What exactly are the benefits of moving services to the cloud and adopting a Cloud First strategy? One of the main reasons is to get better cost management and that usually leads to cost reductions. Running on an op-ex model eliminates any large cap-ex outlays and while those outlays are usually planned at three or five year refresh cycles, the nature of the industry can mean they are unpredictable. The natural elasticity of the cloud enables you to grow and shrink your consumption based on business, project and customer demand and avoids the risk of making a large investment in an undersized or oversized solution that you’re then stuck with.
Another key benefit of moving services to the cloud is to free your internal IT personnel resources to focus on enhancing IT services leading to increased business productivity. If your IT department isn’t spending much of its time supporting the current infrastructure or “keeping the lights on”, then they can become of far more value to the business by becoming a business enabler, rather than a business inhibitor as is often the case.
Many cloud providers have technologies that can be used to enhance the services that you transition over to them, of which your business will benefit from. Things such as SIEM, machine learning, automation and Artificial Intelligence (A.I) can offer some real value but are too complex or cost prohibitive to deploy on-premise.
Alongside these key drivers other benefits include: complementing or helping with a lack of in-house skills, avoiding issues by sharing the risk of a project with your IT team and the cloud provider and realising new and more secure technologies as they are adopted by the cloud providers.
But There’s Always Downsides…
As is often the case with using a new architecture or platform, there are newly introduced risks to be aware of and ‘gotcha’s’ to look out for when moving to the cloud. A fundamental one is security. As while many cloud providers offer very secure services and facilities, the nature of malicious attacks is that cloud providers are tempting targets for any hackers or ransomware attacks and the digital transformation era has introduced new threats. It’s important to understand what authentication, encryption and security technologies are available and that they are included and costed when moving to the cloud.
Compliance is another area of concern as you may have directives that your data must be located in a specific geography or be retained for a long period of time. Not all cloud providers offer all services in all geographies so it is important to make sure your specific requirements and therefore compliance is met. For example, if your production data is guaranteed to reside in the UK is this the case for the backups of that data?
Other typical areas for concern or things to be aware of include the cloud readiness of your application (especially if it uses multiple tiers), your internet connectivity bandwidth and reliability and the cost of pulling data out of the cloud either when using the applications or migrating from one cloud vendor to another or back on-premise.
So Which ‘Cloud’ is Best for Me?
There are several cloud provision models out there and many providers that cover them so it can be difficult to know who to choose and trust. A public cloud is what most people might think of when looking at a cloud first strategy. Industry giants like Amazon with AWS and Microsoft with Azure are public cloud providers whereby you provision from pre-defined services from their resources with no responsibility for (or access to) the underlying infrastructure.
If you’re looking for something that doesn’t directly align to the public cloud portfolio or require a more bespoke offering then a private cloud provider may offer the flexibility you require. Traditionally, a private cloud is related to infrastructure on your premise that you own and are responsible for, but increasingly there is a demand for a virtual private cloud whereby you still run services on dedicated or shared hardware that you do not own.
You may require the cloud provider to have some of their hardware located on your premise while still maintaining ownership and responsibility for it, or you may have a particular technology requirement that you need to deploy or you want more control over the underlying solution, if so then a private cloud may be the best choice.
Virtual private clouds offer more flexibility than traditional public clouds and increasingly public cloud providers also have a virtual private cloud offering. However, it is still a very common topology for a business to use a hybrid cloud model whereby they use a mixture of public, private and virtual private cloud models to deliver their IT services.
How to Get There?
Moving to your chosen cloud platform(s) is not a simple task and it takes a significant amount of planning and a staged approach to give it the best chance of success. Using the cloud to provide a service that supports your on-premise servers, such as backup (BaaS) or disaster recovery (DRaaS) is typically easier and less disruptive to implement than moving your current production servers to the cloud.
Typically, a “gateway” of some sorts would be deployed on your premise and used to transfer your data and servers to the chosen cloud. These may convert your data to a different format or require clients to be installed on your physical servers to virtualise them for example. Additionally, they may need to be reconfigured once they have been replicated to the cloud.
Due to all this complexity and disruption, you would typically engage a trusted third-party company for professional services to assist throughout this project to ensure a smooth transition and while this is probably the route you would take, there are steps to take to not only best prepare your environment for life in the cloud, but also give you the most versatility once there.