Moving to the Cloud, One App at a Time

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Josh Crowe is senior vice president of product engineering at global IT infrastructure services provider Internap, where he is responsible for research and development of the company’s cloud hosting, enterprise IP and content delivery network services.

Josh-Crowe-InternapJOSH CROWE
Internap

Leading IT organizations are realizing that it can be easier to consume quality infrastructure from vendors than to build out more and more assets into their own data centers.

This isn’t a slight to the work that enterprise IT organizations have done over the past few decades. It’s simply a function of the fact that high-performing, reliable infrastructure is most efficient at scale, and the demand for these services is being better met with each passing day.

So, what are world-class IT organizations doing? They are getting out of the infrastructure business. While wholesale outsourcing of infrastructure still presents a host of challenges, most IT departments are now using Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) for at least some of their applications. But the choice to outsource infrastructure to the cloud quickly leads to another question, “Can I trust my mission-critical applications to the cloud?”

IaaS is Ready for Enterprise Applications

Over the past few years, IaaS has rapidly matured to the point that many applications can be hosted reliably – with few or no problems to speak of. Let me be clear – I’m not making light of the edge cases. To be sure, there are those who make a living based on the complexity of enterprise IT environments and who will provide well-crafted objections about the shortcomings of current IaaS offerings. And in some cases, they will be right …for now. But IaaS providers are increasingly addressing concerns about reliability, performance and security, and doing so at costs that are lower than internal IT.

Execution is Hard, So You Need a Good Strategy

It’s easy to say that IaaS is ready, right? But you’ve got mission-critical applications with real-world requirements that are not set in the current context of the capabilities of IaaS providers.

For better or worse, expectations have been set by the bespoke, high-performing environments that the budgets of the last twenty years allowed. Everyone is looking for the benefits of cloud, along with application performance and functionality. Reliable and scalable infrastructure is simply expected. Your reward for building a world-class enterprise infrastructure is to find a way to gradually make it more efficient, reliable and scalable.

So how and where do you get started in building an IaaS migration strategy? Below are five key steps to transitioning your applications to the cloud:

1)    Understand and Prioritize Your Application Portfolio.

In classifying the value of each application to your business, use criteria such as:

  • How critical is this application to the business? Does it support revenue? What are the impacts of application downtime?
  • How hard would it be to move this application to a new platform? Are there specific performance requirements? Are there privacy or compliance issues? What about hardware and software requirements? Will application re-writes be needed?

2)    Re-allocate Resources and Re-align Goals

You may need to assess how to realign both people and budgets around the application. Refocusing your efforts higher up the stack may require retraining people who have been focused solely on building and maintaining infrastructure.  Some people won’t want to make the transition, and that’s okay.

Don’t forget incentives during this process, including your own. Set realistic metrics and objectives, but don’t create an artificial roadblock by placing too much emphasis on setting “perfect” goals at this point – or you’ll never get started. Most importantly, don’t be short-sighted – stay focused on long-term goals and results.

3)    Take a Hands-on Approach to Evaluating Your Options

Don’t write an RFI/RFP/RFQ – these are all methods for learning about what the post-sale experience will be like. Instead, spin up some infrastructure with a few providers, and turn it off when you’re done. By doing so, you’ll gain a more in-depth understanding of what the offerings provide in terms of performance, availability, customer service and ease-of-use, among other criteria. Your staff will get invaluable hands-on time, and you’ll likely spend less time and money than you would in a protracted sales process. This type of evaluation will give you a real-world view into how well a provider’s infrastructure will support your specific applications.

4)    Test a “Cloud-Ready” Application

After you’ve removed dependencies on bespoke infrastructure, perform a pilot in which you fork off a test version of a proven, stable application to the cloud. Follow your existing, proven application release methodology; just replace the infrastructure provider with a cloud provider.

5)   Just Do It

Go low-risk with your first application. Begin your migration with the easiest application to transition that still provides the greatest possible value by moving.  Inevitably, there will be issues that arise, and everyone will be quick to blame the infrastructure, so focus on an application that is robust and has a supportive user community. The real key is to start the process and prove to your organization that it can be done – setting the stage for a more comprehensive application migration strategy.

Ready, Set, Go

As cloud providers roll out more features, locations and capacity, IT organizations are increasingly choosing to buy cloud services over capital equipment. They’re moving their applications to the cloud, and their mission-critical applications are soon to follow. Prioritizing your apps, setting your goals, running preliminary tests and getting started with the right application will add up to a strategic approach that makes the transition successful.

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