As the global cloud computing market surges towards the $130 billion mark, most businesses will have at least begun to think about migrating elements of their tech to the cloud.

The preferred model – at least in concept – is a hybrid network. A successful migration to a hybrid cloud architecture will enable you to keep your bespoke legacy applications and secure your most sensitive data on-premise. At the same time, you will be able to avail yourself of the plethora of applications and services that run in the cloud.

So the story goes.

However, there is a huge caveat. Cloud migration is complex at the best of times and configuring a hybrid cloud that works is the most intricate challenge of all – after all, every business is completely unique.

Stripping away the tempting sales patter, here is a more realistic appraisal of the cloud migration journey – and some tips for surviving it unscathed.

Bumps on the Road

There is a big difference between a ‘paper migration’ and the real thing. Even small migrations, such as moving from an on-site Exchange server to a cloud-based SaaS service such as Office 365 is more challenging that it looks. In fact, a provider of IT support Los Angeles based DCG Inc., highlighted five potential problems with this migration alone.

If you are one of the majority of businesses envisioning a hybrid cloud, be aware that sharing workloads between your private and public clouds may not be as easy as you imagine. Some businesses have found that cross-cloud collaboration becomes difficult because one set of employees have access to a wider set of features than another. There is also the headache of updating company policies to reflect a different way of collaborating.

In some nightmare scenarios, businesses have found the problems insurmountable and ended up running double the number of workloads at double the cost. That is not what hybrid is supposed to be about.

Worse still, when they have decided to change strategy and jump into the public cloud with both feet, they find that the big cloud providers (AWS, Azure and GCP) only provide on-premise-to-cloud migration assistance; hybrid to cloud is not an option.

Then there is the misconception that you can simply move all of your assets from on-premise to cloud and they will just work.

How many applications do you intend to lift and shift into the cloud in this way? 

If you were thinking all of them – or the vast majority – prepare for a wake-up call. If you are fortunate, around a quarter will run in the cloud ‘as is’ without any problem. The others will need to be either re-platformed, re-built from scratch or decommissioned completely.

Smoothing the Path

Enough of the negativity.

Just be aware that an aggressive, impulsive cloud migration strategy is likely to backfire and leave you in a spaghetti-junction like tangle.

On the other hand, a strategic, measured migration approach will get you from A to B with much less risk of detours and false starts.

In terms of applications, it is wise to ruthlessly audit them. If there are viable SaaS alternatives in the cloud, they will likely be better and cheaper anyway so create a roadmap to take those applications out of action.

Your slimline application estate will then need to be fully mapped in terms of each application’s dependencies because this will determine the order in which they should be migrated and whether migration is possible at all. 

Often, you will be able to re-platform an app for your chosen cloud service but if an app is vital to your business and you can’t migrate it, you will need to make provisions to run it on an independent network. Better still, get your DevOps team to build a new cloud-native app and decommission the existing one.

If we’ve scared you away from the hybrid cloud approach, it’s time to backtrack and take a fresh look. 

If you are not averse to placing your business with Amazon, Microsoft or Google, all three now offer a complete hybrid solution with virtualisation software running on top of your on-premise hardware. Microsoft Azure Stack has a head start in this area but AWS Outposts is an attractive option for those businesses happy for Amazon to set up, configure and manage AWS hardware in their own data centers.

Then there’s Google with the fascinating Anthos project which levers Kubernetes to enable workloads and applications to be run across private and public clouds – a true multi-cloud solution (if you don’t mind being locked into GCP of course!)

Why Consultancy is the Key

Of course, all of the public cloud providers above, engaged as they are in a war for hearts and minds, will promote their hybrid cloud solution as the best for your use case. That’s where vendor-neutral consultancy comes in.

A good consultant will have a broad field of vision that encompasses not just technology infrastructure but also data management, policy standardisation, business communication and overall strategy.

A consultant should also have strong partnerships with a wide range of cloud service providers because this will provide an important balance between accessing cost-saving partner deals and avoiding bias in the sales pitch. Beware any attempt to lock you in to a specific vendor unless there are real valid reasons that make sense for your business.

Even better consultants should be able to help with the migration itself. Proud IT personnel may balk at this idea but migration is a difficult horse to ride. Even DevOps specialists who live and breathe the cloud are likely to find the scope of a full-scale migration overwhelming.

As DCG Inc, providers of IT consulting in LA, puts it: “Many businesses…believe that they can do the entire migration process without the assistance of experts. However, without proper guidance, you may run into problems that can harm vital business operations.”

In addition to professional consultancy, speak to other companies who have traveled the journey. What experiences have they had? What advice can they give?

After Migration: Monitoring and Managing 

One of the biggest shocks that companies get when moving to the cloud is that their resource allocation is not automated by design. They may find they spend a lot of time managing virtual machines to avoid excessive charges.

Fortunately, there are a few routes they can take. Technically strong businesses can embrace containerisation and microservices, using Kubernetes-based orchestration services. These are offered by all of the public cloud providers (e.g. Azure AKS, AWS EKS, or Google’s GKE). 

Even better, the Istio service mesh promises to bring multiple microservices together into an overarching system which provides secure communications and in-depth monitoring. You’ve probably noticed a pattern in the way Google is leveraging Kubernetes to gain power in the cloud – but that’s another story.

For those businesses happy to outsource their IT completely, a cloud-based managed IT services provider is likely the way to go. Consulting is once again advisable to ensure the SLA is set up to protect your business.

In conclusion, when it comes to the cloud, the journey really is almost as important as the destination itself.

Taking the right migration path will help you to safely arrive in that promised land of elastic consumption, real-time reliability, industry-leading security and unlimited scalability.