Migrating into the cloud: easier said than done

The number of cloud-hosted applications is poised to increase by 40 percent over the next two years. Yet, research finds that successfully mastering the transition and transformation phase remains a challenge.

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Digital transformation is driving organizations to revamp their IT landscape, with many firms choosing to forge ahead using cloud-based solutions. Cloud computing is often associated with cost savings, yet many organizations underestimate the resources needed to complete the transition and transformation phase, which can quickly lead to substantial cost overruns. While replacing existing legacy applications with a native SaaS offering might be a straightforward exercise, migrating business-critical applications is a much more delicate undertaking. These migrations require a significant amount of due diligence, profound expertise in the enterprise architecture domain, and thorough planning — something many organizations still struggle to cope with.

After polling cloud-experienced executives from 500 organizations, research firm Forrester (on behalf of Virtustream) concluded that these migrations are often easier said than done. Unlike cloud-native apps that include in-built resiliency, legacy apps typically rely heavily upon their underlying infrastructure and can’t easily scale out. As a result, enterprises often have to make a tradeoff between investing in costly rewrites or compromising performance with a less sophisticated deployment model.

A tailor-made migration strategy on an app-by-app basis

Over the next two years, the average number of cloud-based apps per enterprise will grow from 44 percent to 62 percent, equaling a 1.4-fold increase over 2017. Meanwhile, enterprises have learned — sometimes the hard way — that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. While early adopters initially opted for mass-migration and experienced performance challenges as a result, companies are now focusing on the nuances of these migrations on an app-by-app basis.

To make the transition and transformation phase a success, companies need to thoroughly scrutinize their existing landscape first, and come up with a well mapped-out transition and transformation plan. This includes assessing the cloud-readiness of existing applications and grouping them in terms of their performance requirements, complexity, security constraints, interaction with/dependencies on other applications, etc. The result will help the transition team determine where to be begin, and to come up with a roadmap factoring in work streams, milestones, KPIs, risk-specific contingencies and so on.

Overcoming cost and performance constraints

While multi-cloud environments distributed across a variety of providers are increasingly becoming the norm, it’s imperative to keep in mind that each target platform comes with different strengths and weaknesses. Companies should therefore define a specific set of requirements that help them choose the ideal provider, since some of them will be more suitable for certain workloads than others. Once selected, this is when the real work begins, and various challenges will arise.

Application rewrite costs tops the list of drawbacks (cited by 41 percent of respondents), followed by data-traffic costs punishing poor planning (cited by 33 percent). To overcome these issues, over half (53 percent) cited cost-effective infrastructure by app type as a possible resolution, and more than a third (37 percent) listed app type-specific configurations as a mitigation to resolve performance constraints.

Resolving skill gaps and talent shortages

Companies across the board are busy freeing up human and financial resources to propel their digital transformation. In turn, migration skills are scarce and in high demand. When considering the projected growth of the cloud market in the years to come, it’s clear that the situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

Hence, companies have to adjust to these circumstances and take a variety of precautions. This includes assessing the capabilities of the existing team, factoring in contingencies, and supplementing talent, if needed. Delays can be painful and costly. Thus, any gaps revealed will need to be filled proactively with either training or external help. Companies should seek guidance from their service provider of choice to learn about proven best practices. Moreover, a service provider will facilitate the migration process with comprehensive documentation (how-to), training of the existing workforce, and additional resources, if needed.

To free up internal resources, companies should also be questioning their application portfolio. Adopting a SaaS solution might often be a wiser choice than lifting-and-shifting a legacy application — especially if it’s non-core. Companies should carefully decide when it’s really worth devoting resources and taking on the associated migration risks — or as the ancient Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu once said, “Pick your battles wisely.”

Summary

Adoption and migration shouldn’t be confused. While both ultimately share the same destination, the latter is a much more challenging path through the cloud jungle. To maximize value and avoid setbacks, it’s important to keep the difference in mind and to review the total cost of ownership (incl. redesign, rewriting, migration efforts, etc.) before embarking on a cloud journey.

Besides being clear on scope, objectives and goals during the strategizing phase, companies may also want to consider closely measuring progression. For example, building an index value that combines time (hours planned vs. hours spent per work stream), quality (errors/issues factored in vs. errors/issues encountered), and budget (resources/efforts planned vs. resources/efforts consumed) can be a powerful metric to determine the project’s health status. Regular reporting will aid reveal issues so that corrective actions can be taken instantly to make sure everything stays on track.

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