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​Cloud computing: Tackling an 'all-in' migration

Planning a move into the cloud? Here are some of the issues to consider.

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Migrating business systems to the cloud isn't just about technology; staffing, corporate strategy and financial models are just some of the other issues that must be taken into account.

Speaking at the recent Amazon Web Services Summit in London, Andrew Quail, CIO of gas supply company SGN, discussed how the company has gone for an 'all-in' migration to the cloud.

Quail said that, despite gas supply being a very traditional business, there was lots of change happening in the industry.

"We had to do something quite different given the demands on our business. The technology we had, the strategy we had, was to keep the lights on. That was fine five or ten years ago when it was all about availability, but with increasing business demand and volume of change, the IT department became the bottleneck -- the department that said 'no' to a lot of that change. In order to serve the business we had to fundamentally shift that strategy," Quail said.

SEE: Cloud v. data center decision (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The previous SGN IT infrastructure was under-utilised, said Quail, and the company finally chose an 'all-in' cloud strategy to replace it. Innovations like using robots to inspect pipes are data-intensive, so a couple of kilometres of in-pipe inspection video and sensor data could generate vast amounts of data. "There's just no way our on-prem strategy could service what the business was doing," he added.

Understanding the cloud

Quail said that SGN spent a lot of time in the beginning experimenting with cloud computing to improve understanding: "We set up a small team to enable us to become informed buyers, to understand the journey we were about to go on, and to do a lot of that foundation work up front".

The starting point for the cloud project, Quail said, was to get the IT strategy in line with the wider corporate strategy. That included improving security, resilience, availability and increasing agility and ability to respond to new growth opportunities. The company chose to spread its cloud services across multiple regions and multiple availability zones for additional resilience, and committed to a 15 percent reduction in expenditure, most of that coming from a reduction in capital outlay because moving to a cloud model meant the company no longer had to buy IT infrastructure.

Getting the board onboard

Quail said that getting the organisation behind the move meant starting at the top and engaging with executives.

"Don't be afraid of exciting and engaging, and don't underestimate how much non-technology people will be interested in technology," he said. "Don't be afraid to speak the language of shareholders and the CFO."

Quail's team explored the detail to make sure the financial models were robust -- even involving the company's auditors to make sure. "Talk about the financial principles; don't be afraid of that -- address it head on," he said.

Don't underestimate the scale of a migration

Big cloud migrations should really be seen as a major project, said Quail: "I think if you are going all-in it's a rebuild and don't underestimate it."

Related services such as networking need considering, to ensure that they can provide the secure links required. "We've radically changed our entire supply model," said Quail.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Staffing is also important. SGN created a separate IT transformation programme team in London, away from the IT department. One reason for this was to create a separate culture in an attempt to get away from the previous risk-averse model. Another reason was to make it easier to attract talented engineers.

"Think about how you're going to attract talent if you're going on this journey, and how do you embed that in your organisation; think about location, culture, workspace and your supply partnerships, which are really important in bringing those skills in-house," said Quail.

But he warned: "Not everybody is going to be happy about the change. Some people get excited, but some are resistant and continue to be resistant and that's something you have to go into with your eyes open."

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