Five major pitfalls to avoid in a cloud migration

Enterprises tend to fall into a few common traps when it comes to moving to the cloud. Here's how to make your business's transition as smooth as possible.
Written by Alison DeNisco Rayome, Managing Editor
Image: iStockphoto/Nastco, Clipart Panda

Enterprise cloud adoption is on the rise, but implementation remains a struggle for many IT leaders.

Some 95 percent of IT professionals surveyed by SolarWinds said they had migrated critical applications and IT infrastructure to the cloud over the past year. However, only between 5 percent and 7 percent of the world's workloads have moved to the cloud, according to Constellation Research.

"Most organizations have cloud applications in use, but those applications represent less than 10 percent of their portfolios, and in most organizations, less than 10 percent of their total budget," said Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research.

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C-suite members must understand that moving and managing applications in the cloud will be increasingly important for doing business in the future, said Tom Coughlin, an IEEE senior member and founder of data storage consulting firm Coughlin Associates. "Their competitors and customers are going to be moving and managing content in the cloud, so they need to develop a strategy about the opportunities the cloud offers them, and mitigate any potential risks."

Here are five common pitfalls to avoid during a cloud migration.

1. Selecting the wrong migration approach

CIOs say their number-one strategy to modernize their application portfolio in the coming years is moving applications to the cloud, said Dave Bartoletti, a principal analyst at Forrester serving infrastructure and operations professionals.

However, many enterprises do not spend enough time studying different cloud migration approaches. "There are lots of different paths to moving a particular app to the cloud," Bartoletti said. "If you pick the wrong one, you can spend a lot of money and not get the payback you want."

Business leaders should consider the cloud as an engine for delivering better customer experiences, Bartoletti said. Then, members of the C-suite can frame questions to IT based on customer needs, and then allow IT to determine which platform -- cloud or otherwise -- offers the best solution.

2. Moving everything at once

"Most organizations often assume that they have to move everything at once," Wang said. "The reality is that hybrid models are here for a long time, as it's very hard to move some workloads."

To determine what processes to move first, it's key to run a strategic portfolio analysis, Bartoletti said. "The old adage that the most important part of strategy is deciding what you're not going to do holds for cloud migration," he added. Businesses must choose a reasonable number of applications for a first migration, and examine application profiles to determine if they are highly customized and integrated, as costs to move different types of applications to the cloud vary widely, Bartoletti said.

Organizations also need to remember that not every system needs to be moved to the cloud, said Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies, Inc. "It's about trying to figure out which aspects of your business would benefit by using cloud services," he added.

For example, if you have a stable, ongoing process in which there isn't a need for change due to innovation, competition, or customers, you likely do not need to prioritize moving that process to the cloud, Kaplan said. However, if some of those stable services are very costly, there could be some cloud alternatives that are more economical.

3. Underestimating the work involved in integration

Many companies underestimate the work involved in cloud integrations, said Krishnan Subramanian, founder and chief research advisor at Rishidot Research. "[Businesses] think it will be relatively easy, especially lifting existing apps and putting them in the cloud," Subramanian said. "I would say not to undervalue integration. It's one of the biggest reasons for failure."

Although the cloud has been promoted as a simpler, less risky alternative to traditional on-premises solutions, its deployment adds another layer of complexity, Kaplan said. Many organizations are layering cloud solutions on top of legacy systems and software, so it's key to ensure that the solution chosen is able to be integrated with your existing systems.

Moving systems to the cloud requires an investment in this integration, Wang said. "In these hybrid models you have to remember to have an overall architectural design," Wang said. "Then you have to figure out what's owned, accessed, and borrowed."

And don't discount the code changes that may be required to make the move, Bartoletti said. "It's not just about moving virtual machines -- code might not work the same way running in the cloud, and you might need to make small or deep changes," Bartoletti said. For example, if your app requires a local file system, you will have to rewrite it to leverage cloud storage once you move it there.

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4. Failing to build a reasonable business case

Enterprises need to assess the value of a cloud migration before starting it, Bartoletti said. This means determining what you expect the company to gain after you migrate: is it primarily cost savings, or will it open up new business opportunities?

"We're seeing people putting more focus on agility and the ability to enter new markets and reach new customers faster using cloud technologies, rather than justifying it completely on cost savings from shutting down the data center," Bartoletti said. "You might find that once you get to the cloud, you don't save much money on infrastructure costs."

5. Not trusting the CIO to lead the migration

CIOs should lead the cloud migration process, Kaplan said. "They should be instrumental in the education of the business decision-makers, and they should act as advisors and consultants to those business decision makers, helping them select the right kind of services to meet their needs, and verifying that those services can do the job," Kaplan said.

But shadow IT can be a problem with cloud solutions, as chief marketing officers or sales directors can potentially purchase SaaS solutions on their own. "The smarter CxOs are recognizing that they can't make those decisions and move or adopt those kind of services without the help of a CIO," Kaplan said.

CIOs should also act as the project managers for the migration process, Kaplan added. At the back end, these tech professionals should continuously evaluate the performance of the cloud service provider to ensure they are fulfilling their promises, and monitor how the businesses uses the service to make sure it is providing the best ROI. In some ways, this shifts the role of the CIO from a technology manager to a vendor relations manager, Kaplan said.

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