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It’s all about the strategy 

When it comes to moving to the cloud, taking the time to create a proper strategy is essential if you are to realise the full benefits of the move, says Chad Epstein, Cloud Migration Practice Lead, Synthesis Software Technologies.  

Cloud has truly become the technology du jour, with cloud usage having grown to 90% of respondents to a recent study, and 48% saying they plan to migrate half or more of their apps into the cloud in 2022.1 Indeed, moving to the cloud is increasingly seen as a no-brainer, and CIOs are often finding themselves being mandated to move into the cloud by the board or executive team.  

But what we hear less about is that a startlingly high percentage of cloud migrations fail—according to one study, up to 74% of respondents had to reverse a cloud migration back into their on-premise environment.2 

“The reason for these failures, and an all-too-frequent scenario in which the real benefits of a move to the cloud are not realised, is simply that the move is made without proper planning,” says Epstein.  

First, CIOs must be clear on what the benefits of moving to the cloud are. The best way to conceptualise this is to see the move as one from a hardware-defined to a software-defined environment. Applications are where business value is created, so it makes sense to move into the cloud environment, which is much more flexible from the user’s point of view. The corollary of that is that the IT environment becomes flexible and scalable in a way that an on-premise one can never be.  

Lift and shift, or modernise?  

The cloud is often seen as a way to reduce costs, but the reality is much more complex. If the intention is simply to move existing infrastructure and applications into the cloud—lift and shift—then there may be cost savings (often it may end up being even more expensive) and the migration itself is usually faster and simpler. But if that’s all one does, the true benefits of the cloud of flexibility, scalability and reliability are, in fact, lost as well as the potential for far greater cost savings. This is  especially true for legacy applications that could be  broken down into smaller components to allow for granular resource allocation. For example, the payment portion of an application might need more resources than the beneficiary portion. If they cannot be separated out, one loses flexibility and the opportunity to optimise costs by optimising resource allocation.  

Another example might be the lost opportunity to move to managed services with the cloud provider. If an application is  not using native cloud services, IT would have to continue to manage and maintain the software the application runs on , whereas an app designed for the cloud could largely be managed by the provider, removing an onerous but essential item off IT’s to-do list.  

The ultimate goal, therefore, should be to modernise the existing applications so that the company can gain the flexibility and scalability of the cloud. There may be a case for a lift-and-shift operation at first to meet budgetary constraints or to build internal confidence in the cloud, but the end goal should always be to modernise, or the benefits of cloud will remain forever out of reach.  

Get the migration right 

Once the organisation understands what the benefits of a move to the cloud truly are, and what it hopes to achieve, then it’s time to move onto the actual migration. Like any big project, the key to a successful cloud migration is to plan it carefully.  

“Most of the problems come from moving too soon, because a move into the cloud is disruptive and affects the whole organisation, so make sure everyone is involved in the process,” says Epstein. “As a basic principle, based on our past experience, a big-bang approach is to be avoided; small steps based on a proof of concept make much more sense.” 

CIOs should follow four basic steps when creating and implementing their cloud migration strategy:  

Assess. This step flows on from the discussion about the benefits and what the organisation hopes to achieve. Here, the CIO and their business colleagues collectively need to establish how ready the organisation is for the cloud, and what new roles need to be created. For example, should a central cloud team be created?  

The decision about whether to begin with a lift-and-shift operation or to modernise first would now be taken.  

Mobilise. During this phase, all the relevant parts of the organisation are prepared.  

Another important issue to resolve is how the organisation is going to connect to the cloud securely, and what the workloads are going to be. If the user experience isn’t at least comparable to what the on-premise system delivered, the cloud will be judged unfavourably. It is also necessary at this point to establish a well-architected, baseline cloud environment that is shared across the organisation 

A crucial part of this phase is to plan the cutover of data and users to the cloud. For non-critical applications and data, the migration can be done during a down period, but for critical or global applications, the cutover will have to take place on the fly. It is vital that the cutovers are meticulously planned and tested to ensure that, when they occur during the next phase, they actually work It’s surprising how often this vital testing step is omitted, with dire results.Build, migrate, modernise. This is when all the planning is turned into action. As noted above, the timing of the modernisation might vary depending on the organisation, but it should remain the end goal in order to achieve the benefits of moving to the cloud in the first place.  

Operate and Optimise. Never make the mistake of thinking that moving into the cloud is the end. The CIO must plan how the application is going to be maintained in the cloud and continuously gather metrics to validate the business values achieved such as: reduced unplanned downtime, increased staff productivity, agility to deliver more features sooner and lower operational costs. The cloud also requires a new set of skills, so the CIO must ensure that any skills needed in-house are acquired.  

“The whole point of the cloud is that it gives the company the flexibility to adapt to changing market conditions, so one should see the Operate and Optimise phase as perhaps the most important of all, because it is here that the benefits will be realised,” Epstein ends.  

Planning and accomplishing a successful cloud migration, and then managing the cloud environment, is highly complex, with many pitfalls. Working alongside an experienced partner makes a lot of sense, and Synthesis has the track record to make it your partner of choice which is why AWS awarded Synthesis as its Consulting Partner of the Year – SSA 2021.The software development company was among the first Partners in the AWS Partner Network (APN) from the region to achieve the AWS Financial Services Consulting Competency and the AWS DevOps Consulting Competency designations. Overall, it has more than 200 cloud certifications, among them AWS SaaS Partner, with expertise in offering APN Immersion Days and conducting AWS Well-Architected reviews; AWS Security Consulting Competency; and the AWS Microsoft Workloads Consulting Competency. 

Synthesis also has a training academy where the organisation’s IT and business staff can acquire the necessary skills to manage the cloud environment going forward.  

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