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Cloud Adoption

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5 Stages of Cloud Adoption: Webinar Summary

Posted on December 6, 2017 by Maya Cieszynska

The public cloud is no longer a blip on your IT radar. Powered by Category 5 winds of change, it now covers every corner of the IT horizon. In 2017 alone, the cloud grew by almost 40% – a phenomenal growth rate for any technology. By 2020, 60% of IT infrastructure and 70% of software and IT services spending will be in the cloud.

This means you must prioritize your move to the cloud to maintain your competitive edge. Our webinar poll revealed that three-quarters of participants were strategizing cloud adoption. A quarter had plans to make investments in one to three years.

But migrating to the cloud is not a small undertaking, and spending on innovation is not cheap. Research shows that for every $1 you earmark for innovation, you will spend another $7 on execution. This is because your data centers are not modernized for cloud adoption, which means you must invest in new technologies. You must also train your teams to operate new systems.

In our webinar, we explain how you can solve these problems and move your IT infrastructure to the cloud with minimal expenditure. We break down the entire migration process into five easy stages that you can implement right now to begin cloud adoption.

Watch our “Five Stages of Cloud Adoption” webinar.

Stage 1 – Gap Analysis

Your journey towards successful cloud adoption begins with a Gap Analysis of your current IT systems. This will give you a detailed inventory of the applications, or production workloads, in your data centers. This information is crucial for generating a cost estimate and a preliminary budget for cloud adoption. A poll conducted during our webinar showed that more than 70% of participants had no idea how to create a cost estimate.

A Gap Analysis will also help you project the performance of your assets in the cloud. It will provide technology recommendations to you about functions that can only be executed in the cloud. This will help you discover new channels of productivity for your cross-functional teams.

Stage 2 – Get Moving

This is where you take your first test flight in the cloud and experience its functionality first-hand. You do this by replicating a single production workload to the cloud and deploying it via a best practices approach. This means you must build scripts, use management interfaces, and utilize Infrastructure as Code.

Your IT and cross-functional teams must monitor your workload continuously to understand its performance in the cloud. Your cross-functional teams should be made up of Security, Support, Financing, and Lines of Business. This gives your entire company the perspective it needs for cloud adoption.

After deployment, you must conduct an introspective review of the entire test flight. You should take note of the processes you used for deployment. You should also highlight the skill sets and tools you need for larger migrations. These steps will give your company a clear picture of the functions, elements, and tools required for success in the cloud.

Stage 3 – Plan

In this stage, you need to build a profile of all the applications running in your current environment. Make notes of the servers they’re running on, their system and support requirements, and their stakeholders. This process will allow you to map out the exact resources that your applications need to run.

This application profile is vital for successful cloud adoption, but a majority of companies do not maintain this list. A poll conducted during our webinar revealed that 67% of people did not know about their applications’ requirements. Another 17% had no catalog of their applications and users.

The profile will reveal how much of your data center’s resources are actually being used by your applications. In most cases, you will find your workloads are only utilizing 20% of available resources. It is only during brief periods that your servers operate at 100% capacity. This means you’re paying large amounts for unused resources.

You can correct this by provisioning applications in the cloud for nominal usage. You can then set up the cloud so that it allows for 100% demand during peak periods. This means you only pay for 100% performance when needed, resulting in great cost savings.

You should also analyze your applications for cloud compatibility during this stage. Find out if your application vendors support cloud adoption, and highlight any roadblocks. Identify applications that will not function in the cloud, and chalk out a plan to migrate with minimal disruption.

Stage 4 – Migrate

The first step in this stage is to build an application support infrastructure in the cloud. You must ensure that the cloud’s servers are configured to run your workloads, and that storage is available for your data. The network must also be set up to make the cloud an extension of your physical database.

You’re now all set for launch. The easiest way to begin migration is to automate deployment through scripts and templates. Scripts initiate a pre-programmed compute instance in the cloud. This configures workloads for deployment in line with your application profile. Templates, on the other hand, allow you to use the existing software in the cloud itself. This significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to deploy solutions.

