Move to the Cloud or Stay Home?
Key Considerations before, during and after migrating an application to the cloud
April 06, 2012
Antonio Piraino
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Moving to cloud computing does not have to be a leap of faith. Careful research and planning can improve the chances of realizing those cloud benefits we hear so much about today, including saving money and increasing business agility. Doing your homework can also prevent a bad decision, because moving an application into the cloud – while technically feasible and fairly easy – may not always reap the benefits you expect.

Here are some items to consider before, during and after migrating an application to the cloud.

To Move to the Cloud or Not? That is the Question

Businesses used to outsource IT (and some still do) by starting at the bottom and asking: What IT infrastructure am I looking to discard or that's ugly or too cost-prohibitive for me and that I can move out the door?

The new, more appropriate way of thinking about this is from the top down: Deciding what business services you're trying to improve or create, and who the intended users are. Budget, internal IT competency, and corporate governance needs are all key considerations. Also, determining what your internal IT assets and key performance indicators are will help you have a productive conversation with prospective service providers.

Before moving applications to the cloud, an organization needs to catalogue its data center applications and build a service profile for each one to understand the components that make up that service and where the dependencies are.

Treating an application as a service construct and not an independent network of siloed technologies is an important first step. This will also help you better understand whether a move to the cloud was the right decision. Those applications that require horizontal scale or high resiliency are usually the best candidates for migration to the cloud.

But consider the application data before making a decision. Ask several key questions about your data, including:

- Will my data be secure?

- Do I have any security risks?

- Will I stay in compliance with my industry regulations?

- Will I get the right backup window that I need for this data?

- Will I be able to recover this data?

- Do I have a disaster-recovery plan for this data?

- What other qualitative performance metrics do I want?

A Question of Security

Answering security questions is a non-trivial undertaking, especially since not all service providers are created equal. Cloud service providers have made different investments and offer a variety of services – ranging from the data center to applications on-demand – with and without significant disaster recovery plans. For this reason, each organization needs to take responsibility for its own security and disaster recovery planning in the cloud. You need to be your own advocate and ask the right questions.

But security can mean other things to cloud patrons as well, such as: Assurances that the corporation has done the right thing in moving to the cloud and that uptime and reliability are acceptable (All of these considerations highlight the importance of the service level agreements that the organization negotiates with the cloud provider).

Cloud service providers can go a long way into providing these assurances by being transparent to their customers. Some equate letting the service provider be the watchdog to the fox watching the hen house. “Trust but verify” may be the most applicable phrase here.

Regardless, cloud service providers need to provide customers with visibility into and control of their cloud resources. This includes offering customers secure views into their own data, such as service levels and availability as well as problem resolution status and history, and the ability to open their own tickets.

This also includes visibility into costs. It is easy for employees to spin up instances in the cloud and ring up a huge bill at the end of the month without the IT or business department knowing about it.

Also, many enterprises want a chargeback or showback mechanism of some kind, to show usage consumption and prove that they are spending the money in an optimized fashion.

To Replace or Migrate?

If you are comfortable that your service provider adequately addresses all your security questions, then the next step is to decide whether you will replace an on-premise application with a new one or migrate an application from your data center into the cloud.

The best candidates for replacement are older, legacy or highly customized applications, especially when they are running on a platform that is difficult to support in the cloud, such as AIX-based applications. To replace a data center application with a cloud-based one, corporations need to ensure that the new application's features are comparable or even better than the existing, on-premise one.

In addition, organizations must be able to move the existing data from the data center into the new application in the cloud, or ensure the ease of mashups to that cloud service.

Monitoring and Management

Relying solely on the cloud service provider to monitor and manage your assets in the cloud is not desirable. The best way to ensure optimal application performance and availability in the cloud is for each organization to take responsibility for it in house. This includes acquiring the tools and expertise to monitor and manage the performance of cloud-based applications, because legacy management tools will not extend into the cloud environment.

Plus, the only way to prove that your investment in the cloud is a sound one is to compare performance before and after the move, using the right management solutions.

Proactive monitoring and management in a cloud environment requires keeping tabs on both physical and cloud-based resources, which can move as compute becomes more liquid. Enterprises need a consolidated view of the entire infrastructure and all of the components that make up business service delivery, whether they reside in the data center or the cloud.

Because compute becomes more liquid, organizations must be able to track the movement of components and dynamically re-assess each component that is related to overall service delivery. What's needed are cloud-focused monitoring and management tools that drill into the cloud and use all the APIs and interfaces that are available, providing a depth of monitoring and a level of visibility to ensure the applications are always functioning at optimized levels.

Set Yourself Up for Success in the Cloud

Moving to the cloud is an important decision that requires a new way of looking at IT. Moving from a bottom up (siloed technology view) to a top down (what business services am I trying to deliver?) view of IT service delivery is paramount. Understanding what IT assets you currently have, how they are architected, and how they are performing will help determine whether a move to the cloud is warranted and practical (and help prove performance parity or advantage once in the cloud).

Security concerns are real and not to be taken lightly, but the cloud can be a step-up in this regard too. Work closely with cloud service providers to negotiate your business needs, but ensure you have the right tools, processes and expertise to verify performance and availability yourself.

And don’t be afraid to ask for transparency and control from your provider, up front. Your cloud service offers you the opportunity to be far more agile than ever before; but to truly exploit it, you'll need the right monitoring and management tools.

Related Links:

Antonio Piraino's recent three-part series posted on the APMdigest Vendor Forum:

How to Choose the Right Service Provider for Your Needs - Part One

How to Choose the Right Service Provider for Your Needs - Part Two

How to Choose the Right Service Provider for Your Needs - Part Three

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