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How to transition to the cloud: 7 best practices

The cloud can help improve an app's performance and cost, but businesses need to plan for success. Follow these best practices to ensure cloud migration success.

It's easy to identify the reasons an organization would transition to the cloud. The concepts and practices necessary to accomplish a cloud migration, however, can be difficult to grasp.

Every organization's experience with the cloud will be unique depending on exactly which types of cloud resources it uses and what it deploys on them. Nevertheless, the seven practices discussed here help to establish a foundation to plan an efficient, low-risk migration to the cloud.

Why transition to cloud computing?

Before planning a cloud transition, it's important for businesses to identify which benefits they seek to gain. The most common reasons to move to the cloud include the following:

  • Scalability. The limitless resources available in the cloud make it easy to scale workloads up and down as demand fluctuates.
  • Rapid application deployment. Cloud servers, serverless functions and other types of cloud-based hosting environments can be spun up on demand, which enables teams to deploy applications rapidly.
  • Distributed infrastructure. The cloud enables businesses to distribute their workloads across a wide geographic area. This makes IT resources more resilient against failure because localized problems, such as a natural disaster, won't be as disruptive.
  • Simplified cost management. Most cloud resources are priced on a pay-as-you-go model, which eliminates the need for large, upfront investments in IT infrastructure.

The importance of each of these factors to a particular business will vary. For example, a retailer whose applications see significant seasonal fluctuations in usage may value scalability more than a company that uses the cloud to host internal, line-of-business applications whose usage is relatively steady.

What are the main challenges to transition to the cloud?

A transition to the cloud is often difficult for various reasons:

  • Plethora of cloud options. With so many cloud platforms available and so many different services running on each of them, it can be hard to know which cloud -- or clouds -- to use. Major public cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft dominate the market, but alternative clouds may, in some cases, offer advantages such as better pricing.
  • App adjustments. Businesses frequently rely on applications that weren't designed to run in the cloud. You will likely need to refactor applications -- that is, redesign and at least partially recode them -- so that they work well in a cloud environment.
  • New processes, tools and skills. IT tools and strategies that work on premises simply may be inadequate in the cloud. The cloud imposes unique security, monitoring and management challenges that are distinct from those of a traditional on-premises environment. Developers and IT teams, therefore, need special skills to thrive in a cloud environment; it can take time to develop that expertise.
New cloud-native digital workloads by 2025
Over 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms, up from 30% in 2021, according to Gartner.

7 best practices for transitioning to the cloud

These benefits can be maximized -- and challenges simplified -- by adhering to practices that make successful cloud transitions easier to achieve.

1. Get organizational buy-in

A transition to the cloud becomes much easier when all stakeholders are on board. They include the technical practitioners, who will set up and manage cloud environments, as well as management, who should support the migration to the cloud and the temporary and permanent expenses that come with it.

Other employees, too, should understand why the business is moving to the cloud. As users, they should learn how cloud computing will benefit them, which ways applications will become easier to use and how there will be a learning curve. Business leaders should prepare clear answers to questions like these before embarking on a cloud transition.

2. Decide which cloud services to use

Given the vast number of cloud services available -- from VMs and containers, to object and block storage, to IoT device management and beyond -- businesses should identify upfront which cloud services they plan to deploy. Otherwise, they may end up running more types of services than they can effectively manage at once. They may also fail to determine in a systematic way which cloud services are the best fit for their workloads.

The right services will vary from one workload and business to the next. In general, businesses should consider factors such as how much each type of cloud service costs, how hard or easy it is to deploy workloads on the service, how the service can be monitored and managed, and how a particular service might create security risks.

3. Understand what shouldn't run in the cloud

Organizations should know that certain workloads may be better left out of a cloud environment. Some applications, for instance, depend on local networking configurations that could be difficult to replicate in the cloud. Other apps may need direct access to bare-metal hardware, which is harder to find -- and more costly -- in the cloud.

Early in a cloud transition is the best time for a business to identify which applications won't work well off premises. Plan steps to modify those applications to suit a cloud environment, or alternatively, commit to keep those applications out of the cloud.

4. Identify new security risks

The cloud presents specific security challenges. Because cloud environments are connected to the internet by default, it is easier for attackers to locate and exploit cloud resources. Cloud environments can be complex, and even small misconfigurations, such as accidentally allowing public access to a sensitive storage bucket, can have large security implications.

Businesses should assess how they will mitigate these security risks as part of their cloud transition plan.

5. Understand cloud costs

Cost models, too, can change dramatically in the cloud. Cloud computing enables an organization to pay as it goes, which simplifies cost management in one respect. That said, a business needs to consider costs related to a transition to the cloud. For example, a provider will assess egress fees when a customer moves data out of a cloud environment, and customers may face fees for using a provider's monitoring and security tools.

For these reasons, it's important to perform a detailed assessment to learn how much each type of cloud service and resource will cost and then to seek ways to control those costs.

6. Define cloud roles and ownership

A business should specifically identify who within their organization will be in charge of the cloud environment. Who can launch new cloud resources? Will the entire organization share one cloud environment, or will each business unit or team have its own account? Do changes to the cloud environment need to be documented in a certain way?

Answering questions like these before a formal transition to the cloud begins should help to ensure that the business has a consistent plan to manage its cloud environment responsibly.

7. Plan a long-term cloud roadmap

Cloud environments almost always change over time. Businesses may migrate applications from one type of cloud service, such as VMs, to another, such as Kubernetes. They may move more workloads from on premises to the cloud. They may expand from single-cloud architectures to hybrid or multi-cloud configurations.

It's impossible to anticipate every change ahead of time, of course. But organizations can at least create a roadmap that identifies -- in general terms -- how they expect their cloud strategy to evolve over time. For instance, the roadmap might specify that the business plans to launch a single cloud at first, and two years after that date, it will begin evaluating multi-cloud options.

More actions to ensure cloud migration success

Every cloud transition is unique, but an organization can get ahead of many of the challenges that complicate cloud migrations. The secret is to systematically evaluate key factors, such as which cloud services to use, how to assign cloud resources to different parts of the business and how to grow a cloud environment over time. Additionally, organizations also should keep abreast of broader trends that are driving cloud migrations, which might influence future cloud decisions.

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