7 warnings to heed before a cloud migration

Veterans of cloud deployments offer tips about hardware, legacy systems, and staff

If a cloud migration is in your company's future, some IT cloud veterans are warning you to avoid the technology pitfalls that could be lurking in the dark.

Migrating to the cloud is becoming more common, especially for sizable enterprises. Certainly, most CIOs and IT managers are aware that they need to size up their security needs and ask about critical points, like reliability and scalability, before taking such a big step.

There are, however, those pesky missteps that are easy to make and that can lead to major headaches if you don't plan around them.

At the annual AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week, veterans of cloud deployments laid out some warnings for enterprise teams preparing to make such a move. Here are some pitfalls they urged companies to watch out for:

1. Be prepared to deal with old legacy systems

landon williams weather company Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld

Landon Williams, vice president of Infrastructure Architecture and Services at The Weather Company. 

Landon Williams, vice president of Infrastructure Architecture and Services at The Weather Company, the parent company behind The Weather Channel, weather.com and Weather Underground. Williams said his company has migrated 80 percent of its services and apps to the cloud. Now they are facing the really hard part – that last 20 percent.

So why are those last apps and services going to be so tough? Because they're legacy systems and Williams and his team have to decide whether to rejigger them to work in the cloud or rebuild them all together.

"There are still legacy systems you have that are hard to re-architect or are fundamentally built to not be compliant with what the cloud needs," Williams said. "I want to get off some of these legacy systems or upgrade them because they have architectures built 15 years ago for an [in-house] data center, and it's not built to move to the cloud… The enterprise space still has a hard time with this."

If the apps or services are so outdated that they're either not meeting the company's needs or they would cost more to fix than to start over, then Williams will decide to just rebuild them.

Jeroen Tas, CEO of Informatics Solutions and Services for Philips Healthcare, a division of the Netherlands-based Royal Philips, said it's not worth it to repurpose old apps or services..

jeroen tas philips healthcare Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld

Jeroen Tas, CEO of Informatics Solutions and Services at Philips Healthcare.

"You have to re-architect," said Tas, who has used cloud computing services to analyze 15 petabytes of patient data. "If you want to leverage the cloud, there's no way you can fix an old legacy service. It's a different architecture. It's built with a different model in mind. In our experience, you can't just tweak it."

2. Don't repurpose old hardware

Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warned conference attendees not to bring their old hardware into a new private cloud.

"In the beginning, we had a lot of people trying to bring their old hardware and put it into the new private cloud," Soderstrom said. "It just didn't work. It's a different world... Build a reliable system from reliable components. That works."

3. Don't screw up something critical

You know those mission-critical data stores, services and apps? Leave them alone, at least for a while.

Soderstrom said that some IT leaders want to jump into the cloud with their biggest, shiniest app or service. Just don't. Start with something small.

"Go where it's easy," he said. "Move the things that work well to the cloud first. Don't move the sensitive data until you're ready."

Jason Fischl, vice president of engineering at Remind, a company that makes a communication tool for teachers, students, and parents, agreed, adding that enterprises would be wise to take the migration at a slow, steady pace.

"It can be tempting to try to do too much, and you have to find ways to do it incrementally, or you won't be able to keep up with your current products," Fischl said.

4. Don't get stuck in analysis paralysis

Stephen Orban, the head of enterprise strategy at AWS and the former CIO and global head of technology at Dow Jones & Co., said he too often sees enterprises get stuck in the planning stages. Mired in spreadsheets, plans and what-ifs, they never get out of the starting gate.

"Don't be afraid to get started," Orban said. "I have seen some people get stuck in analysis paralysis where they're planning and planning and not moving forward."

Start small. Start slowly, but just eventually start.

"If it doesn't work the way you expected, you can spin it down and move on and you've learned from what didn't work," Orban added. "You can get started… and you can learn along the way."

5. Don't neglect a strong network connection

Eric Geiger, vice president of IT operations at Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, said IT leaders need to make sure they have a good network connection.

It's easy to forget and it can make a big difference, he said.

john trujillo pacific life aws Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld

John Trujillo,  assistant vice president of technology at Pacific Life Insurance Co.

"Connecting to [the cloud] through your VPN is fine, but if you have offices in Chicago and you're connecting with Virginia, that latency can become frustrating," Geiger said. "And that latency can become a little obnoxious. Make sure you pay a lot of attention to that networking component. How you get there is a big part of it."

6. Code once, deploy twice

Ariel Kelman, vice president of worldwide marketing at AWS, warned that IT managers need to make sure that they're coding as efficiently, across networks, as they can.

"Companies, especially enterprises, want to use the cloud as an extension of their on-premise network," he said. "If you're a developer, you should be able to deploy your apps so you don't have to code them differently if they're on premise or on the cloud."

7. Moving to the cloud will be harder without the right people in the right jobs

Several IT managers at the conference talked about the changing roles that IT staffers will have to take once an enterprise moves to the cloud.

John Trujillo, assistant vice president of technology at Pacific Life Insurance Co., said figuring out what jobs won't be needed, who can take on new roles and who needs more training will be key to a clean migration and cloud run.

"You have to re-evaluate the way you're organized," he said. "The old organizational structures don't apply. If you have a firewall person and a storage person, those jobs are now on a dashboard that a single engineer can adjust. What's the best way to be organized with these new capabilities?"

Robert Mahowald, an analyst with IDC, said rethinking workers' roles and skills has to be part of the migration.

"People who have had traditional roles will need to be retrained or repurposed or reskilled," he said. "We've found there's a 50 percent skills gap between here's where you want to be in two years, and here's where are your skills are today."

This story, " 7 warnings to heed before a cloud migration " was originally published by Computerworld.

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