This process is called Infrastructure as Code and will allow your IT team to deploy hundreds of applications in minutes. It will dramatically simplify cloud migration for your IT team and will enable all of your departments to seamlessly move to the cloud.

Stage 5 – Optimize

Now that your workloads have migrated to the cloud, you must begin constant optimization to ensure peak performance. Your applications will need to be monitored for efficiency, and resource usage will need to be adjusted for maximum productivity.

You must also keep your cloud spend in check. Over 75% of companies report exceeding their budget by at least 50% within one year of moving to the cloud. You can avoid such expenses by rightsizing your applications on a constant basis.

Rightsizing entails provisioning resources in line with the changing requirements of your applications. During peak periods, you should adjust your settings to provide more resources to applications. But as soon as your workloads return to original benchmarks, you should throttle back for maximum savings. This process can be entirely automated via Infrastructure as Code.

Optimization will also help you modernize your applications. The cloud grants you access to new updates that might not have been available to you otherwise. This will significantly help your business maintain its competitive edge.

These five stages will help your company move to the cloud seamlessly and within budget.

5 Ways you Could be Misunderstanding Cloud Usage and Costs

Posted on April 19, 2018 by Maya Cieszynska

Before beginning your cloud journey, it’s important to recognize the impact usage and costs will have on your ultimate success.

A thorough gap analysis will arm you with the appropriate insights from which to make savvy decisions. It will look, in detail, at your current state and the resources needed to reach your desired destination. But too often, misunderstandings or overlooked considerations result in a flawed view. Like misplaced dominoes, early mistakes assessing needs compound during planning and deployment. The end is likely migration failure or at the very least cost overruns.

It’s also more complex than you may think, says David Brisbois, Softchoice’s Senior Manager of Assessment and Technology Deployment Serves Consulting.

“Vendor presentations make cloud usage, costs and migration seem simple until you try to use it. Then you realize it’s more complicated than you ever imagined.”

Most Common Mistakes

Although cost-usage misunderstandings are not troubling at first, Brisbois says, this is deceptive. As deployments scale past a workload or two, complexity creeps in. The effects of a poorly-executed gap analysis become evident, and it’s sometimes too late to go back.

The root of many gap analysis errors is often the traditional focus IT places on speeds and feeds. For an effective gap analysis and successful cloud journey, you must also look through a business lens.

Understand pay-for-performance

Many organizations fail to truly recognize the difference of a pay-for-performance model. This is a fundamental shift from the traditional mindset towards bigger, faster and better. You must think about use, not configuration.

Failing to make this shift can result in unexpected costs as you pay for unused resources, but also can lead to poor user experiences as you throttle resources you need. Look at performance through the business lens and tailor it to those needs, and the results you are trying to achieve. A downsizing of resources may be in order.

Also, consider that new models for cloud continue to emerge, such as “serverless computing” or function-as-a-service. At first, these models can look extremely inexpensive, but you need a deep understanding of all variables that can impact costs to fully evaluate them.

Software costs

Even at this early stage, investigate the changes required to the software you’re considering migration to Azure or AWS. Some versions of software are not cloud-ready and will need upgrades. This could be too costly, making them poor choices for migration. This is the case with versions of SQL Server, often one of the first places that are thought about moving to the cloud.

Also, think about inter-dependencies between applications. If two applications communicate with each other, migrating only one could result in performance delays and user dissatisfaction. You’ll have to consider the cost of moving both.

Security

A lot of confusion still exists around cloud security and ownership. Many organization incorrectly assume the provider owns the entire security stack. You need to recognize where the provider’s responsibility ends and yours begins. If not, it can result in unaccounted security costs and can result in costs associated with non-compliance (fees, fines, etc.)

Of course, there’s also the potential costs that come from any actual breaches that occur due to such confusion. given the importance of the data in the cloud, this is an important early consideration.

Data gravity

If you build it, data will come. Storage is rather inexpensive in the cloud, and data has a way of naturally gravitating to it. As you move more workloads to the cloud, the feeds from other tools start moving data to it as well (social media, Salesforce, analytics, etc.)

Expect this phenomenon and factor it into your gap analysis and plans. Also keep in mind that once data is in the cloud, it often remains there even after the removal of its associated workload. This ‘zombie data’ has an ongoing cost and no value.

