Cloud computing has become a paradigm-shifting phenomenon in IT resource and infrastructure management and continues to be a hot topic today and will for the foreseeable future. It refers to the pooling of computing resources that are accessed via the internet and managed by third-party providers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. This doesn’t mean, of course, that enterprises’ hardware and infrastructure requirements have vanished into thin air. Instead, they choose to not handle it themselves and opt for dedicated remotely managed services. As such, the cloud eliminates the need to maintain servers and expensive computing infrastructure on-premises (i.e., where your organization works from). However, the decision to move to the cloud should not be made hastily and needs an effective cloud migration strategy.
So, what is Cloud Migration?
Cloud Migration is the process of moving your digital assets – your data, applications, systems, and IT processes – to a remote data center. These data centers are usually enormous, thus providing many advantages that cannot be obtained through an on-premises setup. These advantages usually outweigh the cost of moving to the cloud, but cloud migration by itself can be a long and arduous task that requires careful strategizing to produce optimal results. Usually, cloud migration refers to moving from on-premises or legacy infrastructure to the cloud, but it could also mean switching from one provider to another. When you move from the cloud to an on-premises setup, it is called reverse cloud migration.
In some sense, migrating to the cloud can be thought of as similar to moving houses. When you move from one place to another, you must keep in mind your requirements, your budget, and the pros and cons of each house. For instance, you might choose to move from an aging home you own, to a modern home in a large, gated community. Firstly, you must know if the move is financially sensible. Secondly, according to the number of people in your family and their ages and needs, you will look for specific facilities in your new house like the number of bedrooms and lighting. Then you might take a stock of the amenities available in this gated community (akin to the services you can avail from your cloud services provider). Before all this, you will also examine various gated communities to pick the right one for you. Lastly, to live in this new house, you must move all your furniture from your old home to the new one.
There are some considerations necessary in this stage. Some of your furniture may not fit or suit the vibe of your new house. Some of it is probably old and can be done away with in favor of new furniture of a different kind. During the process of moving, some furniture may be too big to move unless dismantled. To organize and pack said furniture requires quite a bit of effort and costs. As you do all this, you must also ensure that you have a sense of continuity in that you always have a place to live in. You don’t want to leave your old apartment too long before you can move into the new one. An enterprise must ask similar questions when moving to the cloud, thinking of the current house as the on-premises data center, the gated community as the cloud service provider, and the furniture as their digital assets. With the added complexities of a large enterprise, cloud migration is indeed an extremely difficult process, though the numerous benefits of the cloud make it a fruitful venture.
Why Companies Migrate to the Cloud
In a single sentence, companies wish to free up their time and resources that are invested in finding, procuring, and maintaining the right kind of IT equipment and therefore an extensive IT team. Additionally, these resources are extremely limited – relative to the scale of the organization – compared to the vast dedicated infrastructure that cloud providers possess. If a server needs maintenance, they have backup hardware to keep your operations running. However, the same does not apply for on-premises infrastructure.
In fact, we have evolved into a cloud-infrastructure-like model for almost everything that is produced in the economy. Long back, people would each produce all the goods they needed (primarily just food, shelter, and clothing) for their families and perhaps exchange the surplus. Slowly, we moved to a model where everyone does one thing they specialize in, and with the collection of what everyone produces, we satisfy the needs of society. We produce food, electricity, fuel, and almost everything else this way. The same goes for cloud. A dedicated provider takes care of yours, and many others’, computing needs through the vast infrastructure available at their disposal. With the cloud, IT resources are managed at a greater scale and not limited to single organizations and their limited mobility. Now, organizations can meet their changing needs extremely quickly.
Some Common Cloud Migration Challenges
There are various factors to keep in mind when planning and executing your cloud migration. The most significant among them are:
Data Integrity and Transfer
Organizations are dependent on large quantities of data and the related applications that need to be transferred from their on-premises infrastructure to the cloud. Sometimes data transfers can be done over the internet, but migrating large databases this way may expose you to security risks, as it may be slow, therefore hindering operations and increasing vulnerability to attacks. In such cases, data can be transferred to an appliance that can then be physically transported to the data center.
