A drivers’ guide to upgrading your IT to a hybrid cloud engine

Balancing the workloads

Supported You’re a business running on traditional IT, using banks of servers with monolithic applications and backed by traditional storage arrays as well. You’ve heard about a more modern way of doing things, using cloud services and hybrid IT to deliver greater flexibility and agility, but wonder how to get there.

In fact, the chances are that the vast majority of organisations will already be consuming cloud services in some form, even if that is nothing more than a hosted email or HR system. The fact is that there is nothing magic about the cloud – it is just another delivery method for IT services, one that should be evaluated alongside other delivery methods to determine their suitability based on cost effectiveness and your business requirements.

For this reason, most companies are going to end up with a multi-cloud scenario, where some of their IT remains on-premise and other services are delivered by more than one cloud provider.

With that in mind, the first step should be to consider your business objectives and come up with a defined strategy and budget. What do you want your IT to deliver, and is the cloud the best route for all workloads? Not all applications and services will necessarily benefit from being migrated to the cloud, perhaps because they process sensitive data or because performance may suffer.

However, the factors for or against migration will depend on your organisation. One oft-cited example is Peterborough City Council in the UK, which decided to move everything it could to SaaS applications. The prime motivation for this was financial: the council decided it could not afford to waste money maintaining a large IT estate under the budget constraints it was facing.

Inventory of workloads

To help set objectives, you will also need a clear picture of what you already have. Audit your hardware and software, as you may find users are running applications you were unaware of (so-called “shadow IT”). You need a breakdown of how much each application or service is costing to run, otherwise you will be unable to gauge whether moving to the cloud offers better value.

Once you have a full overview of your workloads, you can assess one or two as pilots for migration. Some, such as email, can be relatively easily switched to a SaaS-based alternative. Other applications may have occasional spikes in demand that make them good candidates for the dynamically scalable nature of the cloud.

Firms should prioritise those applications that process less sensitive data, or are the least strategic and mission-critical. It is also often easier to move smaller applications to the cloud, or those that are not closely integrated with other applications and services.

Later, when turning to workloads beyond this low-hanging fruit, attention should be paid to whether they can be refactored or redesigned to operate better on cloud infrastructure, rather than simply performing a “lift and shift” whereby on-premise servers are converted to virtual machines running in the cloud.

That said, “lift and shift” may be used as a stepping stone, so that a customer can get their workload onto the cloud, then optimise it later. Keep an eye on costs, however, as you may actually find that you are spending more to operate workloads this way.

When it comes to commercial rather than turnkey or open-source software, what you can do with it depends entirely on the supplier. Some now allow for cloud deployment in their license agreements. Meanwhile, many popular applications are now available as click-to-deploy options from software catalogues maintained by the big cloud providers.

Selecting a cloud provider

A vital step in cloud migration is in choosing a cloud provider, or providers. The big cloud firms such as AWS, Microsoft and Google have an advantage in their global footprint and ability to provide failover protection to another data centre. However, businesses may find that smaller local providers offer better support and are more willing to meet your specific requirements.

Which cloud provider you choose will depend on your specific requirements, such as the range of services and capabilities on offer. Businesses may be tempted to go for the provider offering the lowest prices, but it is not always easy to compare the cost of a resource (such as a virtual machine) between clouds, because they often differ in capability.

It goes without saying that security is a key consideration when moving workloads to the cloud. Just checking a cloud provider’s security credentials is not enough – you need to know what your own obligations are with regard to the security of your data, and what responsibilities the provider is willing to accept on your behalf.

The next step should be to carefully assess the costs of your chosen cloud platform and compare these with what you are currently spending. This can be tricky. While cloud providers publish how much they charge to use resources such as a server per hour or a gigabyte of storage per month, it is largely up to the customer to calculate how this will translate into the cost of operating their specific application or service.

Managed service providers can fill the gap

Another consideration is to ensure that your organisation has the right skills to implement your chosen strategy. This is another thorny issue, because engineers with cloud skills are often in short supply and thus highly sought after.

One way of getting around the skills problem is to make use of a managed services provider (MSP), as these typically have expertise in multiple cloud platforms such as AWS and Azure, but also plenty of experience of on-boarding customers to the cloud.

Once you have workloads in the cloud, monitoring is essential. You need to understand how you are using your cloud resources, and whether application performance is meeting requirements or suffering after migration, in which case you may wish to reconsider.

In fact, according to analyst firm Ovum, some businesses are now choosing to move some of their cloud workloads back on-premise, because they found it was costing too much money or that they had lost a measure of control and wished to regain it

Cloud adoption is thus best regarded as a journey rather than a “big bang” switchover. It pays to have a roadmap, to move less critical workloads first while staff gain cloud experience, and to constantly assess if cloud is the right option for each workload. Partnering with an MSP can also provide crucial support in order to ensure a successful cloud deployment.

This article was supported by Rackspace.

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