Governance

Users have a tendency of spinning workloads up into the cloud and forgetting them there. For example, it’s not uncommon for IT to add cloud resources to support application development and fail to decommission them once the project is complete. This resulting “compute-sprawl” creates cost overruns.

As early as possible, consider who will have privileges to deploy workloads and be held accountable. This will help to avoid unexpected costs but also the game of responsibility “hot potato” that can occur between IT and lines of business. You will need visibility and tools to monitor cloud usage, even if the budgets now rest elsewhere.

Public cloud is a fundamental shift from the traditional financial model of IT. And the technology is outpacing finance’s ability to keep up with it. Because of this, it’s more critical that IT be in control of, and aware of, all possible costs.

There’s a hidden benefit to conducting a thorough gap analysis for the cloud: spring cleaning. It is the best time to de-clutter applications, modernize and determine usage requirements. While all this will make the migration to cloud easier, it also helps right-size on-premise applications and data.

Like many IT challenges today, this biggest one around cloud cost is the speed of change. In the old world, events compelling you to look at costs came once a year or once every three years. Now, something impacts cost nearly daily. There is no silver bullet to solving this. to be prepared for the inevitable changes, IT must be able to identify all cost and usage factors and have oversight and visibility into them.

Cloud automation: Closing the innovation gap

Posted on December 11, 2017 by Martin Pietrzak

Businesses often turn to the cloud as a new destination to run their workloads. But getting the most out of the cloud requires more than a simple lift-and-shift of your applications.

That was the point made in our recent webinar, Cloud as a Model, not a Place: Migration and Automation. According to presenters Patrick O’Leary, Microsoft Practice Leader, and Skip Purdy, Senior Microsoft Azure Solutions Architect, many organizations need to rethink their approach to the cloud.

Watch the webinar:

By approaching cloud as a new model for IT, you can achieve three major goals:

  • Enhanced customer experiences
  • Better risk management
  • Improved IT impact

Many view the cloud as a means to save costs, but its true benefits come from increased agility. Today, 48 percent of lines of business go outside of IT to meet their needs for faster innovation. The flexibility and speed offered by cloud can help close the gap between IT and those lines of business. It’s no wonder Gartner reports that 90 percent of CIOs are using hybrid cloud to get ahead of this trend.

The cloud also helps organizations with scaling and meeting high-performance application needs. Both are essential for improving IT service delivery. But to drive material benefit to the business, you must understand cloud automation. Here are some of the primary uses and benefits.

Benefits of cloud automation

Automation unlocks opportunities across every cloud adoption stage:

  • Build – Cloud automation tools simplify the deployment of virtual machines and cloud infrastructure. They can also integrate with AppDev tools for instant scaling.
  • Configure – Cloud software updates and patches are made available almost daily. Automation improves efficiency as well as IT security by automating the update process.
  • Monitor – Integrating automation with cloud monitoring helps you make infrastructure decisions faster. You can also define service thresholds and trigger actions to manage set scenarios, like adding needed resources.
  • Protect – You can automate troubleshooting to deal with issues like server failures. This is especially effective in the case of repeatable problems.
  • Security – Using machine learning and automation, cloud security services can proactively take action. For example, you can immediately quarantine hacked VMs. Or have them destroyed and quickly rebuilt.
  • Governance – You can right-size cloud services with automation, role-based access control, and resource analytics. Automation can also shut down services and machines users have forgotten. This keeps so-called “cloud sprawl” in check.

The automation tool company Puppet found that the benefits of cloud automation are dramatic. In a recent study they determined that automation reduces deployment time by 3.1 times. It also keeps infrastructure more current. IT organizations adopting cloud automation deployed changes 2.5 times more often than their peers.

Infrastructure as code: the key to cloud automation success

Infrastructure as code is the use of definition files to automate infrastructure. A machine-readable text file describes the infrastructure that will be provisioned and managed. It’s then spun up and down based on this definition. Infrastructure as code scripts and templates are available for all public cloud environments. This speeds deployment and simplifies the right-sizing of resources while accelerating ROI.