Another similar situation arises when transporting various applications that are dependent on each other. If one is moved, the other will stop working, thus bringing your operations to a halt, and increasing downtime. This can increase the complexities in your cloud migration strategy as you need to be careful regarding which applications to transfer through what medium and when. Application dependency mapping can allow you to get around this, wherein you can transfer groups of applications together after ascertaining which ones are interdependent.
The data migration challenges outlined above can potentially generate a problem in the form of downtime. Downtime refers to a period when your systems are inoperable or inaccessible. This usually would happen during the time a certain application is being transferred, or if a dependent application is being transferred. It can also be caused by your internet resources being strained by the process of migration itself.
While outlining a cloud migration strategy, it is necessary to ensure that your systems remain operational throughout to prevent business operations from being hampered and by extension, customer satisfaction. One way to reduce downtime is to create an overlap between data stored on-premises and on the cloud. Only after a copy is created entirely on the cloud and made accessible, can the on-premises database or application be shut down. Additionally, it helps to migrate in small steps rather than one giant strides. Move groups of applications, or smaller databases than the whole thing at once. This combined with data migration strategies like physical transfer and application dependency mapping can allow you to keep your systems operational and your business operations running smoothly.
This is really the essence of a cloud migration strategy. To understand well and plan appropriately, the cloud migration process for your organization, can be extremely difficult depending on the cloud services you opt for. For instance, incorporating hybrid cloud or multi-cloud solutions while ensuring a successful and optimal migration, can be an extremely challenging task and will require an adequately staffed and capable IT team. Otherwise, you might adopt the wrong solutions or make incorrect decisions resulting in your overspending on your cloud services or in cloud migration failure.
Skilling… and Reskilling
It has already been addressed that your IT team needs to be well equipped to handle the complexities of cloud migration. They also need to be trained to manage your applications after having migrated them to the cloud. The challenges of the cloud, being different from on-premises infrastructure, require some additional skilling specific to cloud-based solutions. However, you also need to reskill others in your organization (or at least those using the assets being migrated) for them to use the new systems on the cloud. In case of a lift-and-shift (will explain this soon), this may not be as complicated. However, if you are required to use a new application or heavily modify your existing applications, then you need to ensure that your employees are well-versed with this new mode of operation. This can be a time-consuming process, but well worth the benefits of the cloud.
Legacy Applications and Interoperability
You know how there are some video games that date back to the 90s and were played on a DOS computer, and they don’t work well on a Windows machine? Sometimes, this applies even to games developed on older versions of Windows. These old games are not optimized for newer versions of Windows like Windows 10, and do not run properly in this new environment. Similarly, some applications are suited to legacy infrastructure, and need to be rebuilt for the cloud. Here you will need to make a decision regarding whether you wish to move it to the cloud and how you plan to do it.
The issue of interoperability stems from this very incompatibility between legacy applications, or maybe even newer, unsuited applications and the cloud environment. To get past this, you might want to decide if you would keep the application as is, make modifications, rebuild it, or get rid of the application entirely.
(If you don’t get the video game analogy, or aren't into video games, think of disk drives. Floppy drives and CDs cannot be used interchangeably in the wrong drive. Even a CD drive cannot read a Blu-ray Disc. Similarly, not every application is compatible with the cloud.)
This challenge is particularly applicable to cloud-to-cloud migration but should be kept in mind when migrating from on-premises infrastructure as well. Though cloud providers offer a variety of services and are likely to meet your basic requirements, certain special offerings may be exclusive to select providers. As such, you may opt for them at first. However, if your organization’s requirements change, you may find yourself in a situation where your cloud provider is unable to meet your needs and migrating from one provider to another can be expensive. Therefore, it is advisable to keep in mind your long-term needs and be open to such a possibility if your needs change in the future.
Cloud Cost Optimization
It is unambiguous that the move to cloud is meant to save on costs. And extremely large costs at that, by avoiding purchase of significant infrastructure. However, without adequate planning, you may underestimate your total cloud spend. It is necessary to consider the costs of migrating, migration tools and services, recurring expenses of subscribing to the cloud, and the possibility of scaling up or subscribing to additional services that increase your cloud costs. (Explore cloud cost optimization further with this video and this whitepaper)
What Are the Benefits of Cloud Migration?
Organizations that plan well and execute a successful cloud migration can reap the following benefits.
