Kaiser Permanente Replatforming for Move to the Cloud

With more than 1,500 applications running across its own data centers, Kaiser Permanente has taken a methodical approach to its move to the cloud.

Sean Michael Kerner, Contributor

May 28, 2020

5 Min Read
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For some, moving to the cloud is an exercise commonly referred to as "lift and shift," where applications that were running on-premises just get lifted out and moved to the cloud.

A lift and shift approach, however, is not how large organizations—including healthcare conglomerate Kaiser Permanente—are moving to the cloud; there is just too much complexity and nuance required. For Kaiser Permanente, its move to the cloud has been a journey that the company refers to as replatforming. It's an effort that includes a process and a roadmap both for determining what should be moved and how the move should occur.

During a session at the IBM Think Digital conference in early May, Suman Mishra, program director of Cloud Application Services and CDO at Kaiser Permanente, outlined how his company built out its strategy for moving to the cloud. Two years ago, less than 20% of his company's applications were running in the cloud, he said, and this concerned company executives. Since so much of Kaiser Permanente's data and applications were running on-premises, they were worried about the ability to recover from disasters, such as fires, which have ravaged California in recent years. Kaiser Permanente has both national and regional data centers across the United States.

There was also a concern about costs. "We pay millions of dollars every year to manage multiple data centers," Mishra said.

The Cloud Suitability Assessment

In addition to the costs associated with the data centers, it was taking anywhere from several weeks to several months to get new applications deployed, managed and monitored. Adding further insult to injury, Mishra said there were some concerns that not all applications were properly enabled for disaster recovery.

Realizing that it needed to address application resiliency issues, Kaiser Permanente in 2018 started a cloud suitability assessment model to help identify where the cloud could help.

"Cloud suitability assessment was a very systematic approach to looking at Kaiser's application paradigm, making sure that we break down the different segments of suitability for applications to move to cloud," Mishra said.

The assessment looked at more than 1,505 applications, determining whether to retire an application because it was no longer needed, to rehost it in the cloud or to retain the current on-premises data center approach.

"This exercise took four months, but it was critical for us and our leadership to know where applications lie in terms of their suitability for the cloud," he said.

In 2019, 46 applications were moved as part of the cloud rehost effort. For 2020, the plan is to move at least 70 applications, with more than 400 additional applications set for rehosting in 2021 and beyond, Mishra said.

Between the applications that are set to be retired and the applications set for cloud rehosting, Kaiser Permanente will remove nearly two-thirds of its applications from its own data centers.

The Cloud Factory Model

To facilitate the movement of applications, Kaiser Permanente developed an approach that Mishra refers to as the cloud factory model. The model is an effort to have a repeatable process by which application owners would know what to expect at each step of the journey to the cloud.

Part of the model is ensuring operational readiness for cloud rehosted applications.

"Once an application moves to the cloud, we make sure that IT support is enabled, so that it is standardized and there is no non-standard activity going on," Mishra said.

The enablement of central authentication is also a key part of the cloud factory model. As such, if an application already supports single sign-on (SSO) or Active Directory, that is extended into the cloud.

Another key pillar of the cloud factory model is support for disaster recovery.

"When we do rehosts, we just don't migrate applications; we take care of resiliency, we take care of the security and operational support as well," Mishra said.

Cloud Benefits Realized

Mishra admitted that when Kaiser Permanente started out on the journey to the cloud, it wasn't entirely sure how much money would be saved.

While he didn't provide a specific dollar figure, he said the move to the cloud has been almost 40% cheaper than what Kaiser Permanente paid for migration efforts in the past.

Beyond cost, there have been other real benefits that the company has realized through the cloud migration effort. As an example, Mishra noted that a design review for application provisioning previously would take two to three weeks for each application. With the cloud factory model, that time has been reduced to between 24 and 48 hours.

Another plus is technical debt remediation. As Kaiser Permanente moves to the cloud, there are application software upgrades that are happening. The use of centralized authentication across all applications in the cloud has also helped to improve overall application security.

Speed to market is also a key benefit Kaiser Permanente has gained from its move to the cloud.

"We want to make sure that we scale up and scale out so that any time we want to fast-track something, we can," Mishra said.

About the Author(s)

Sean Michael Kerner


Sean Michael Kerner is an IT consultant, technology enthusiast and tinkerer. He consults to industry and media organizations on technology issues.


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