To squeeze the most value out of the cloud, you can’t treat it like traditional IT. You need to view the cloud as a new model for IT services, not a mere destination to put them.

3 Steps to Predict Cloud Migration Costs

Posted on November 24, 2017 by Jonathan White

There’s a simple reason why one in three businesses say their cloud migration was more expensive and complicated than expected. They planned it wrong!

But just because the explanation is simple, doesn’t mean the solution will be. Migration to cloud services like Azure is a complex affair, involving multiple new business paradigms, processes, and variables. All of which is incredibly daunting, and difficult, for a business to straddle – particularly those with little to no cloud experience.

What I’ve discovered working with Softchoice clients is with the right approach, you can develop a much more accurate understanding of what your cloud project will cost you. Avoiding nasty surprises and ending up getting the most bang for your buck.

Step 1: Start with “Why Migrate to a Cloud Solution” (and forget about cost savings)

The first and arguably most important step when planning your cloud solution: Why are we doing this? And why now?

Usually, I find there is a compelling event, something that triggered the conversation around cloud. Perhaps your key hardware is going end of life. Maybe your software agreements are up for renewal. Maybe you had a devastating attack or are onboarding a new team across the country.

Whatever the answer, you need to be crystal clear about why cloud is on the table. Then you can properly consider your options and develop a deep understanding of whether it’s worth the move.

Here’s a little tip: your “Why” is not about cost savings!

Many people in the business world believe cloud is primarily a tool for costs savings. It’s not! In fact, cloud solutions often cost more than your existing on-premise solution, on the surface. The real value of many cloud projects is due to the less tangible impact it has. Things like allowing your team to focus on innovation, shifting to OpEx models and improving productivity or time to market.

Step 2: Define your current state, using data and objective measurements

Next up, you need a detailed and objective understanding of what your current state costs and usage are. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy process. It’s something many organizations fail to do correctly – if at all – during this crucial stage of cloud migration planning.

The reason it’s so hard is most businesses don’t possess the right tools to monitor and track their consumption of resources. And costs occur on many levels, across multiple business developments and are managed by many stakeholders.

That said, to create a solid current state profile, you must collect insights across three major categories:

Actual Data Center Usage and Consumption:

What resources are being used, and how much are you paying. Everything from touching the storage, to the server, networking or your existing IT infrastructure. Note: This isn’t about how your assets are configured – but how much of them are you actually using. On-premise configuration is almost never what you actually use – but hey, that’s why you’re going cloud!

Facilities and Utilities Cost:

Next, find out how much your data center is costing you from a utilities perspective. Monthly cooling and power costs, and sometimes real estate, all add up to define your pre-cloud expenses. As with the previous step, you will want to know as much detail as possible about your contracts, your monthly costs as well as actual usage. Not all IT leaders have access to this so you may need to brand out to other departments to find these answers.

People Costs and Opportunities:

How much of your IT staff is dedicated to maintenance and infrastructure roles that simply won’t be needed? More importantly, what kind of resources do you need/want in order to tackle your more innovative business priorities? In the last stage you will put a finer point on this, but start thinking now about resource re-allocation in the cloud.

Step 3: Accurately predicting your future state, aligned to business goals

Finally, it’s time to consider all the options to get a firm understanding of what the cloud will cost you – and how it will change your business.

At this stage, you conduct a detailed cost comparison among various solutions, vendors and your existing in-house costs. Be careful: there are many hidden costs, as well as opportunities, you need to be aware of:

Plan for surprise, hidden costs:

There is a long list of costs that catch businesses off-guard when operating in the cloud. For example data egress charges, spike to network bandwidth demand, as well as optimizing your data classification costs (don’t pay for top-tier data for rarely accessed data, for example).

Identify dependencies:

In my opinion, this is one of the most important steps to properly roll out a new cloud solution. You must identify all your dependencies, and understand in which order, and to what extent, workloads and apps should move to the cloud. If you break one app by moving another to the cloud, you’ve just ruined a lot of people’s day!

