Best practice for cloud migration

Cloud migration is a hot topic for SMEs at the moment. If it were a place it would be Death Valley, scorching hot. However, the danger of dealing with something so hot is that if you don’t plan your approach correctly, you’re likely to end up with your fingers burned. This is especially true during moments of high business stress, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, as companies can see the short-term wins of getting as much data off-premise as possible but may unwittingly take problematic short-cuts.

Of course, having your key business systems on the cloud brings tremendous benefits, such as remote worker flexibility, system availability, security and scalability. However, getting a robust and fully scrutinised plan in place before rushing into raising purchase orders will ensure that your cloud project is not only a success, but that you manage it without customer, staff or supplier impact.


What to migrate?

The first step of any cloud or digital transformation project is to look at your current systems and workloads and weigh up the benefits of moving each of them to the cloud. Consider your current bottlenecks or service issues – are you struggling with branch office or remote workers accessing your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system? If so, it is a prime candidate to move off-premise.

Spend time grading each system or workload so that you end up with a prioritised list, as this will then drive your other decisions such as cost and time planning.


Not everything can or should move

Whilst it may be a great goal to aim for, be realistic and remember that not all of your systems may be able to migrate to the cloud. Older line of business applications can be a sticking point, especially where vendors are not supporting the installation of these workloads in Azure or AWS. When you come across these sticking points, it’s sensible to add an item into your IT planning roadmap to re-evaluate these systems at a future date and consider other vendors or solutions that have a cloud-centric approach.


Hybrid has a place

Similarly, although it is rewarding to remove every single server from the office, there are times when having a local server to provide quick cached access to data, or the ability for seamless sign-on at a branch office with poor connectivity, can make the difference between a successful cloud migration project and a nightmare of stressed and upset end-users.
Being open to the possibility of re-using some physical equipment, as long as it’s in warranty and up to date, is a sensible mindset to have during the planning stage.


Assess your skills & tools

Before kicking off the cloud migration project, take a close look at the skills and tools you have internally. Your own in-house team may be the best suited people to move an internally developed system to the cloud, but they may be less suited to move your file shares or e-mail systems.

Where there is a skill gap, decide whether or not there is value in training your team to undertake this work. Unless you have numerous similar migrations to undertake, it’s likely to be the right time to engage a consultant or Managed Service Provider ( MSP) who are experts in this type of project and have the staff and tools to make it a success.


Cash is king

Make sure you budget appropriately for your cloud migration. Ensure you’ve accounted for software licensing costs – both one-off and ongoing, support charges, migration tool costs, external contractors, and of course the costs of the public or private cloud infrastructure.

Understand how the costs scale as you increase your workload or user count, to enable your future cost forecasting needs to be as accurate as possible.

Calculating the cost of the public cloud infrastructure is tricky even for experts, as some workloads behave differently once moved into the cloud, so on-premise metrics – while a decent guide – aren’t always perfect. As such, allow a contingency in the budget to cover the need to add extra resources to cloud if required.

Don’t stretch yourself too wide or thin, you’re better to over commit to a single cloud migration and come in with budget to spare than to try and push through multiple projects in a short time and get budget constrained if any of them run over.


Keep security front of mind

The strongest benefit of the cloud – data accessible from anywhere, any time – is also its biggest weakness, that’s if security isn’t factored in from the start. On the plus side, the planning stage of a cloud migration project is the perfect time to re-assess current IT and operational security to ensure that the cloud platform is as secure as possible. Multi factor authentication – MFA – should be mandatory on any sign-in platform that provides access to company data. Consider all your cloud workloads, along with future cloud plans, and see if there is a unified option for MFA that will work on all the platforms you plan to use. This makes IT security administration and support easier, plus the end users have less applications to deal with to gain access to the company cloud. Likewise, single sign-on – SSO – ensures the users have less passwords to remember and again makes the ongoing security administration easier. Most major cloud applications support the largest SSO providers such as MS Azure AD, Okta or OneLogin.


Plan the end

One mistake we see all too often is companies having a great plan for their cloud migration itself, but no plan for the steps afterwards. Ensure your plan has steps to make people responsible for monitoring the cloud platform, detail who the key support escalations are in case of future issues, and assign someone to review the migration to learn what could be improved and if there are any actions that may need to be taken that didn’t make the original plan.

Allocate a team member, or your external IT support, to document the new cloud platform as soon as possible to ensure all the key knowledge is captured.

Finally, once your project is complete you may well have retired several hardware devices. Make sure you have a plan to dispose of them securely and in an environmentally conscious way. Where devices contain hard disks, a certificate of destruction should be retained for each disk for at least 7 years in case of a data breach which could be attributed to poor data disposal practices.

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