Preparing for a move to the cloud

A step-by-step process to help you maximise the benefits of cloud computing

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. Five essential characteristics of cloud computing are on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured service. These benefits can be of great value to organisations who are prepared to make use of them, but it’s important to determine first if cloud computing really is a suitable fit for your business, and how you can best leverage it. The following is a step by step process to help you do this…

Step 1: Understand why and what you want to move to Cloud.

Organisations planning to move their business, or a part of it, to the cloud should first identify the pain areas, both business and technical, that they are looking to address by moving to the cloud. For example, to replace ageing infrastructure, provide better infrastructure availability, to enable scalable architecture, maximise the efficiency of resources, capitalise on opportunities to automate, or assist with disaster recovery.  There may well be multiple benefits that you can identify, and it’s important to do this early so can you focus your strategy on these areas.

Step 2: Conduct Market Research and Shortlist Solutions

A quick market scan should provide a solid snapshot of the solutions available in the market. These will be dependent on the service model you are looking to leverage, whether it’s Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Data as a Service (DaaS) or a combination of the above. These services can provide many and varied benefits, so ensure you understand them, and research the best products available in market for each.

Step 3: Perform Proof of Concept (PoC)

The next step should be to perform a Proof of Concept (PoC). This will provide you with the opportunity to understand the solution offering in detail, and assist you to shortlist one or more solution providers. Rather than opting for a full-fledged PoC, focus on functions or areas that are not business critical, but would provide some immediate benefits if migrated to the cloud. For example, migrating or replicating your customer facing website would carry less risk than moving a billing or payment system. Selection of the right environment for your PoC can be instrumental in building stakeholder engagement, laying the foundation for a strong business case, and increasing your chances of a successful move to the cloud.

Step 4: Manage Proof of Concept (PoC)

Once you’ve decided on the scope of your PoC, it’s important to have a strong project management approach to govern it. Be clear on your timeline, your requirements, and your anticipated benefits, defining them all up front. Organisations should always plan for success but should be prepared to fail as this is an exploratory phase in uncharted territory. The PoC should be seen not only as a phase to build the business case but also an opportunity to learn about these new technologies. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm and ensure you document key decisions, resolutions to any issues faced, and any other knowledge gained through the PoC process. This information will be invaluable during the implementation of future phases.

A timeline of data-points can really help identify inefficiencies or failings in a project which need to be remedied. Often benefits realisation can be impacted by factors external to the organisation, such as activities of government, competitors and customers. These factors can and should be incorporated into measurement and reporting, and taken into account when determining whether the project is still viable.

It is essential that measurement of benefits continues past the go-live and continues until the end of any period used in the business case to justify project initiation and return on investment.

Step 5: Understand Billing

Most of the cloud service providers charge based on the usage of their resources and services. In order to help choose a cloud provider, and avoid any unexpected bills, understand the different providers billing models and plan to switch off resources when not in use. This is even more important if the resources are configured for high availability or Disaster Recovery mode.

Step 6: Build Business Case

Build a business case based on the results and learnings from the PoC phase. Ensure it covers availability, service level, security, auto-scaling and disaster recovery requirements, and pay particular attention to upfront costs versus pay per use costs. You should also look to include a comparison of your current state versus your planned cloud implementation and ensure it will address the pain areas you’ve identified.

Step 7: Plan Future Phases

Once your business case has been approved, you should plan out an appropriate migration strategy, ensuring it is broken down into phases so it is easier to manage. Aim to prioritise migration activities for areas that will deliver the most benefit to the organisation, and will carry the least risk.

Step 8: Manage Scope

Just like the implementation of any other technology project, new problems, ideas and solutions will become apparent as you progress on your cloud journey. Ensure that these things are well documented and communicated, always being mindful of their cost and scope impacts. A strong, well informed, governance function should be tasked with making decisions on scope and solution changes, but they will need as much information as possible in order to evaluate and prioritise these changes against your cloud strategy.

Step 9: Continuous Improvement

Understand that your initial cloud migration will not be perfect. Ensure you anticipate any potential issues and, where possible, utilise multiple availability zones and regions. Remember that it will take time to realise a highly effective cloud strategy. Plan ongoing reviews and be prepared for the need for improvements to be carried out over time.

Ultimately the success of your cloud strategy will be determined by how effectively it solves your business problems. However, a brilliantly conceived strategy that is poorly planned and executed will only serve to cause more problems than it solves.

More thinking