Pick your first win:

Getting back to Step 1, you need to align your first move to the cloud with your vision, in order to guarantee the most buy-in from decision makers. What are the low-hanging fruit, or the initiatives sure to make the biggest impact and align with your “Why”? I suggest thinking of cloud projects as clear, concise sniper targets, versus the big and messy shotgun approach.

People transformation and alignments:

Now that your business is going cloud, what new skills will your existing team need to gain to keep the engines running? Training and education are much needed, often ignored, expenses. Ideally, you will also free up your team to focus on outcomes aligned to the business. What key priorities can you assign them to and how will that add to the success of your customers and your business?

Conclusion: It’s not easy. But it’s mandatory

A blog summary, however detailed, can’t do justice to the vast amount of work and time needed to properly predict how a cloud migration will impact your business. Especially in the second stage, we can’t stress enough how important it is to get data-driven, objective and measurable insights to fully understand your costs today, in order to compare them to what comes tomorrow.

If you had any questions or would like to learn more, always feel free to get in touch.

The Path to Cloud Security is Through Automation

Posted on November 17, 2017 by Tadd Axon

So you’ve established your business in the cloud, but is it secure?

The public cloud provides your organization with a tremendous breadth and depth of capabilities to optimize and modernize your security practices. But if you don’t know what is available, or how to configure them, it will be challenging to reap the benefits.

Cloud security is an ongoing optimization process

While your initial deployment to the public cloud is underway, the work is far from over. This isn’t news to most IT leaders. You have to adjust your deployments over time using information from the public cloud. This allows you to optimize the balance between operational expenses and application performance.

Organizations operating in a hybrid or all-in cloud system also need to track, update, and improve their security posture. Otherwise, you may put your organization at risk. Plus, you’ll leave exciting opportunities on the table. You can reduce manual work, leverage artificial intelligence, make evidence-based decisions on security, and make it easier for end users to stay safe.

Augment cloud security using automation and intelligence

An essential element for optimizing cloud security is automation. It helps you take advantage of the powerful, cutting-edge tools cloud providers and third-party vendors offer. Integrating these tools and capabilities often takes only a few clicks. But, you need to be aware of them and configure them properly, while keeping an eye on their impact once in place.

One of the most obvious ways is with patch management and upgraded cloud services. Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) offer “evergreen” status. That means they are constantly updated in the background. As an IT admin, you have some ability to manage the pace of these changes to better suit your needs. Infrastructure as a Service offering needs more attention and testing. It’s much like virtual machines in the traditional data center. Automation creates caution and consistency in your patching approach. This ensures that all workloads get the attention they need.

Another major automation opportunity is through identity management and access policies. Out of the box, services such as Azure work to establish a “baseline” of normal user behavior. So, if there is an anomalous or impossible access request, Azure can do something about it automatically. For example, the same user wouldn’t be able to sign in at the same time in two locations across the world without at least alerting your security team. Most of the configuration of these services is out of your hands. But, IT admins can configure responses to anomalous situations. You can do this by setting limits or adding strong technical enforcement to existing policies.

A wealth of automated and labor-reducing tools are also available on the operations side. These take manual, repetitive tasks, and replace them with repeatable, consistent outcomes. IT teams can then focus on tasks and projects that require technical acumen and have higher business value.

Staying vigilant: set it, don’t forget it

As a best practice, organizations need to stay current on changes and new capabilities offered by their cloud providers. Security capabilities are no exception. These are key architectural decisions your organization has made. Therefore, you need to keep some degree of currency. What may have been sufficient six weeks ago could be made more efficient today. This requires cooperation between development, operations, and security teams.

Cloud providers offer powerful tools to support your organization. You can automatically generate a prioritized list of administrative dashboards, informed by the configuration of your existing assets and external information (Azure Security Center and AWS Guard Duty). A gamified security score (Office 356 SecureScore) highlights areas that need improving. You can sort it by user impact and expected cost. Many of these recommendations take only a click of the mouse to complete. But, you need to mandate someone to stay on top of them to make sure these needs don’t get ignored.

Cloud providers often take care of or make compliance with regulatory frameworks simple. However, your organization is ultimately accountable for this responsibility. Regulatory requirements change over time. You need to understand what your cloud provider is doing to help you comply, and what you need to configure.

