Preparing for a Cloud Transition: An IT Action Plan

Mark Mincin, SVP and CIO, Epicor Software
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A few years ago the primary value proposition of a move to the cloud was achieving greater cost efficiency. Today businesses recognize a move to the cloud can be extremely strategic, providing improved agility and the means to further business transformation.

Only a few years ago, the vast majority of applications were run on dedicated IT infrastructure and housed either on premises or within a company-owned data center or third-party colocation facility. Today, however businesses have become more comfortable with leveraging the public cloud, which is experiencing incredible growth.

According to Gartner, Inc., the worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 16.5 percent in 2016 to 204 Bn dollars. The highest growth will come from cloud system infrastructure services (infrastructure-as-a-service [IaaS]), a segment projected to grow 38.4 percent this year alone.

IaaS platforms offer highly-scalable resources that can be adjusted on-demand, making them well-suited for workloads that are temporary, experimental or change unexpectedly. Today, most business that leverage cloud, do so in a hybrid environment comprised of dedicated infrastructure, private cloud and public cloud IaaS and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings. Organizations need to carefully assess their cloud requirements to determine the right mix of dedicated and public cloud infrastructure and put together a plan to get there. The big IaaS providers all have models and templates to assess loads and determine (public cloud) fit, but that’s just a start. Here are many other crucial steps to prepare for a cloud transition:

Start by Building an Overall Application Roadmap.

Not all workloads are well suited to the cloud nor is it cost effective to move them. As you develop your plan, consider scaling requirements, demand fluctuations, cost, and the overall effort required to transition applications – including data migration. In this way, you can develop an overall cloud transition agenda that will help you prioritize which applications are migrated to the cloud and what “flavor” of cloud implementation is best suited to support each. As well, you can then outline the IT resources needed to address the planning, preparation, migration and ongoing management of each application.

  Cloud can simplify infrastructure management, allowing IT to take on a more strategic role in the business 

Look for quick wins. One might be the need to retire end-of-life hardware supporting legacy applications. Rather than simply replace it, it may be prudent to review the viability of leveraging the public cloud. Also consider reviewing legacy on-premises applications that are “resource hogs” and which offer the greatest opportunities to minimize IT burden, and which are critical to business execution.

For example, at Epicor we’re using the public cloud to support business growth in regions of the world where we do not have an existing colocation partner. This gives us the flexibility to be highly responsive to the business needs while monitoring business growth.

Identify Skills and Training Needed. A key component of any cloud strategy and roadmap is understanding staffing/ skills implications for the IT organization. Cloud requires new skills sets that don’t always exist in an IT organization—e.g., cloud architects, cloud operations. Your HR department can help define and execute a plan to identify available talent in the marketplace and offer skills training to existing staff. At Epicor, we recently sent a number of staffers to a week-long Azure boot camp to build on their existing (cloud) skills.

Evaluate Financial Implications. Unlike purchasing a server or other IT infrastructure components that have a one-time cost and fixed reoccurring maintenance, IaaS costs fluctuate based on consumption. The big IaaS providers have consumption models that allow you to monitor costs and bill for usage (as needed). There are recent accounting rule changes that allow a percentage of the overall cloud cost to be capitalized instead of the entire expense hitting the operating expense budget. Talk to your finance team about how these changes impact your company.

Assess Security Needs. Since IT architecture and security go hand-in-hand, it’s important to identify incremental efforts required to secure cloud workloads. Inventory data destined for processing or storage in the cloud to identify compliance and security requirements (PCI, PII, Intellectual Property, Company Confidential). Depending on the sensitivity level of the data, you can then determine if it is suitable for storage/processing in the public cloud. Next, determine if encryption is needed and if so, factor in how this will be implemented. You’ll want to compartmentalize applications and data with compliance requirements to minimize the security surface and reduce the scope of audits and security reviews.

Identify existing security and compliance controls and ensure comparable controls can be implemented in the virtual environment. If this is not possible, alternative or compensating controls may be necessary. Determine how cloud security and compliance controls can be integrated with existing on-premises technologies to centralize monitoring, analytics and alerting. Also, it’s vital to determine if a move to the public cloud would significantly impact or modify the security posture of applications that have previously been audited and certified compliant. If so, a security/ compliance review and recertification might be necessary prior to the next audit.

Monitor Cloud Strategy. Cloud isn’t a “set it and forget it” approach to IT. It’s critical to determine what, if any, changes are needed from your on-premises to cloud environments over time. Continue to assess each workload to determine viability to run in the cloud as part of your overall cloud strategy and roadmap.

The need to be more agile is a requirement I suspect every IT department faces—I know we do at Epicor. By leveraging IaaS and SaaS offerings that fit the business requirements of your company, you can be more agile and efficient at managing business needs and business growth.

Cloud can simplify infrastructure management, allowing IT to take on a more strategic role in the business. The role of IT is now in the realm of IT service delivery—to manage the overall architecture and the overall return on investment over time by maximizing the efficiency of building and running systems and in being a partner and player in the business, defining IT systems in the context of key enterprise objectives and growth strategies.

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