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Cloud Migration: What to Know Before Moving to the Cloud

As the IT environment continues to evolve, many business owners are realizing it’s unreliable and risky behavior to host their company’s on-premise or legacy infrastructure from a local data center. As a solution, migration from on-site to the cloud is becoming increasingly popular, but it can also be confusing to navigate.

Cloud migration isn’t a simple flip of a switch, and a variety of factors need to be addressed before transitioning your business’ IT services. But, where do you start?

Entara, a Chicago-based IT managed services and IT service provider, has positioned itself as a leader in information technology that employs experts ready to help you navigate the world of IT.

Entara’s Mike Sanzo outlined several key factors to keep in mind when considering cloud migration. Sanzo, a Senior Systems Architect at Entara, holds certifications in MCSA: Cloud Platform and is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate. In this post, Sanzo will help you understand the basics of cloud services and what you need to know when preparing to move your IT infrastructure to cloud storage.

Understanding Cloud Services

Cloud services can be broken down into three main service categories. How you use each of these services as part of your overall cloud initiatives will affect the efficiency of your IT operations.

1. Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a service is essentially moving your physical servers into the cloud. Instead of servers running in your own (or rented) data center or wiring closet, they’re now running in a data center that’s owned and operated by Microsoft, Amazon, Google or another cloud company.

2. Platform as a Service

Beyond the physical location associated with infrastructure as a service, platform as a service allows you to let a cloud provider, such as Microsoft, provide the SQL Server. They’re going to create the databases on the server for you, and rather than maintaining them, you’ll just be accessing those databases.

In this case, there is no longer a need for you to manage the physical server. All you have to do is worry about managing the database. That’s platform as a service, where you have these backend services delivered to you.

3. Software as a Service

Software as a service is when a third-party provider hosts applications and makes them available to users online. Some of the most common applications for businesses include:

  • Email
  • Sales management
  • Human resource management
  • Billing
  • Financial management

Microsoft’s Office 365, Salesforce and Oracle are common software as a service providers.

Why Having a Solid Strategy is Imperative to a Successful Migration

Michael Sanzo | entara
Mike Sanzo | Senior Architect

Now that we’ve talked about the three main services available for cloud services, it’s time to discuss the next steps. You don’t want to just decide to migrate to the cloud without a plan; you’ll need to develop a sound strategy.

Before migration, it’s important that businesses develop a good cloud strategy focused on their line of business applications. After understanding what the approach will be, you can decide which of these three cloud service categories your applications are going to fall into.

You may need to use a multi-part strategy. In some instances, you will only need to move the infrastructure service, which entails moving all virtual machines (VMs) into the cloud.

Then, step two might involve taking an SQL Server that is currently running as a VM and moving it into platform as a service. As an example, this could be done through Amazon RDS, where Amazon’s now providing the SQL Server.

The key point here is you want to make sure not you’re not missing out on some of those cost and efficiency savings associated with a reduction in management overhead.

The Most Common Mistake During Cloud Migration

Some people make the mistake of saying, “Oh, we’re going to move to the cloud,” and they just move everything into infrastructure as a service. They move all of their VMs up to the cloud, and when that happens they’ve really missed out on a lot of the opportunity to reduce management costs and overhead, because they still have to manage all of those servers.

They’re doing infrastructure only, as opposed to including the platform and software. Planning how to best utilize the three categories of services, in addition to all the other aspects involved in cloud migration, is why we recommend businesses figure out what their cloud strategy is before they migrate their data. But first, you need to know what to look for:

1. Is Migrating to the Cloud Right for Our Business?

Before making any decisions on implementation, it’s important to decide if moving to the cloud is right for your business. There are some workloads that you wouldn’t move to the cloud. Entara has some clients in the financial industry, like trading firms, whose resources need to be located close to the market that they’re trading. It wouldn’t make sense for them to move to the cloud at full-scale.

