TO THE CLOUD!
Like a battle cry, ringing across the I.T. landscape, environments large and small are rushing to move their systems to the cloud. It seems like a simple proposition. A no brainer, really. All you have to do is take your various systems that live in your brick-and-mortar data centers, and throw them up to the cloud. Easy Peezy, right?
I work for a State government I.T organization. As the Infrastructure Architect for a large Enterprise environment I am often called upon to offer consulting services to various State departments and agencies looking to join the Lemming migration to the Cloud. Or better yet, I am more often called upon to consult for those agencies after they have already made their plans and committed to a particular course of action. Much too late, usually.
Many of them really have no idea what they are even asking for. They have just heard that the Cloud is cool, that the Cloud is cheap, and that the Cloud is better. Sounds like a win-win-win, right? I mean, what could go wrong? Usually little-to-no thought has gone into what it really means to “move to the cloud”.
Most of the problem comes from an inherent lack of understanding on the part of most management teams as to what exactly is involved in moving a system to the cloud, and why doing so can mean a whole laundry list of issues and testing that must be taken into account and thoroughly explored. Not only is their understanding of the cloud limited, but they also lack any comprehension of terms like IaaS, SaaS or PaaS (Infrastructure, Software or Platform “as a service” respectively).
Beyond the “as a service” considerations, there are the matters of connectivity to the cloud – VPN or public Internet? Databases? Middle ware? Web Services? Are these all going to reside in the cloud, or are any parts of that architecture remaining on-premises? Bandwidth requirements? Support SLA’s? Protection of confidential (PII) data? Identity Management? Directory Services? Firewalls? Proxy services?
If your system houses PII data from your customers, you should consider at least SSAE 16 Soc 2 Type II certification of the cloud data center. There also may be HIPPA, FedRAMP, Sarb-Ox, or any number of other certification requirements you would need to be familiar with.
Then there is the matter of selecting a Cloud provider. AWS (Amazon Web Services) is the leader in the market by a country mile, and hosts large and small businesses from Netflix to Air B&B to about a million others. Microsoft’s Azure is moving up fast as a legitimate competitor to AWS, and there are of course dozens of other players in the market. Chosing the right provider for your company, and ensuring that the right language appears in the SLA’s and contracts is a critical component of the entire process.
These are all things that need to be understood and accounted for by the Business. Unfortunately far too often there is a lack of understanding about Cloud and the many issues that must be considered. It is this lack of understanding that leads us to the prevalence of F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).
It is the F.U.D. that gets in the way of good planning. It is the F.U.D. that causes decisions to be made prematurely, or in a vacuum. It is F.U.D. in short, that can cause a good idea to end up as a failed project.
So how do we avoid this scenario? How do we stamp out the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt?
The answer is planning. And not just the kind of planning that goes on in the CIO or CTO’s office – or worse, over lunch at the local steak house. Not the kind of planning that executives do after they read the latest article about that new, slick technology that they simply must have.
I am talking about REAL planning. The kind of planning that takes place on a white board, with all of the relevant Subject Matter Experts in the room. A real discussion about the real ramifications of taking a system that is running in your data center, and moving it to the cloud. The technical ramifications are vast, and not trivial to overcome.
It may even behoove any organisation who is considering such a move to contract the services of a knowledgeable consultant who has been through a few of these migrations already. Somebody who has seen the pitfalls, and been gotten by the gotcha’s. The value such an individual can bring to an organization considering a move to the cloud could be immeasurable.
The bottom line, and the most important advice I could give you is to not underestimate the complexity of a move to the cloud. Anything you have in place now in your data centers CAN be replicated to the cloud, but requires extensive planning and thinking about it in advance. Remember, what can be done simply in your datacenter will probably by much more complicated in the Cloud.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t let F.U.D. interfere with your goals. Just make sure that you take the time, and spend the energy required up front to thoroughly consider all the ramifications and make all the plans before any changes are made. Bring in SME’s from all the various disciplines within your organization. Your Application Development folks, your DBA’s your middle ware and web tier administrators. Your Active Directory admins – anyone who is currently involved in administering or maintaining your current system needs to be involved in the planning phase of moving to the cloud.
In the end, sufficient planning will pay off ten-fold in terms of return on your investment. Once your system is planted and thriving in the Cloud you will be able to enjoy all the benefits that a cloud deployment can bring to your organization.
Go forth, and migrate!
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