One of the most frequently asked questions is “how do I actually get something into the Cloud?” Like a lot of things, the answer is, “it depends.” It depends on what you are intending to move into the Cloud, but in general it requires a process. This post starts by talking about simple situations, and then introduces a ten-step recipe to move a business application into the Cloud.
First, lets define a “business application.” A business application is the set of software, system services and data required to perform a specific business function. Email is a business application. So is on-line ordering, customer relationship management, inventory control, delivery scheduling, in-company March Madness pool manager… It might be third party software, your own proprietary software, a collection of documents, or some combination thereof. It might also be an administrative function such as the testing of a new release, patch or process prior to putting it in the live environment.
Once important feature of the Cloud is that it is not one size fits all. There are lots of different ways to get the services delivered. In some cases, usually due to performance, availability, compliance or privacy requirements, the Cloud may not be right for a specific business application. But you cannot be too small, or too large, for the Cloud to provide real business value.
If it is really simple, just do it.
What is a “simple” business application? To me and in this context, a simple business application is one that:
- Doesn’t involve data that is subject to compliance or privacy regulations.
- Doesn’t have strict performance requirements
- There is no business penalty if it doesn’t respond “instantly” all of the time.
- You don’t expect to push a high rate of transactions through the business application (a rule of thumb: more than 10 a second).
- Doesn’t have strict availability requirements (i.e., there is no business penalty if it is only available 95% of the time).
- Doesn’t involve a lot of data (more than a few gigabytes).
Alternatively, it might be something that will only be needed for a short time (from hours through a month or two), where the cost of going through the ten-step recipe isn’t justified by the business value or risk of just doing it. The Cloud can be very good at allowing you to try something quickly and inexpensively; something like a new marketing campaign, a new process, a new geographic market, even a new business application.
In these cases, pick up your credit card and go to any of the dozens of Public Cloud providers like Amazon, Google, or Microsoft and rent your own little piece of the Cloud.
The ten-step recipe.
Recipes always make it look so easy. I get easily confused by steps that sound easy and intuitive, but aren’t. Like “Separate two eggs.” The recipe never tells you how far!
Here are the ten steps to the Cloud, with a short explanation of each.
1. Understand your business needs.
Your business requirements must drive your technology requirements. Understand the business drivers and the compelling events that have led you to considering the Cloud. Success should be measured not by the number of business applications you have moved to the Cloud, but the real business value you have achieved in doing so. In order to determine that value, you have to measure it, and then you have to know what to measure.
2. Select the business application.
Selecting that first, or the next, business application is a thoughtful and deliberate balancing act in five dimensions:
- You want the business application that will provide measurable business benefit, whether that is reduced IT cost, reduced management aggravation, or increased agility to react to seasonal or unexpected business opportunities.
- There must be a low risk of damaging the business due to the delay or failure of the project.
- It should not have extreme requirements in the areas of security, performance, availability or the amount of data it requires.
- It must be “Cloud-ready.” In most cases this means the applications have already been virtualized in your own environment.
- It must be important enough that people will notice that it, in fact, continued to operate at least as well when it reached the Cloud. If no one cares, you risk not impressing the people that will have to approve your next Cloud project.
3. Create requirements.
You will need to create written requirements for this business application. In many cases, you may already have performance and availability SLAs (Service Level Agreements) in which case you may be done with those components. Your compliance and privacy regulations may restrict where and how your data can be stored in the Cloud. Write all of those requirements down. Also document how they are measured so you can accurately compare with the Cloud Service Provider’s measurement.
The Cloud is not simple, and this step is not simple, but it is important to get it right. How you need a business application delivered depends on its requirements.
5. Select a set of candidate Cloud Service Providers (CSPs).
There are dozens of viable CSPs. You need to find the handful that specialize in the part of the Cloud you need, can meet your requirements, and will be around for the next few years at least.
6. Submit the requirements and evaluate the responses.
Some CSPs are surprised when they get an actual requirements document. If they don’t know what to do with it, move on.
Ask for separate pricing for your optional and “nice to have” requirements. Give them two weeks to respond, although you should be prepared to extend that by one more week if they ask. You will usually get past the sales person quickly to a really knowledgeable tech person or team who will have a series of questions. Be prepared to answer them. You will almost always get a good response to your request.
7. Negotiate the contract.
There is currently little uniformity in the contracts or even the terminology among CSPs. There are a number of areas that you should carefully examine in their contract. Among them are:
- Who owns the data?
- Where is the data?
- Who has access to your data?
- Performance SLAs.
- Availability or up-time SLAs.
- Termination. Pay specific attention to what the CSP commits to do with your data independent of why when the agreement is terminated.
Most importantly, make sure your requirements and the CSP’s responses are part of the contract, as well as anything else that was committed to in verbal or written conversations during the negotiations.
8. Plan the actual move in (and back out again).
The plan should include a test phase: move the business application and its data into the Cloud in a test environment. This will tell you how long it takes to move the data and allows you to make sure the application performs correctly and reasonably.
Your CSP will provide lots of help in all of this. Most of them really understand these issues and have solved them for other customers. Don’t spend time or add risk by trying to do this on your own.
One thing often forgotten is to plan how to leave a CSP. At some point, you are likely to need to move this business application from the CSP, probably to another CSP. You may not have a lot of time to do that, and you are not likely to get the same level of support from your CSP. Ideally you should test that process prior to going live.
9. Execute the move.
When ready, turn on the Cloud implementation and turn your internal one off according to your plan. Unless your compelling event really imposes a strict deadline, it is better to delay the actual move to production until you have successfully completed all of the testing. In most cases, the business impact of a few weeks delay is a lot less than the impact of a failure.
10. Measure and review.
Periodically, probably at least once a quarter, measure actual performance against your requirements. Your CSP probably has tools to help you do that. Make sure you are meeting not only those requirements but also the business goals. If not, make the necessary adjustments.
The last word:
The Cloud is constantly evolving. You should be prepared to take advantage of any improvements providing value to your business as they become available.
After successfully getting that first business application into the Cloud, it is time to go back to step 2 and look for the next opportunity.
Keep your sense of humor.