“Should we move our apps to the cloud?”

Well-meaning executives have been asking their CIOs and Directors of IT this question for several years now, often right after coming back from a conference or speaking with peers who extol the virtues of cloud migration. A tension develops as the executive expects a one-word reply (“Yes” or “No”, and usually preferably “Yes”), but the technology leader knows the answer is much more complicated than that.

Here’s the reality: while a 2019 survey by Flexera indicated that 94% of respondents have at least one service in cloud, very few companies have migrated everything, or even plan to in the near future. In a 2020 survey by CloudCheckr, 98% of IT leaders said they still maintain some services on-premises. That means that only 2% are fully in the cloud – a number that those same leaders expect to grow to just 3% in the next two years.

So to answer the original question – yes, you should be using the cloud for at least some of your services. And you might be without even realizing it. But it’s not a simple on/off switch. There are many factors to consider – from both a technical perspective and a business perspective.

As for technical questions, there are three factors at the highest level: delivery model, service model, and migration model. Deciding on a delivery model means choosing between using a public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid model. And along with each of these, there is also the idea of multi-cloud – whether to go with a single vendor like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, or to leverage both strategically as technical needs dictate.

Service model describes the product you’ll be using to maintain your cloud service. The options are:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), where the vendor only handles storage, servers, and networking. This allows the greatest degree of flexibility while requiring a higher level of expertise.
  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS), where the vendor manages everything, including the application itself. Your flexibility is limited to configurations built into the app.
  • Platform-as-a-service (PaaS), a middle-of-the-road approach, that gives you control over applications and data and leaves the rest of the infrastructure to your vendor.

Lastly, there is migration method. The choices here are commonly called the “6 R’s”: Retain, Retire, Rehost, Replatform, Repurchase, Refactor. Those who see cloud migration as the flip of a switch, envision that every migration as a rehost, which is also called “lift and shift”. Rarely can an organization lift and shift their entire app portfolio to cloud and call it a day. It’s a viable option for some workloads, but others will need a bit more effort than that.

In many cases you need to make these decisions on a service-by-service basis. You may want to replace a legacy CRM with a SaaS application, while refactoring a separate custom app so that it can run nicely on a cloud IaaS model. It’s rare that you’ll take the same approach across your entire technology landscape.

If that’s not enough, we haven’t even considered which vendors to go with yet! But that can be a decision left for another day.

Now if you’re an IT leader, you may have asked yourself a lot of these questions already and developed a plan – or at least some opinions – on how to proceed. But the discussion doesn’t end when the technical specs are decided. Business users need to weigh in as well – both leadership and the employees who use these systems every day.

Some of the business considerations that might go into a cloud migration strategy include:

  • Mission criticality. How important is the app or service in question? Will migrating it to a cloud environment sooner than others have a positive impact on the business?
  • Maintenance costs. Is the application consuming a low percentage of resources on a high maintenance on-premises server? Cloud’s pay-as-you-go consumption pricing might save you significant expense.
  • Business processes. In talking to the people that use this application every day, how fit for purpose is it? Instead of expending effort to ready it for a cloud environment, should the incumbent application be replaced with a SaaS solution?
  • Integration. It seems like an IT question, but it affects business users just as much. When moving services around, you may want to consider moving tightly integrated services at the same time. Aside from the impacts of breaking functionality, a temporarily lost integration can introduce new manual processes to compensate.
  • Regulatory & compliance concerns. Confidence is increasing in cloud security, however some regulators and auditors are still uneasy about it in certain situations. If you’re in a highly regulated field like finance or healthcare, involve your compliance officer in the planning process.

Your cloud migration strategy should specify which workloads will move to cloud, when they will move, and how you will move them. It will lay out any planned migrations in a prioritized chronology based on all of the business and technical factors considered.

Now, take a look at your organization’s approach to cloud adoption. Is it predominantly IT-driven? It may run the risk of not delivering the right level of business impact. Rather, is it predominantly business-driven? It may be too pie-in-the-sky, not grounded in reality.

Ultimately, discussions around cloud migration strategy should be led by someone who can speak to both the business and technical sides, taking each of their concerns into account when developing the plan. Approaching it from both sides will give you the best chance of project success while delivering meaningful business outcomes.

Trilix works with companies to develop cloud application migration strategies. Reach out if you’re having trouble figuring out your migration plan!

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