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Cloud migration strategies for a hybrid cloud world

In the era of hybrid IT, migrating apps to the public cloud is only the first step of a sound cloud computing strategy.

From scalability to cost-efficiency, cloud computing delivers a range of benefits to an enterprise. And when it comes to provisioning new capacity, there are three distinct cloud computing advantages organizations don't want to miss: the ability to scale on-demand, paying only for the compute resources used and end-to-end service automation.

Unfortunately, cloud computing strategies aren't always easy to carry out -- especially when migrating existing cloud workloads between cloud providers or public and private clouds. That migration process typically requires many manual steps, and the process itself can be difficult to scale. If these migrations aren't handled efficiently, organizations pay for cloud resources they don't use.

First things first: Migrating apps to the cloud

Before being able to move workloads between different cloud platforms, organizations must first move their on-premises applications to the cloud. And that's not always an easy feat.

The experiences of Girish Juneja, chief technology officer at Altisource, a Luxembourg-based provider of mortgage, financial and technology services for the real estate industry, sound typical. Like many, Altisource's foray into cloud was mostly for pilot projects and non-critical applications. But that strategy gradually grew into a broader cloud commitment.

The company embarked on a hybrid cloud strategy, with the aim of moving workloads between public cloud and private cloud "at the push of a button," Juneja said.

Altisource faced a number of challenges on its hybrid cloud journey. The first was that the company's on-premises configuration was statically defined and operating with finite resources. To address that, Altisource turned to workload automation.

"The first step we took was to look at the workloads and make sure we had automated deployment configuration," Juneja said. "We made it so that anything could be abstracted and moved anywhere."

Juneja recommended three other cloud migration practices:

  1. Make infrastructure immutable to avoid doing change management on an ongoing basis. This involves creating immutable components such as base images, network configurations and software dependencies, rather than changing configurations and upgrading servers each time a change is required.
  2. Design an application blueprint by defining all components and embedded configuration fields, so it can be duplicated in the cloud.
  3. Embed security and ensure high availability.

By taking those steps, Altisource rapidly transitioned workloads to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Verizon public cloud with very few glitches. "We routinely bring up out our entire stack from scratch in both AWS and Verizon in under a couple of hours, something that was unthinkable just a few months ago," Juneja said.

Three common cloud migration strategies

There are three common approaches to migrating applications to the cloud, according to Laurent Lachal, senior analyst of Infrastructure Solutions at London-based analyst firm Ovum. The first two approaches are "lift and shift" and refactoring. The third and more sophisticated option is extension or redesign.

Lift and shift means moving an application directly to a cloud host. In many cases, the approach works fine -- but it won't take advantage of the cloud platform's full capabilities. A somewhat better approach, according to Lachal, is refactoring, which involves making modest application code changes to ensure a smoother migration. The best approaches, though, are extension -- or heavily modifying code to fit the new cloud environment -- or a complete redesign to optimize the application for cloud.

Achieving public-to-private cloud portability

For organizations that want to move beyond public cloud and into hybrid cloud, the ability to move workloads between public and private environments becomes crucial.

To smoothly transition workloads between public and private clouds, organizations should use cloud management and orchestration tools that can provide visibility across consumption models through a single pane of glass, said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, based in Milford, Mass.

A common misstep for companies is to grow accustomed to a highly virtualized on-premises environment and then set up additional public cloud infrastructure without ensuring consistency between the two.

"That means the tools will not span the environments, so you don't have a hybrid cloud -- just two different consumption models," Bowker said. The "secret ingredient" is a cloud management tool that comes with a virtual environment, such as VMware's vCloud or vRealize, he added.

Portability between public and private clouds shouldn't be difficult to achieve. And despite legitimate concerns about cloud vendor lock-in after moving to public cloud, those concerns are often exaggerated, Bowker said. At many levels, IT has dealt with lock-in for years. And some forms of lock-in -- such as standardization on a particular operating system -- can be helpful in spanning public and private clouds. Hypervisors from vendors such as VMware and Microsoft can also help manage virtualization across clouds.

Chris Riley, DevOps analyst at Fixate, a content marketing specialist based in Livermore, Calif., agreed that the biggest challenge when moving workloads across public and private clouds is the unification of the platform technology. That said, organizations heavily invested in VMware should consider vCloud Air because it would make the transition between private and public more seamless. Likewise, organizations invested in Microsoft Hyper-V stacks should consider Azure for public cloud.

Another way to increase workload portability between public and private clouds is by using containers.

"If your entire stack is run on containers, then they can go anywhere at any time," Bowker said. Containers will also help simplify the migration of future applications to the cloud, since containerized applications can move to the cloud "on a whim," he added.

Next Steps

How to get your hybrid cloud model off the ground

Tools to help you migrate workloads in a multi-cloud era

What to include on your cloud migration checklist

Why are CIOs slow to adopt a cloud migration strategy?

The risks of cloud migration strategy

Learn about hybrid cloud challenges for AWS VMware shops

This was last published in August 2015

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What have your experiences been migrating between clouds?
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Sort of the same answer as I gave to a similar hybrid cloud question. I don't migrate between cloud solutions, I use real-world hardware and the cloud to balance my data backup and security needs. I won't be going full cloud until costs are more attractive.
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