For most organisations these days the question is no longer whether to adopt cloud, but when is the right time and what services to move. Like any other major infrastructure change, it needs to be driven by a compelling event, such as a move to new premises, a need to refresh your existing infrastructure, the end of an outsourcing contract or a major organisational change. If you’ve recently made a big investment in your data centre, wholesale migration to cloud is probably not for you at the moment.
Moving to cloud is in effect just another infrastructure migration project – with one further complication, which can make it three times as long and five times as complicated as you originally thought. The good news is that the technology decision is the easy part! Having helped many organisations implement various types of cloud over the last five years, and reviewed a range of different services, I’m happy to say that the actual platform you choose doesn’t really matter. Heresy, particularly from a managed cloud provider? Perhaps, but it’s based on practical experience and an in-depth knowledge of what’s out there in the market. Let me explain.
I believe there are four requirements for a successful move to cloud. First, you need a vision that everyone can understand and align to, as well as the compelling reason for the project to go ahead which I discussed earlier.
Second, you need to get people on board throughout the organisation, from commitment at the top to support from the team at the coal face. Change is always difficult and particularly with cloud, as your existing people will be worried that their jobs are at risk so may not fully commit to the project.
It may also be that you are migrating to cloud because you have existing people problems in your IT service delivery. If people are going to support the project, there’s got to be something in it for them, which generally means job security, new skills and hopefully recognition and increased salary. To help with this part of the plan, the SFIA provides an excellent model for IT staff alignment which will help you assess what capabilities you have and what you need, develop and retain staff and reduce project and operational risk. Communication is also vital. Too much is never enough, as your staff will always assume the worst when there is silence. Keep them informed throughout the change process.
Third, you need to get your processes aligned with the cloud provider; when dealing with the major public cloud providers, unless you are a huge company or the government, it is unlikely that they will change their existing processes to suit you.
An excellent starting point is a business and IT alignment review to ensure that your organisation has accurately defined the service levels it requires for the key operational processes that IT supports in order to fully understand their cost, performance and availability implications. We find many organisations operate their IT without defined and agreed service levels, or have defined service levels but no way of measuring them to ensure they are being met. Once you have defined what services you need, you need to decide which can usefully be provided via cloud and which to retain in-house. If migrating to cloud, you also need to ensure that your current IT operations processes are compatible with your chosen cloud provider.
The final stage is to choose which platform is best suited to your needs. And if you’ve done your preparation correctly, it really doesn’t matter which platform you choose, as all the technology is pretty good. We’ve looked at all the leading public cloud services and they’re all very capable, although billing models vary. It’s important to check the small print, particularly the SLAs offered, and remember that you will still need to monitor performance against the SLAs yourself to ensure you receive the contracted service.
Some legacy or bespoke services, or those where you need a non-standard SLA, may be difficult to transfer to a public cloud service. However, you can still potentially manage them from a single point.
So don’t be confused by all the providers constantly introducing new services. Microsoft, for example, introduced or updated more than 500 services on Azure last year. Begin with the vision, the people and the processes, and the platform decision should be straightforward.