Cloud migration: Easy to start, harder to finish?

Cloud migration – a no-brainer? Yes…and no. Despite all its very real benefits, not everything should make its way onto the cloud. Developing a cloud migration strategy helps businesses evaluate which workloads will work best in the cloud and prepare for any complexities.

Cloud migration has become a leading objective for virtually all businesses, regardless of industry. If strategic, impactful business modernization is your organisation’s goal, cloud offers increased agility, enhanced security, better backup and recovery options, and greater cost efficiency. Furthermore, it allows organisations to pivot at short notice and to innovate more freely and effectively. At a time when data volumes are rising and workforces are becoming increasingly distributed, shifting workloads into the cloud has become the obvious path forward. 

Yet, despite its apparent benefits, not everything should make its way into the cloud. Part of developing a good cloud migration strategy is recognising which workloads will thrive in the cloud, and prioritising them accordingly. While it may be easy to ‘lift and shift’ certain apps or processes into the cloud, some workloads that deal with sensitive information or depend on legacy systems will need more care and attention. This is just one example of how complex cloud migration can be, and one of the key reasons many cloud adoption strategies stall mid-process. 

Stalling after the first hurdle

False starts and failed attempts are common when it comes to cloud adoption. The UK’s Ministry of Defence has just revised its cloud adoption strategy as it prepares to move sensitive data off-premise by 2025, highlighting the importance of remaining responsive and agile during the process. Put simply, the initial roadmap to cloud adoption will not always chart the most efficient path.  

Organisations should bear this in mind. According to a 2021 Gartner report titled ‘The UK: Cloud Migration, Governance and Cost Control Are the Most Frustrating Aspects of Public Cloud’, 79% of UK businesses agree that shifting their workloads into the cloud is a high priority, but almost a third report unsuccessful or ineffectively implemented cloud initiatives in the past three years. This issue is reflected worldwide – in McKinsey’s report, titled ‘Cloud-migration opportunity: Business value grows, but missteps abound’, it is estimated that £124 billion of wasted migration spend is expected over the next three years – a major inhibitor, and potential disincentive, to cloud adoption. Cloud adoption isn’t an event, it’s a process. So, what can organisations do to ensure that process isn’t just started, but finished in the right way?

Establishing a cloud migration strategy

Migration for migration’s sake can’t be the goal for organisations. Like all transformation processes, it needs to be executed with broader business objectives in mind. What is the current baseline situation? What legacy systems are involved? Which workflows are most important, and how is the workforce distributed?  Organisations need to identify the business goals that the cloud migration will support, determine the types of applications and data that will be migrated, and select the cloud service provider(s) that will best meet their needs. One of the best ways businesses can prepare for cloud migration – and devise the best migration strategy – is by using the Six R’s of Cloud Migration – a concept developed by Gartner analysts and later refined by AWS. 

The six R’s represent a framework designed to help organisations determine the best approach to migrating their applications and data to the cloud. Each of the 6 R’s represents a different migration strategy, and organisations must carefully evaluate each option to determine the approach most appropriate to them. 

Rehost (lift and shift): This approach involves migrating applications and data to the cloud without significantly changing the underlying architecture. Essentially, the application is “lifted and shifted” from the on-premises environment to the cloud. Rehosting is typically the quickest and least risky migration approach, but it may not take full advantage of the benefits of cloud-native technologies. This is where many businesses consider their cloud migration project ‘finished’, but in reality only scratches the surface of what’s possible. 

Refactor (re-architect): Refactoring involves making significant changes to the application architecture to take advantage of cloud-native technologies. This may include redesigning the application to use cloud-based services such as serverless computing or microservices. Refactoring can significantly improve scalability and agility but may be more time-consuming and complex than other migration approaches.

Revise: This approach involves making minor changes to the application to enable it to run in the cloud. This may involve updating the application code to take advantage of cloud-based APIs or services. The revised application is then migrated to the cloud, where it can take advantage of cloud-based scalability and other benefits.

Rebuild: Rebuilding involves completely redesigning and rebuilding the application from scratch using cloud-native technologies. This approach is typically used when the existing application is outdated or not well-suited to the cloud environment. Rebuilding can lead to significant improvements in performance and scalability but is also the most time-consuming and risky migration approach.

Replace: This involves replacing the existing application with a new cloud-based application that provides similar functionality. This may involve selecting a new application from a cloud-based marketplace or developing a new application from scratch.

Retain: Retaining involves keeping the existing application on-premises and not migrating it to the cloud. This approach is typically used when the existing application is critical to the organisation and cannot be migrated to the cloud for regulatory or technical reasons.

Going through this framework step by step, and pairing the right migration approach to the right app or workload, will help businesses carve out the most effective path toward ‘finishing’ their cloud migration process. 

Risk mitigation in cloud migration

Cloud migration is not without risk. More than half (56%) of organisations are hesitant to press forward with cloud migration due to security concerns around data loss and leakage. This is yet another reason many cloud migration processes stall after they have begun, and why many stop at the relatively easy ‘lift and shift’ stage. 

To mitigate these risks, organisations must ensure that they have appropriate security controls and security best practices in place. Chief among these is data encryption. By encrypting data before transferring it to the cloud, organisations can ensure that their data remains secure both in transit and at rest. Access controls are also essential for preventing unauthorised access to data during the cloud migration process, and should be established on the basis of ‘least privilege’ – this will ensure that data is only accessible on a ‘need to access’ basis as determined by employee roles and functions. Monitoring is also crucial for detecting and preventing data loss and leakage during cloud migration. Organisations should implement real-time monitoring of their cloud infrastructure and applications to detect any unauthorised access or data leakage. By implementing logging and auditing, they can track all activity related to their data.

When it comes to cloud migration, preparation is king. Rushing into an ad-hoc migration process will result in failures and false starts, and will see the migration process stall after some initial ‘lift and shift’ work. While there are some benefits to be gained here, securing a bright and sustainable future in the cloud requires more planning and greater alignment with overall business objectives. With careful planning, building the right relationships with the right vendors and partners, and doing what they can to minimise risk, organisations can ensure a smooth and seamless transition to the cloud in a way that delivers on its true potential. 

Surbhi heads the Digital Engineering Practice at Apexon. She helps enterprises define their IT strategy, architecture vision & roadmap. Surbhi has extensive experience in the domains of Telecom and Public Health and has led many large digital transformation programs in these domains. She enjoys building and mentoring architect teams and taking products and solutions from concept to deployment.

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