Getting help automating your cloud security

Optimizing your cloud security requires time, resources, attention detail, and expertise. From configuration to ongoing monitoring, it’s a significant investment.

Softchoice has many professional and managed services to help your organization take full advantage of the capabilities offered by your public cloud provider. We also have a number of data-driven assessments and proven methodologies to make your cloud security reliable.

3 Reasons You Need A Cloud Managed Services Provider

Posted on November 15, 2017 by Todd Simpson

Many IT leaders have been asking themselves if they need a Cloud Managed Services Provider. Given a lack of experienced cloud technologist and growing complexities, the answer seems clear.

As Gartner has pointed out, the chances of businesses having a “no cloud” policy will soon sound as ridiculous as having a “no Internet” policy today.

Why Companies are Turning to a New Kind of Partner: Cloud Managed Services Provider (MSP)

When a business invests in the cloud, it opens the door to significant change and transformation. But no matter how great the promised value, as with any change, risks and uncertainties are bound to follow. Businesses that are ill-prepared for the cloud frequently face many hurdles.

Financial Insight & Cloud Governance

Most businesses have poor visibility into their costs and lack appropriate governance. This leads to configuration errors, ineffective controls, and unnecessary costs. Creating budget chaos for the uninitiated.

A Rapid Pace of Change

A shift from slow-and-predictable upgrade cycles, to hundreds of new services and patches upgrades a year means many businesses get caught off-guard. This leads to vulnerabilities, performance disruptions, and hours of excess manual work. It also means you miss out on potentially valuable new features as they become available.

The Skills Gap

The odds your internal resources are well-equipped to navigate this new cloud landscape are slim. Yes, you can spend time and money on training, research, education, or hunt down an (expensive) in-house cloud pro. But this often means delays to leveraging cloud technologies in a way that delivers material value to the business.

For these and other reasons, many organizations look to a cloud managed service provider (MSP) for support. An MSP can help you overcome these challenges. They can right-size your expenses, deliver useful and timely insights, and enable best practices for every step of your cloud journey. From configuration to optimization.

Still, not all cloud MSP’s are the same. Picking the right one depends on your needs, as well as the experience and approach of the provider.

How to pick the right cloud MSP

In general, you need to understand what you want before deciding on the right cloud provider. A good MSP should be able to help you define and then refine, your cloud vision. No matter how fuzzy.

When it comes time to pick your MSP, follow these key criteria and guidelines:

Deep expertise in your platform of choice:

Your MSP should have proven experience designing, delivering and perfecting solutions for the cloud provider you are considering. Are they a credible, recognized partner of Microsoft or Amazon? Do they have the highest-possible credentialed experts? If none of this applies, move on!

Ability to support (and challenge) your vision:

Does the MSP offer one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter approach? Or do they seek to understand your goals, and offer research and curated insights to develop your plan? You want a partner who has experienced enough to understand what will actually work for your business and to spot the risks you can’t see. MSP’s that provide you with objective, nonbiased assessments and customer-centric methodologies are your best bet.

Ability to support a broad range of cloud solutions:

The cloud enterprise involves the use of many apps, workloads, and strategies to be successful. Your MSP should have a proven record of delivering and supporting a broad range of solutions from your chosen provider, from IaaS to Paas. Don’t team up with an Office 365 shop, only to find out they can’t help you with your Azure project.

Automated, repeatable methodologies:

Experienced MSP’s provide a range of automated and templated services. It means you can get on the cloud faster, maintain consistency on the platform and reduce human error. Find an MSP with a clear offering of automated, machine-driven processes. Processes that have been built from experience gained in delivering projects in relevant industries.

Powerful insight and governance tools:

Clearly understanding how your cloud resources are being consumed is essential to optimizing your costs and reducing risks. Unfortunately, cloud providers offer very limited “out of the box” capabilities to address this need. A good cloud MSP needs to fill in the blanks, with a unified, dashboard view of your entire cloud operation. This should include curated reports, easy to action recommendations, and ongoing support, to help you make the best decisions to optimize your cloud spend over time.

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