Improved Scalability and Elasticity
When using on-premises infrastructure, you are restricted by its capacities, and will not be able to handle a demand greater than a fixed limit unless you acquire additional infrastructure. This will result in lost time and significant expenditure. The cloud on the other hand, with its relatively infinite pool of resources, is extremely elastic – it can quickly increase or decrease the computing power that is consumed without much hassle. This can also happen in a relatively short time. Greater elasticity enables scalability, as your cloud provider can handle your organization’s changing needs. As your business grows, so do the cloud resources at your disposal.
Lastly, you can automate scalability requirements (in a process known as autoscaling), which determines how and when resources are managed depending on changing demand. This optimizes your costs and the availability of resources when you need them.
This requires some effective planning, in the absence of which your cloud spend can spiral out of control. However, cost savings are an inherent benefit of the cloud, given the pay for what you use approach. Offerings like self-service provisioning (popular with public clouds), wherein users can avail pre-configured cloud computing resources through a web portal instead of making requests, combine a pay-as-you-go model with quick delivery.
Normally, you would be looking at expensive hardware requiring large upfront payment, expenditure to operate and maintain said hardware, and IT staff and skilled technicians who can keep it going smoothly. All of this is done in a jiffy by your cloud provider. The bigger deal is when you are scaling down. When setting up on-premises infrastructure, you need to align it with the highest demand you experience. You must ensure you are never short of resources, but you will not need the entire capacity every day of the year, every minute of the day. However, cloud infrastructure can scale up and down as necessary with only as much expenditure as worth the resources you utilize.
An additional benefit with the cloud is the shift from capital expenditure to operating expenditure. Instead of shelling out a ton of money for infrastructure, you can just make regular small payments for cloud services, thus easing out your cash flow.
Every cloud provider maintains the highest quality facilities and is equipped with the best technologies. You can also expect them to consistently update themselves with the latest offerings and to meet your requirements consequently. This can be a tough task, however, if you are maintaining an on-premises data center.
This provides you with improved performance and better end-user experience. Additionally, they ensure that everything from network latency to data backup is taken care of, and your systems are always operational and running efficiently. They are much more reliable than older infrastructure that you might be able to house on-premises.
Lastly, this allows you to leverage newer offerings like Machine Learning and AI, which would have been difficult to manage with on-premises infrastructure.
Simplified IT Management
Maintaining your IT infrastructure can be an arduous task, and takes up time, resources, and requires dedicated time from your employees who could instead be focusing on your business objectives. On the other hand, your cloud provider can handle all infrastructure related concerns, allowing you to maximize the value your staff bring towards business outcomes.
Traditional infrastructure also comes with the problems of managing end-of-life concerns, both for software validity and for hardware and related services. This usually motivates organizations to migrate to the cloud. However, companies do not need to enter into any long-term commitments with a cloud provider, allowing you to meet your requirements minus the hassle of contracts and licensing agreements.
Enable Digital Transformation
Digital transformation has been on the minds of almost all organizations to derive better value from their assets and processes. As the cloud facilitates access to the latest technologies, it enables you to digitize a vast array of your core functionalities like CRM, SAP, data analytics, and much more. With the numerous capabilities of the cloud, you can increase productivity, unlock revenue sources, and make innovative leaps to change the way you do business.
Increased Agility and Flexibility
The essence of cloud computing is to allow you to explore more options while not having to make cumbersome, long-term commitments. With the global economy becoming ever-so dynamic, it requires businesses to constantly change and innovate to keep themselves ahead of competition. The cloud not only allows you to respond to changes quickly, it also helps you speed up many of the tasks that would otherwise take longer, like developing new business applications. But it is not just about making changes relating to your computing needs directly. The flexibility of the cloud allows you to capitalize on every business opportunity you get. Most importantly, this flexibility is accessible to small and large organizations alike.
With cloud, you also get anytime, anywhere access that allows you to shift your workplace to a new location without having to worry about setting up complex infrastructure each time. All you need to do is get the basics in place – internet, electricity, etc. – and you are good to go. The best possible way to look at this perk is looking at the Covid-19 pandemic. Work from home has been a standard this last year and imagine if we did not have cloud services at our disposal.
