Monday, 3 May 2010

Cloud Homework: Checklist For Successful Migration into the Cloud

Having heard so much about cloud computing, I am sure that many businesses would like to taste the cloud for real, even as a pilot project. Where do they start? Is there a “checklist” to follow? There could be many, but I haven’t seen a comprehensive one. Perhaps they are hidden behind many other articles or unpublished or not given much publicity they deserve or I need to read more. Anyways, I thought of writing one.
I don’t want to build a “management checklist” for getting onto the cloud. You know, the typical one which says “Set goals – identify parameters – build a decision tree consider risks, pros and cons – taken an informed decision”. But, I want to build a checklist for a business which has already taken a management decision to go for cloud computing or try cloud computing in a small way.
Don’t forget to perform risk analysis after each step to determine whether you are falling into a danger zone. Also at every step, you must identify a business process to cover failure at that step.
  1. Set Expectations Right: Success or failure of your journey depends on your initial expectations. Few examples of expectation setting are shown below:
    1. There could be performance trade-offs and latency issues.
    2. IT Managers will have to give up some control on their IT applications and data.
    3. Manager’s ability to forecast IT usage cost is proportional to their ability to forecast IT usage in terms of bandwidth, storage use and CPU cycles.
  2. Cleanup Internal IT: “Cleaning up your internal IT is the first step” says Gartner. The term “cleanup” could mean different things to different companies. Some possibilities are explored below:
    1. It could mean knowing your IT architecture, making a list of applications in “real” use, development work going on (authorised and unauthorised), nature of applications (mission-critical, critical, support applications)
    2. Trying horizontal integration or “pooling” of similar applications and IT services across departments, cost centres, geographical regions.
    3. Identifying dependencies between applications and minimising them as much as possible.
    4. Grouping applications that need similar hardware, platform or software environment.
  3. Cleanup Data: In this step you need assess the state of your data and condition it for movement into the cloud.
    1. Prepare to send the data into the cloud in several iterations/increments/waves.
    2. Package the data in such a way that it is independent of underlying applications or data environments. This not only helps data management but also switching data service providers when needed.
    3. Ensure consistency in definition of data elements
    4. Identify different types of data: data under regulation, vulnerable data, private data and so on.
    5. Ensure strong metadata descriptions. This helps data archiving, retrieval and estimating impact of data loss.
  4. Attempt Virtualisation: Virtualise as much as possible. Move applications that require similar processing environments to the same server.  Example: Exchange and Mail services. Also ensure that business critical applications are served by a pool of servers, just in case of server failure.
Remember following important points about virtualisation
    1. Not all servers, services are ideal for virtualisation
    2. You cannot and should not Virtualise everything
    3. Virtualisation creates single point of failure!
    4. Security challenges remain the same after virtualisation
    5. Licenses typically apply to physical servers not virtual ones. So paperwork needs to be checked
  1. Distribute Right: Decide what to put where. It is unlikely that a single cloud set-up or a cloud service provider will meet all of your requirements. Hence you will have to live with multiple clouds of different types. Follow a general rule of thumb to decide what application goes where. Here are few suggestions
    1. Business Critical Application - Don’t take them anywhere, they stay put
    2. Internal Development Environment, if any - Private Cloud
    3. Shared Services - Shared Data Grid Services
    4. Internet based search – Public Cloud
    5. Mail, Collaboration – Consider massively scalable services
  2. Consider Readymade Solutions First: Look at existing solutions in the cloud. Is there anything that you can pick up right away that meets your needs? For example
    1. Storage for new projects from an IaaS provider?
    2. Development environment for new products from a PaaS provider?
    3. Do any of the SaaS applications meet an outstanding need of the organisation?
  3. Choose your cloud service provider: You need to work with multiple partners to realise your cloud dream. You could use several methods to choose your vendors and partners. Few are examined below.
    1. Look at companies that provide technology and associated services.
    2. Choose companies based on their experience and maturity. It’s a no brainer. But do remember that there could be new entrants who are more agile and innovative than old biggies.
Remember the following while choosing vendors:
a.    You need to consider yourself to be a team captain in this multi-vendor-partner game of clouds. You need to drive agreements, commitments and own the results.
b.    Some vendors may quote compliance with cloud standards. But cloud standards are still emerging.
c.    Don’t dismiss vendors who were earlier seen as System Integrators, just because system integration for/on the cloud is still nascent. They could help you cleanup your internal IT.
  1. Cleanup Processes: Cloud solution needs to be built around your business process not vice versa. Hence reviewing your business processes is quite important.
    1. Set up a command protocol or governance model clearly identifying who instructs the cloud service provider and who’ll control service parameters.
    2. Review or define new processes that govern commercial aspects of the IT. For example: How does your accounting system need to change in order to recognise value of IT assets?
    3. Agree with your cloud service provider, an unambiguous method to track key service characteristics such as availability, performance, security, latency, usage and billing.
  2. Clearly Communicate: Concerned stakeholders must be informed and educated. Review this checklist with them and modify it based on their feedback. Be prepared to face resistance, fear and confusion as many stakeholders do not yet understand the cloud.
  3. Prepare To-Be image of your IT: If you consolidating all of your cloud homework, you should be in a position to draw post-cloud-migration view of your business/enterprise. If you cannot do so, perhaps it is a good idea to repeat these steps as you may not be ready for the cloud migration yet. If you are able to visualise the post-cloud conditions, then you are ready to test the waters.
It is likely that you will reap some benefits from this checklist even if you decide not to migrate to the cloud. Potential benefits include cleaned up internal IT, data and processes.
And don’t forget to share your experience within the industry.

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