Giuseppe Paternò explores the key practices business leaders need to implement when undertaking a cloud strategy
The disruption caused by the pandemic has pushed many companies to rethink their fundamental assumptions about where their people and IT assets need to be deployed.
With a substantial increase in the number of businesses now operating from their employees’ homes, and organisations leaders realising that their office buildings are now somewhat unnecessary until a vaccination against coronavirus is widely distributed, the cloud has played an increasingly important role in IT operations.
For many, cloud migration has had to happen quickly, and at a large scale in order to cope with the increased pressure on IT infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic. At such a turbulent and challenging time, it’s never been more important for businesses to ensure they have the correct IT infrastructure in place.
Cloud projects can range from building large private clouds to moving everything to the cloud. As I found when drawing upon my 25 years of experience in IT, however, moving applications to the cloud is the starting point for the cloud journey.
Therefore, I’ve identified six pillars for delivering successful cloud projects – by keeping these rules top of mind, companies can focus the project on the right solution, and deliver results for the business.
Use open standards and open source
Embrace open source and open standards as much as you can in your applications. Most open-source products (excluding some databases or caches) can be automated and this makes them portable. If you choose a database-as-a-service, make sure it uses common protocols such as MySQL or Postgres, so that you can export data and import elsewhere.
You will have fewer update nightmares, more security, less vendor lock-in, and better portability across systems.
Move everything non-strategic to the cloud if it reduces total cost of ownership
For example, a good first step is to move collaboration (mail, documents, VoIP, drive sync) to cloud services and ensure high-security standards. Embracing cloud collaboration also gives you the option of cloud identity management, and this will ease cloud migrations.
Ensure SaaS providers will let you export the data in an open format. Check prices and the fine print before you buy – and only embrace SaaS products if they cut costs.
Applications with tight hardware integrations or with highly confidential data should remain on-premise.
Keep it simple when you can
Over-engineering will create solutions that are difficult to manage. I cannot stress this enough. I know that many applications are complex, but don’t fall into the temptation of making things more complicated. It’s an easy mistake to make.
Only make things complicated if the extra effort will deliver tangible economic or competitive advantages.
Automate whatever you can
Open standards for data and open source will help you avoid any lock-in and give you freedom of choice. Using containers to distribute and run the applications, along with an automation system, will create a process for quickly moving your application makes it easier to move applications across clouds or back on-premise.
If you can’t re-engineer your application, just lift and shift virtual machines (VMs) with legacy workloads to an infrastructure as a software (IaaS) provider.
Understanding how much uptime your applications need will help you save money – don’t pay for service levels you don’t need. You may be surprised to find that basic SLAs will work for most internal applications.
Take a zero-trust approach to security
Trust nothing that’s crossed public or semi-public networks. Nowadays there is no clear divide between an internal office network and the Internet. In the most extreme cases, an office network is just a transit network, just a bit more secure than a home network.
Traditional firewalls are no longer effective, and you should apply protection as close as possible to the application.
But the work-anywhere model has some upsides. The office will just be a meeting place and users will be able to work from anywhere. Looking a bit further ahead, devices like the iPad Pro, with a keyboard and embedded trackpad, can replace PCs for standard users. These devices are easier to manage with a mobile device management (MdM) and less vulnerable to viruses and malware. The keyboard and the trackpad can be fantastic when using a remote terminal with two-factor authentication to connect to legacy applications.
PCs and workstations will only be for advanced users who need proper computing power – for example, developers, or those who run local scripts or financial excel formulas with external data.
Keep multiple backups in open formats
Last but not least, have one or many backups or replicas of all cloud data in an open format. I’m really paranoid about this. If you have a copy of everything, and you automated everything, you will be able to rebuild your entire infrastructure easily. Disaster recovery will be a piece of cake: you will be able to restore either to another cloud or rebuild on-premise.
No two cloud projects are exactly alike, and cloud solutions can be complex, with each project needing to meet specific business needs and work within its own unique parameters. The challenge is to discover the right path to success, which may require implementing organisational changes.
However, by implementing the six pillars for delivering successful cloud projects, the payoffs for companies that follow the right path are huge – which include increased business agility, lower or rationalised costs and better focus on the core business.