Security is an ever-growing concern for organizations storing sensitive business data digitally. The security benefits of the cloud are many. Firstly, with cloud providers supporting many organizations, and quite a few large ones, from various parts of the world requires them to be on top of security practices and comply with the regulatory standards in even the most stringent countries and industries - particularly when it comes to sensitive data. This means they are almost always better equipped to establish effective security practices compared to when any organization sets up on-premises infrastructure. Cloud providers also enable and ensure regular security updates, provide security metrics and analytics, and cross-enterprise visibility.
Additionally, central storage of data minimizes entry points for attackers while backups ensure that your data is not lost by a single point of failure. Even if an appliance or device is lost or stolen, you can rest assured that your data is still safe. However, it is important to note that merely moving to the cloud does not enable all these benefits. It simply enables you to adopt various security practices and measures that would have not been possible otherwise.
Reduced Environmental Impact
Based on the points outlined earlier, it is evident that cloud computing is a great way to save on costs, optimize usage of computing resources, and eliminate wastage. With the ability to scale up or down quite easily and with dynamic resource allocation, the problem of idle or unused system resources is taken care of. Additionally, cloud providers constantly keep themselves in line with the latest technologies which are more efficient and less power consuming. All these factors help in reducing the environmental footprint of IT operations.
The Main Cloud Migration Strategies
The cloud migration strategies can be best classified by the 5 ‘R’s, in increasing order of change and complexity, along with greater optimization and benefit in the cloud.
- Rehost: Rehosting is also known as ‘lift and shift’, that is, you merely move the existing data and applications from a local data center to the cloud. This requires no recoding and involves no change, so it may be best suited for when it is difficult to modify said application or your organization is not familiar with cloud computing. This employs Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).
- Refactor: This is to ‘lift, tinker, and shift’. While the core architecture of the application remains unchanged, the application is run on the cloud provider’s platform. This enables you to make better use of cloud-based tools and requires Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). While IaaS is a quicker option, the cloud is more than merely just another datacenter, and PaaS makes better use of its capabilities.
- Revise: This strategy requires you to partially (and possibly significantly) rewrite the core architecture and code base of your application to take complete advantage of cloud service offerings. This is a time-consuming process and is costlier than the earlier two and requires proper planning and advanced knowledge.
- Rebuild: Rebuilding pushes revision to another level, requiring a complete rewriting of the entire code base. This requires significant investment and time (much more than revision too) and is only considered if the current solution is too outdated or cannot meet the organization’s requirements.
- Replace: Replacing is a strategy adopted in situations like when rebuilding is required. The current solution just does not work. However, given the large costs and time spent in rebuilding, you may choose to avail a third-party application that has already developed for the cloud. It removes the necessity for in-house expertise in cloud environments and uses Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The only thing that is migrated to the cloud is the existing data.
There are other steps taken in cloud migration like Retiring, which involves either discarding an application that is unnecessary or redundant, or temporarily discontinuing an application that can be migrated later. Revisiting is applicable for cloud repatriation and choosing not to migrate to the cloud, wherein you may choose to keep said application on-premises.
A 4-Step Cloud Migration Process
Cloud migration is not a decision taken on a whim. It requires careful planning, and you need to ensure you touch all the bases before and as you move to the cloud. Here are 4 steps you can keep in mind to use as a cloud migration checklist.
Establish a Business Case
You need to know why you are migrating to the cloud. Is something wrong with your existing infrastructure? Do you have some goals in mind for your organization that requires a major change? Having a purpose in mind for migration will help you make the right decisions in terms of which applications to migrate and what costs will you incur and what benefit you hope to reap from the move. It is necessary to have realistic estimates of your cloud costs and measurable potential benefits of the move to the cloud on hand to ensure that your organization stands to benefit in the long-term. It is a good idea to actively interact with cloud providers and understand their offerings and costing options. There are also various cloud cost calculators made available by third-parties or cloud providers themselves.
Create a Migration Strategy
As you move to the planning stage, you would want to ascertain what, when, and how. What type of cloud deployment model will work for you - private cloud, public cloud, or a hybrid model? Which applications will you be moving, in what order, and through what medium? You need to first map out dependencies, to identify migration in groups. Then there is the question of order to ensure minimal downtime. You must also identify relevant tools to help you carry out the migration, especially with tricky workloads. Along with these, there is the question of picking among the 5 ‘R’s for each of your applications and planning out any modification work in advance. Lastly, there is the question of what medium you use to move said applications. Like stated earlier, physical migration can at times be a good idea for larger workloads. All these decisions must be made in line with the return on investment (ROI) you can get, and the time required to successfully migrate these assets.
