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Don’t fall behind when it comes to migrating to the cloud

Bob Gourley

Cloud computing and cloud storage at one time was once viewed as a risky proposition for businesses; why trust an unknown virtual platform to handle business needs when everything could be safely handled onsite? That viewpoint has changed quicker than many industry watchers and businesses could anticipate, and those organizations that have made the switch are reaping the benefits of more efficient systems, less overall costs and happier users. Gartner predicts that by 2020 businesses will ramp up from the 15 per cent currently utilizing cloud-based solutions to approximately 60 per cent penetration. Now is the time to start seriously considering moving core business applications to the cloud.

Why Cloud, Why Now

There are some significant benefits to making the switch to cloud solutions. One of the primary benefits of cloud storage is the ability to scale up and down according to demand—providing significant performance benefits. This also relates to practical cost savings, as in-house hosting can be expensive, not to mention the staffing required maintaining such services.

Performance is another benefit. In the early part of this decade there was a wave of virtualization, as many IT organizations downsized their internal server environments and consolidated servers onto virtual machines hosted inside internal data centers. Unfortunately, a lot of these virtual machines were under-spec’d: too little memory and slow disk performance resulted in poor user experiences. Users will find better performance with SaaS based How was cutting jobs in line with your strategy moving forward?services, where the vendor who built the application can also host the application in the best way possible.

Security is also a strong benefit of cloud storage. While many assume that opening up a company’s database to online storage may run a higher risk of security breaches, in fact the opposite is often true. Because of their large scale and intensive client security requirements, cloud hosting providers often have better security than is reasonably maintained in-house by small and medium size businesses. Off-site backups, 24/7 monitoring, and enterprise-grade security audits are typically out of the price range of smaller organizations.

Assessing the Impact

It’s also important to note that not every application is right for the cloud. While migrating an internal communications tool, like a social intranet makes practical sense for the cloud, highly regulated and sensitive data like credit card information or health care records may not be suitable.

Plus, the cloud transition will require migration effort and downtime. It’s important for a company to understand the impact migration will have on operations. How much downtime is necessary and how much retraining is necessary to ensure employees are caught up to speed with the new systems.

Review your cloud strategy and determine if you should consider a full, or partial migration policy.

Preparing for the Shift

As with any shift in an organization, migrating to the cloud will have an impact on your organization. One team that will feel an immediate impact is the IT department. Once heavily depended on to optimize data management, moving to the cloud means IT must find new roles and responsibilities. This could also mean scaling back with IT, and if so, this should be properly discussed and communicated to the affected team members during the planning stages of cloud migration. However it also opens up opportunities for the IT department to work on more value-driven activities like developing new tools, optimizing customer facing systems and more. There is significant value both in cost savings, and team resource management when considering cloud migration.

Being on the cloud also increases employee accessibility to company data. While this brings about a host of benefits, such as remote access, it also requires the entire organization to be in sync when it comes to data management; a poorly communicated cloud strategy can quickly become a mess of files and folders across multiple departments.

External security threats should also be top of mind. As mentioned previously, cloud security can enhance your current security measures, but that does not mean your organization is immune from threats. As such, a security review should be considered during migration with points in mind such as monitoring, certifications, audits and up-time guarantees.

One important security consideration is password and authentication management. Most medium to large organizations still rely on Active Directory internally, and while their are many different competing and overlapping technologies for authentication, most have standardized around SAML as the standard to follow. By integrating Active Directory with a SAML based identity provider, organizations can continue to provide users with a secure, seamless experience to cloud hosted applications.

Cloud migration is no longer something to consider at some point in the future, it needs to be something you’re paying attention to now. At the very least, you need to have a well-developed cloud migration strategy. The most important thing to keep in mind is there’s not a singular method for migration, every organization will have to deal with a their own unique set of circumstances. The key is to understand your situation and identify a cloud migration strategy that allows you to transition while causing the least amount of friction and disturbance.

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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com