The Rolling Stones may not have been fans of cloud computing, but for today’s modern businesses of all sizes, cloud computing has become an integral part of the overall workflow and a critical piece of technology to leverage. Migrating IT functionality to the cloud has become standard operating procedure for many companies and for good reason. While in general most companies benefit significantly by leveraging cloud computing for their business, not all applications and/or companies are suitable for cloud migration.
Cloud migration is the process of moving applications, data, and other components hosted on servers inside an organization to a cloud-based infrastructure. There are several potential benefits from switching from in-house solutions (which usually requires company owned and managed servers along with the IT staff required to keep the servers up and running) to a cloud-based solution:
- Cost Savings – Obviously, if you can move portions of your company’s IT portfolio to the cloud, there are fewer servers to own and maintain and less rent to pay for a in-house datacenter. This can result in a significant overall cost reduction, as you transition from a “capital expenditure model” (CapEx) to an “operational expenditure model” (OpEx). Often, even with the monthly/yearly fees and licenses required to maintain a particular cloud-computing capability, the move to the cloud can still result in significant cost savings and other values to the business that make the move well worthwhile. An important, if somewhat nebulous, metric to consider is the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a particular asset. More on this below.
- Agility, Speed, Scalability – Once an IT asset has been moved to the cloud, the company is better positioned to respond quickly and efficiently to changing business or customer requirements. If you need more storage, you can quickly obtain this through your cloud provider – no more need to buy, configure, and maintain in-house hardware.
- Bundled Services – Cloud service providers typically have many different services they can offer your business. Once you’ve re-hosted some apps with a given cloud provider, it is very likely that they can suggest additional services that will add value to your company.
- Resource Availability – Since many businesses now rely on cloud computing as a core part of their day-to-day business, the cloud environment has become extremely stable, with very little downtime. Most of these cloud providers have redundant assets that maximizes their uptime and specify expected uptimes in their Service License Agreements (SLAs), which are typically on the order of “four 9s”, or 99.99% uptime. (This is what AWS currently specifies). Also, since your IT asset now truly resides in the cloud, employees, contractors, and executives can easily reach the asset from virtually any geographical location and/or device.
- Security Issues – For many small and medium sized businesses, it can be a real advantage to not have to deal with security issues in-house. All top cloud platforms provide significant security features and flexibility to satisfy the requirements of many businesses. They also provide for backups, upgrades, and security patching for even more convenience. However, cloud-based security may also present a significant problem for certain companies – see below.
Are there any disadvantages to migrating?
Of course there are potential disadvantages to migrating parts of your business to the cloud. These are highly enterprise-dependent, so each enterprise will need to weigh the potential downside to see if cloud migration makes good business sense. Some of the disadvantages to cloud migration include:
- Change is hard – Any sort of major change tends to produce anxiety in people and the same applies to businesses. Migrating day-to-day business activities to the cloud will require some new processes and some level of failure is to be expected as the new processes ramp up and solidify. Employees may need special training and upper management must be fully onboard with the required budget, planning, and patience in order to realize a successful migration.
- Security Issues – While there may be some advantages to moving parts of your IT security to the cloud, doing so may not be appropriate for all enterprises. You will lose significant control over your cloud-based applications and data and for especially company sensitive or proprietary information, this may not be acceptable. Also, if your company needs to (or is required to) support specific security certifications and compliances, your cloud provider may or may not be able to provide them out of the box.
- Lost short-term productivity – While coming up to speed on the new cloud-based applications, some productivity may be lost in the short-term. Mistakes and technical issues will arise and will likely cause downtimes and frustration by the team. A good migration plan and following some best practices will minimize much of this pain.
Is company size an important factor in cloud migration?
