT personnel to drive the digital transformation agenda.

Before starting on your cloud journey, it is important to understand your ultimate destination, especially as there is often a misconception that moving to the cloud is ‘all-or-nothing’. The reality is that a range of options are available varying in terms of location (on or off-premise), private, public, hybrid cloud.

At the planning stage, a detailed cost-benefit analysis should be applied to the options listed below. This should include an evaluation of the wider business benefits to be derived, not just costs.

Private Cloud

A single-tenant environment where the hardware, storage and network are dedicated to a single client or company. Hosting can be on or off-premise.

On-premise private clouds can be very useful in cases where certain applications or data cannot be moved off premise. A technology stack can be implemented consistent with the public cloud. The downside is that private clouds do not provide the cost savings and efficiency offered by the public cloud due to the initial capital expense and on-going operational costs, especially for IT staff.

Public Cloud

A multi-tenant environment where you buy a ‘server slice’ in a cloud computing environment shared with a number of other tenants; generally delivered through a utility model or on a pay-as-you-go basis. Operating in the public cloud can free IT resources from the mundane tasks of system backup, network maintenance, patches and software upgrades.

There are three distinct types of public cloud service available for organisations considering this option:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – where applications are simply moved from on-premise to the cloud. Being the easiest migration strategy, leading to immediate cost savings, IaaS has been one of the most common cloud deployment patterns to date as it significantly reduces the time between purchasing and deployment. Because it is the most similar to how IT operates today, it can also help to overcome initial resistance to the cloud internally, acting as a staging post for further development. The downside is that your operations staff still need to perform tasks such as patch management, updates, and upgrades.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) – the above burden can be removed from your internal IT department by using a PaaS deployment model. With the cloud provider maintaining all system software, all that the enterprise needs to focus on is deploying its code on the PaaS machines. The cloud provider ensures that operating systems, database software, integration software and other features are maintained, kept up-to-date and delivered at a high service level agreement (SLA).

Software as a Service (SaaS) – where the organisation simply rents an application from a vendor, such as Microsoft Office 365, for email and productivity. This is by far the most cost-effective of all the options. The only work involved for the IT department is provisioning users and data, integrating the application with single sign-on (SSO). Typically, SaaS applications are used for functions not requiring customised applications.

The Hybrid Cloud

The above options are not ‘either/or’. The most recent research in this area (see The Cloud (Part 1)) shows that hybrid configurations will be the most common cloud deployment strategy by 2020.

In hybrid configurations, some applications run in the cloud with others remaining on-premises. A secure, high-speed communications path is established between the two environments allowing the cloud to become an extension of the existing data centre, and vice versa.

In the hybrid option, the public and private clouds are not separate entities but part of a continuous programmable service that can be mixed and matched to fit your organisation’s unique needs. This is as it should be with cloud architectures being customised to the specific needs of individual organisations.

The cloud services provided by companies such as Microsoft are designed not only to work with one another, but they also inter-operate with and enhance third-party and customised cloud services through a well-documented set of APIs. There are no dead-ends because of incompatibilities.

Please see our recent blog post presenting a pictorial tour of one of Microsoft’s cloud data centers.

Your Journey to the Cloud

Given the range of options available, and within the context of knowing your ultimate destination, an incremental, staged approach to cloud migration can be adopted. An approach where new cloud software and solutions are implemented over time within the context of a well-defined cloud strategy and action plan (see The Cloud (Part 3)).

There are different roadmaps that can be followed in migrating to the cloud. In our experience, there are three key stages involved in your journey to the cloud: experimentation, migration, and transformation.

  • Experimentation Phase: Two processes take place at the experimental stage. In the first, engineers and others create the IT department’s first cloud applications, with the objective of learning what the cloud is all about, how to develop for it, how to test, how to deploy, how to monitor and maintain a cloud application. Concurrently, businesses and IT departments envision the art of the possible; designing new solutions to demonstrate how to advance the status quo while envisioning a newer, expanded, more agile and better application or service.
  • Migration Phase: This is the most demanding of the three phases during which the bulk of your IT portfolio is moved to the cloud in one form or another. This requires cooperation and collaboration across a number of different enterprise functions, including technical staff, operations staff, the executive team, business sponsors, security professionals, regulatory compliance staff, legal and HR. Getting your cloud team right is critical at this point.
  • Transformation Phase: In this phase (which will often run concurrently with the migration phase), selected applications are redesigned to take maximum advantage of the cloud, using the PaaS model, affording greater scale, greater integration with other cloud services and numerous other advantages. Moving forward, the new cloud-native applications can take advantage of cloud services such as machine learning, big data, streaming analytics and many others, making them much richer in function and feature than before.

As always, comment and feedback are very welcome.

In The Cloud (Part 5) we discuss Microsoft Azure as a solution to all of your cloud needs.

See all our posts on The Cloud series.