With public cloud end-user spending forecast to grow 23% in 2021, global cloud computing growth shows no signs of slowing. Largely driven by digital transformation, 5G adoption, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), as well as the pandemic, large enterprises have led the way in cloud adoption. However, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are now mirroring their larger counterparts to emerge as one of the fastest-growing cloud migration segments.
In what is turning into a race to the cloud, SMEs are increasingly looking to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure as their preferred choices – with Azure being particularly attractive to them. This is especially true for SMEs that already rely heavily on Microsoft solutions. Aside from delivering a seamless experience with Microsoft server products, Azure Active Directory provides a link for cloud services, making the move to Azure a natural choice. A key financial benefit offered by Azure to current Windows Server and SQL Server clients is to provide them with the ability to use these licenses in the cloud at no additional cost.
The race to the cloud: hurdles and opportunities
Reaping the same cloud migration advantages as large enterprises, SMEs are benefitting from reducing or completely eliminating a large capital outlay for hardware. The cloud enables them to better control costs, improve efficiency with fewer resources, and gain the flexibility to scale up or down as demand requires. In addition, cloud applications and services make it easier for companies to support remote workforces, which as we continue to work through the pandemic has become a key necessity. Moreover, transitioning to the cloud provides businesses with immediate access to the latest technology and cutting-edge tools, giving them a solid foundation for growth and forward-looking IT strategies.
On the other hand, some SMEs hesitate to make the move to the cloud for a variety of reasons. Cloud contracts and cost models can be complex, and the right-sizing of the cloud is important to guard against unpredictable costs and bill spikes. Additionally, there are data transfer charges and SMEs who have limited internal IT expertise could feel overwhelmed by the task of migrating data to the cloud. As an example, for compliance reasons, an egress charge is typically added when moving data between regions.
However, one of the main reasons that SMEs are reluctant to transfer their data and applications to the cloud is a perceived loss of control. Primarily stemming from endless reports of ransomware and other cyberattacks, SMEs question whether the cloud is secure. To some, keeping their applications and data in the local server room seems safer, while moving to the cloud awakens considerable data protection questions such as giving up control of their systems’ liability to a third party.
The truth is, if done correctly, migrating to the cloud can actually improve an organisation’s security level. Cloud providers and third-party vendors alike have developed sophisticated security solutions and are constantly improving them to mitigate threats. By using the available security tools and services in combination with support from an experienced IT partner, SMEs can put in place a comprehensive cyber security strategy.
But moving to the cloud takes forethought and planning. For a successful migration, businesses should take into consideration the following five strategies.
- Secure a professional with proven experience
Shifting your infrastructure to the cloud is a complex task and not one that should be handled without cloud migration expertise. A trusted managed service provider (MSP) can help you make the right decisions on a number of matters, including when to migrate, which parts of your infrastructure to move to the cloud, and how it can be done with the least disruption. Additionally, make sure the MSP has strong security capabilities, as well as the necessary knowledge to put in place the security controls needed to meet your specific requirements. Before selecting an MSP partner, ensure they have proven experience in cloud migrations, and take a look at their pricing model(s). This will help you to determine if their pricing is transparent and predictable or whether you’ll need to plan for cost fluctuations.
- Create a strategic migration plan
Work towards creating a 3-5 year plan with your MSP for transitioning hardware and applications to the cloud. By working together you’ll have the opportunity to review your business goals to determine which parts of your business would run more effectively in the cloud, then consider each application individually to determine migration timing. It’s important to remember that cloud migration isn’t a ‘one and done’ initiative, but rather a series of events that will span on-premise, the cloud, and hybrid.
- Simplify migration with a step approach
By its very nature, the cloud can be optimised and adjusted over time. Initially, it will be important to focus on easier migration executions. For example, by moving servers to the cloud-first they can be monitored, and adjustments made before migrating applications or moving users to Azure Virtual Desktop.
- Incorporate change management initiatives
Moving your infrastructure to the cloud will change how end-users access and use applications, which makes it important to keep communication channels open. To keep staff informed and effectively manage expectations, communications will need to be carefully planned. Additionally, spend time to understand how the user experience will be different and plan for adequate training to ensure that staff will be able to work efficiently within the new infrastructure. Draw on your MSP’s expertise to help navigate this process, provide user training, and develop documentation. It’s also beneficial to use this time to revisit security basics and provide employees with security awareness training.
- Implement a strong security strategy
The importance of implementing a strong security strategy can’t be stressed enough. Since Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers don’t cover data protection and recovery out of the box, you’ll need additional data protection measures that meet your requirements. For instance, Azure Data Redundancy, which is provided free of charge, doesn’t store historical data nor does it provide automated recovery. Alternatively, Azure Site Recovery provides the ability to recover from a historical backup point beyond 72 hours – which may or may not meet your data recovery times and recovery points objectives.
For true business continuity, it’s best to distribute risk by performing cloud backups both within Azure and to a separate private cloud. This ensures that your operations remain up and running and provides the ability to restore them quickly if something does go wrong – even in the case of an Azure outage. Further to the point, work with your MSP on implementing a third-party business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) solution. Developed specifically for the public cloud, these solutions offer additional security measures such as ransomware detection and data deletion defences. Regardless of whether the workloads reside on-premise or in the cloud, a BCDR strategy ensures reliable data recovery in the event of deletion, corruption or a ransomware attack.
Migrating to the cloud can be a key driver in modernising business practices, facilitating continued remote working, and improving collaboration, performance, and security. When handled correctly, cloud migration will optimise your infrastructure and open up new opportunities. The key to a successful migration is to plan carefully and onboard a trusted MSP that has the necessary cloud migration expertise.