Larger, more established companies will typically have more IT infrastructure and internal processes in place than smaller, newer companies. As a result, cloud migration is perfectly suited to these newer, smaller companies, which haven’t yet invested in infrastructure. The ability to be fully up and running with a given (cloud-based) IT asset in a matter of days (or even hours) usually provides significant value in both the short and long term. Larger organizations may also want to migrate much of their IT to the cloud, but the process will be more complex, as internal processes are examined for suitability. Various teams may need to be involved (such as the IT teams and the Network Security teams). The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a given IT asset becomes an important metric when deciding about cloud migration.
What is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and how does it affect my cloud migration plans?
The TCO represents an attempt to quantify the total cost difference between hosting a particular IT asset in-house versus migrating the asset to the cloud. It typically takes into account 3 types of costs:
- Capital Expenses (CapEx) – These represent the hardware costs associated with purchasing required servers and other equipment, along with initial software purchases. This will be large for hosting in-house and zero for hosting in the cloud.
- Operational Expenses (OpEx) – These are the recurring costs needed to keep the asset available. The cloud provider will typically charge service and support fees, and you may need to pay for some sort of training of employees to become in-house experts on the asset. Paying rent for an in-house datacenter would also fall under this category.
- Indirect Costs – These are the costs the company assigns for improved or degraded performance of the asset when moving to the cloud. If the cloud-based service is more agile and responsive to changing business needs, this represents an actual cost savings for the company. These costs are difficult to quantify but are critical in the overall assessment of TCO. The other advantages of cloud migration mentioned above all need to be evaluated and an attempt made to quantify cost savings over the expected life of the asset.
How do I know which apps are good candidates for the cloud?
Apps that are good candidates for the cloud tend to share some or all of these following characteristics:
- The app must make sense in terms of TCO, with particular emphasis placed on the value of agility/flexibility gained by the cloud
- The app must function reliably over multiple time-zones and geographic locations to accommodate mobile employees
- The app does not use highly sensitive company proprietary data. If it does, then the security policies of the cloud provider become critical in the decision to migrate
- The app uses extensive resources (memory and/or CPU) that might benefit from the larger infrastructure and flexibility provided by a cloud environment
- The app is new and is not yet supported by in-house infrastructure
Broadly speaking the following classes of apps are typically considered good candidates for migrating to the cloud:
- Company email
- Project management
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Unified communication and collaboration tools
- Accounting and Finance
Apps that may not be good candidates for the cloud include:
- Apps that involve highly sensitive data of any kind – company proprietary, patient health information, customer financial information. Migrating these apps to the cloud must be undertaken with a complete understanding of legal and ethical requirements and how the cloud provider satisfies these requirements.
- Apps that are highly performance sensitive – Hosting these apps in-house provides more control over network loading and conditions and tuning the app in the cloud may not be sufficient.
- Apps that access large databases may have performance issues in the cloud.
Should my business phone and Unified Communications be in the cloud?
Again, this is very enterprise dependent. Larger established companies have likely already invested much time and money into their on-premise phone system infrastructure which will make the TCO calculation more difficult to support cloud-based communications. Companies with green-field deployments will likely find UC (Unified Communications) in the cloud to be a very attractive option, as it requires no significant capital outlay.
While it’s certainly possible to pay for only the most basic phone services with a cloud provider, it’s becoming less and less common for companies to do so. This is due to the rise of UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service). Most companies find great value in many of the bundled services UCaaS provides such as VoIP phones, instant messaging, web and video conferencing, screen sharing, CRM integration, and more.
But how do I make sure I’m always connected to the cloud?
A cost effective SD-WAN solution will provide broadband and cellular bonding devices that combine disparate broadband sources (WAN, cellular, satellite, MPLS) to ensure that there is always a high-quality connection to the cloud. If one asset fails or deteriorates, the Mushroom device will intelligently compensate and utilize the additional assets with no interruption to the end-user experience.
Rob Stone, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of Broadband Bonding appliances that put your networks on auto-pilot. Application flows are intelligently routed around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss. Network problems are solved even before you can notice.