Execute the Migration the Right Way
Once your migration is past the planning stage, the execution is extremely important. You will have to keep three things in mind. Minimize disruptions to your operations, be cost-efficient, and migrate as quickly as possible.
You can’t allow data or any applications to become inaccessible during migration, as it will hamper your business operations. This carries on even after simply moving the application or data to the cloud, as you will need to sync your systems before it will become usable. There are built-in tools offered by cloud providers that help you in this process. Before discarding your existing infrastructure and systems, you will need to test your new environment, which can require running two environments for some time. To keep it cost-efficient, you will want to plan everything out so that your migration is quickly executed.
It is also a good idea to migrate element by element and not skip any step in between before moving to another.
Staying on Top and Moving Forward
You cannot migrate and forget about it. It is necessary to keep track of how your cloud environment is functioning, and if it is meeting all the benchmarks and goals set by you earlier. You need to show a significant ROI which requires some active monitoring. To ensure smooth operation, you can monitor in real-time your critical infrastructure and workloads. You should also assess security requirements and keep track of whether you are in compliance with regulations like HIPAA and GDPR.
When you are confident, decommission your old systems, find your rhythm with your new environment, and move on to bigger and better things.
Popular Cloud Migration Tools
While there are some third-party migration tools available, cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google provide their own tools to execute and monitor your migration process as well. Each tool serves its own unique case, and you need to choose the right tool to meet your organization’s cloud migration needs. You can see more in the table below:
Azure AWS GCP Migration Planning and Strategy
Cloud Adoption Framework
Strategic Migration Assessment and Readiness Tool
App Service Migration Assistant
Data Migration Assistant
Application Discovery Service
Cloud Adoption Readiness Tool
Cloud Adoption Framework
Cloud Maturity Assessment
Rapid Assessment and Migration Program
Offline Data Migration
Data Box Disk
Data Box Heavy
Data Migration over a Network
Azure Stack Edge
Data Box Gateway
Transfer for SFTP
Storage Transfer Service
Cloud Online Data Transfer
Server Migration Site Recovery
Server Migration Service
Application Migration Service
Migrate for Anthos
Migrate for Compute Engine
Database Migration Service
Database Migration Service
Schema Conversion Tool
Database Migration Service
BigQuery Data Transfer Service
Backup and Disaster Recovery
Will Everything Move to the Cloud?
This is a two-pronged question, and perhaps one prong can help answer the other. One is if every organization overall will migrate its workloads to the cloud. Another is if a single organization needs to migrate everything to the cloud. Dealing with the second one first, as you might have gathered from reading everything above, you need not migrate everything to the cloud at once. With comprehensive and interconnected systems, it just works out much better to move a little bit at a time. All you need to ensure is that your systems are always interoperable, thus preventing any form of disruption.
With some applications and data being preferred by organizations to be kept on-premises, not everything is pushed onto the cloud at once. And given every organization’s varied requirements, it is not necessary that everyone migrates to the cloud. However, this answer to the other prong is only valid for a certain timeline. Yes, not everything is going to move to the cloud, in a year. Because the process takes time. Undoubtedly though, the cloud is the future. And enterprises will eventually be heading there.
Why Cloud4C for a Seamless Cloud Migration Journey?
Cloud migration is a process to be done right, or not at all. To reap the benefits of the cloud to the fullest, it is essential that cloud migration planning and execution are properly taken care of. With the vast pool of knowledge and expertise that cloud migration requires, we can reduce the burden on you to hire and train the needed IT staff. Over time, we have established partnerships with leading cloud providers including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and others. We take care of your end-to-end cloud migration needs while adhering to all regulatory standards. Choose Cloud4C for its:
- 12 years of experience and 4000+ global customers
- 2000+ cloud experts with a presence in 25+ countries
- AIOps driven automation in cloud operations
- Zero friction business delivery model
- 24x7 support
- 25 Centers of Excellence
- And much more…