However, things like processing financial simulations would be good to move to the cloud if they don’t need to be latency-sensitive, but rather need a great deal of horsepower on demand. Using a hybrid model that leverages on premise and cloud resources isn’t uncommon.

The other thing to consider would be timing. If your company recently made a major investment into on-premise infrastructure, it wouldn’t make sense to move to the cloud. What are you going to do with that if you move all of the servers off it, and put them in Azure or AWS?

2. Understanding the Real Costs of the Cloud

Many organizations do a poor job of analyzing whether they’re using on-premise infrastructure efficiently or not. They’re not going to get money back if they reduce the number of CPUs that they’re using. With the cloud, they’re going to be paying every hour for those resources. When people first started virtualizing, one of the things that we saw was everybody going crazy spinning up new VMs. They didn’t keep track of what was in use anymore, or who owned what, or when it could be turned off. It’s very important to have a system in place to keep track of:

  • who owns each of those systems?
  • when can they be turned off?
  • what are they doing?
  • are they part of production or not?

Having a plan in place that accommodates those factors can ensure that you’re not running infrastructure you don’t need anymore.

3. Licensing

There are cases where it makes sense to use the available software-licenses. Using Amazon as an example, let’s say you have a VM that isn’t very busy, you pay a little extra if you use more CPU.

Depending on what licensing an organization already has, you can either get a lower license cost or decide to bring your own license. Some of these things also apply when you start looking at third parties.

Consider this: If somebody stands up a Palo Alto firewall in the cloud, and you can get an Azure Palo Alto firewall off of their marketplace, it’s okay to use a pay-as-you-go model.

4. Your Internal Capabilities

Consider whether or not your company’s internal IT has the appropriate expertise to be able to analyze, make decisions and then execute and maintain the new cloud service initiatives involved in migration. As you analyze what you’re going to be using, you will learn what skill sets you need to have access to. Whether the skill sets are coming through a partner, or in-house, having that strategy is going to tell you what are the skill sets you need and when you need them.

5. Security

Sometimes a fear of the cloud’s security levels are overstated, but it can be eye-opening to see people who’ve transitioned forget about those concerns. It’s always important to understand how you’re going to secure everything upfront. Understanding that there is a place for some of the cloud native security features, there’s also a place for things that are added on to that.

In the security world they call that micro segmentation – providing the ability to lock things down inside. There’s a place for both. I think a lot of times people want to use the built-in tools, and they’re great, but understand that those are not a replacement for manual security tools. Using the tools together is going to provide assistance with a solid security foundation.

6. Availability

Microsoft and Amazon have built robust data centers backed by equally robust systems. Sometimes people assume that because their infrastructure is running on Microsoft/Amazon servers there is no need to establish redundancy. Unfortunately, these cloud data centers do still sometimes have outages and still require patching and maintenance.

If the service is truly uptime critical, you need to be able to accommodate the need for maintenance. For this reason, we still recommend establishing some sort of high availability solution. For example, in an Azure instance this might involve establishing availability sets; this guarantees they’re not going to run on the same physical host. When using cloud services, it’s still critical to establish backup solutions.

7. Understanding Where to Use a Partner like Entara

Knowing your in-house limitations and when to leverage the use of a partner like Entara should be part of your cloud strategy. If your infrastructure is managed by an internal IT team, your staff needs to understand the inner workings of Azure, AWS or wherever they happen to be going.

Alternatively, you can leverage a provider that already has the expertise for the upfront strategy work. Your strategy should be continually updated.

MSPs can also serve as fully outsourced IT departments for smaller firms. For firms of any size, the most cost effective solution for IT project work like a cloud migration is to utilize the bench strength and consulting capabilities of an MSP. Bringing in specialists whose sole focus is to optimize your environment will produce the best outcome.

It’s impractical for an organization to tackle a cloud migration in its entirety on their own. Position yourself for success in your cloud migration goals by understanding what you’re getting yourself into with the migration, having a sound strategy and leveraging people who have the expertise.