How this organization overcame 3 common cloud migration challenges
The word cloud can mean many things depending on your comfort level and knowledge of the technology. The cloud is everything from the personal file sharing folder connected to your email address to the full soup-to-nuts solution that runs retail websites.
While the cloud offers a number of advantages and efficiencies, some companies and their IT departments remain hesitant about moving their services to the cloud. Consider the story of one of my clients: A bricks-and-mortar retailer was running its website on its own servers, but was interested in moving to a cloud-based solution – Amazon Web Services (AWS). It faced several challenges on the road to cloud migration, including concerns about performance and security for its customers, the need for a different IT mindset, and a desire for visibility into the system.
Its story offers a few factors for any organization to consider if you’re debating moving your website or services to a cloud solution.
Resiliency, performance, and security – a retail story
When discussing the move to the cloud, the retailer’s chief technology officer expressed common concerns about resiliency, performance, and security. Its own server problems resulted in website downtime, but executives accepted it, knowing that at least they were in compliance with a multitude of e-commerce regulations.
Many of the features AWS provides addressed the company’s concerns. During the design phase of the project, we created an architecture using AWS Availability Zones, Elastic Load Balancers, RDS and Route53 to run the website so it was always available, high-performing, and in full regulatory compliance. We provided our client with architecture diagrams, explanations, and case studies about how everything works together to stay up and running. It was critical for the architecture to take full advantage of the platform to ensure the client would be able to continue serving the website and sell products, even if an entire AWS datacenter went offline.
In regard to security and compliance, since AWS’s underlying infrastructure is compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), transitioning to the cloud was a natural fit. While organizations that utilize the AWS platform still have to operate within the requirements set forth by the compliance standards of their industry, in many cases that effort is greatly reduced.
Cloud providers have taken many steps over the past few years to address the availability and security vulnerabilities that once made a cloud transition a riskier undertaking. Most providers are guaranteeing a 99.999 percent uptime service level agreement (SLA) and have built-in security measures to protect the integrity of customer data and operations. Ultimately, the key to a successful migration is communication between people who know and understand the existing application infrastructure and those who know how to leverage the cloud platform’s features.
Developing the proper mindset
Mindset is another common challenge that some companies must overcome. It’s easy to become accustomed to doing things a certain way, but a move to the cloud requires change. To do this first define what you would consider to be a success. Then work with your third-party technology provider to determine if the cloud can provide all of the services you want and if it will provide better performance than the current IT environment.
But remember: Simply moving applications from a data center to the cloud won’t make them magically more robust and resilient. The new infrastructure must be designed to properly use all of the appropriate features of the cloud platform. It can also take time to adapt applications to take full advantage of the cloud, just as it takes time for organizations to maximize their use of the cloud’s potential.
For example, moving from a world in which individual servers matter to one in which running one server or 100 will have no impact takes a completely different mindset. To help our client obtain that mindset and reach its predetermined goal of having an always-available, highly automatic, self-healing infrastructure, we began testing. To start, we deployed server instances across multiple Availability Zones, thus providing an application that is always available. Next, we will implement Auto Scaling to automatically and elastically respond to traffic demands through the automatic provisioning (and de-provisioning) of server instances. In this scenario, our client will more fully take advantage of the cloud and begin to shift its mindset on how it can deploy and use IT resources.
But what about visibility?
Visibility into the underlying infrastructure of the cloud can pose interesting challenges after a migration. Though running a full IT environment in-house is difficult, organizations can see deeply into how their infrastructure is assembled and operates. But after moving to the cloud, the management of services falls to the cloud provider, and organizations lose some visibility into how certain applications or services run and how to fix them if they fail.
For example, let’s discuss the site-to-site virtual private network (VPN) capability provided through AWS’s private cloud. While configuring the VPN is simple from the AWS side, users have few configuration options and even less status information. And if a service goes down, the AWS console doesn’t provide any information except the current status. Therefore, troubleshooting falls on network support personnel or must be escalated to AWS. A working VPN is great and requires no oversight for users, but the lack of visibility causes additional challenges for customers who want the ability to fix problems themselves.
The cloud offers power and flexibility that was previously out of reach for many organizations, but also introduces new challenges. To earn the full benefit of AWS or any cloud platform, it’s important to build infrastructure and applications in a manner that takes advantage of the many features that provide a highly available, scalable, and secure environment.
Organizations considering moving to a cloud solution should first examine their goals and how they define success. In some cases, a qualified third party might be able to help ease the transition, and selecting the right provider to help design, migrate, and manage cloud infrastructure is a key to success.
Brian Shaw is a DevOps resource for managed services clients at Apparatus. Within his role, he provides architectural guidance, cloud-based infrastructure deployment and management, and application deployment, configuration, and testing. He is involved in the development of automation and monitoring solutions for a global client base. Apparatus specializes in durable, scalable managed IT solutions that stretch across unified communications, collaboration, business intelligence, mobile, and cloud computing.