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A cloud migration plan for conservative data centers

Enterprises migrating to the cloud prefer a slow and considered approach that protects sensitive data and ensures performance levels.

Cloud is on many companies' businesses plans because it has the potential to speed up IT service delivery with easier deployment. However, enterprises need a cloud migration plan. Moving slowly and starting with non-mission-critical systems makes more sense than rushing in and deploying large, complex systems.

Enterprises have the option of private, hybrid and public cloud. Since the system processing remains on-site, firms feel most comfortable with private cloud. Analysts at 451 Research LLC found that private cloud projects dominate cloud-related activities. Hybrid means moving some of a business's data center services to the cloud supplier's data centers. This change often makes IT managers nervous, so companies move slowly.

Assess security concerns

An Insight Enterprises Inc., survey, conducted in partnership with the Thunderbird School of Global Management, found security to be the top concern among companies evaluating cloud systems. Businesses must protect confidential data.

One of the main security issues revolves around tenancy. Companies running owned data centers or owned IT equipment within a shared data center have a single-tenant system. The data center infrastructure of servers, storage and networks support applications only for that company. In a cloud data center, many businesses share one set of resources in a multi-tenancy arrangement. Cloud operators put up virtual barriers among systems that are not necessarily foolproof. Multi-tenancy introduces the possibility of a data breach.

The degree of risk companies are willing to endure differs by organization. In healthcare and financial services sectors, business must keep customer information protected to remain compliant with industry standards, so they may balk at moving to a public, multi-tenant cloud.

Once a company addresses security concerns, it is a good idea to begin small. An incremental cloud migration plan gives enterprise IT organizations experience with the new data center infrastructure and does not put any mission-critical systems at risk. A survey by cloud security software vendor Skyhigh Networks found that three of the top four most popular cloud applications are collaboration tools: Microsoft Office (number one); Cisco's WebEx (number three); and Box Inc.'s data sharing service (number four).

Level out peaks and valleys

Workload requirements also play a role in the migratory plan for cloud services.

Applications that reach peak resource utilization loads periodically and quickly retract, such as holiday season consumer sales or monthly payroll processing, are good candidates to migrate onto public cloud services. Rather than buy hardware that often sits idle, companies pay for the extra capacity only when it is used.

Another example is application development and testing, where businesses set up and tear down workloads on a consistent basis. Moving to cloud alleviates the burden of manually entering all of the configuration information. A RightScale Inc., survey ranked testing and development environments as the most popular (85%) cloud system in use.

Next, the processing requirements of each application (or application class) play a role. As companies invest more in IT, storage volumes grow significantly. IDC predicts the volume of data generated to increase from 7.2 zetabytes -- one zetabyte equals a trillion gigabytes of data -- in 2015 to more than 40 zetabytes in 2020.

What if you have ever-taller peaks of resource utilization? Expanding storage volumes mean companies will need to increase resource capacity available in their data centers. Given the growing volume of storage and the extra floor space that systems require, public cloud may be a more attractive alternative.

Many corporations are already on the path to cloud. If an organization already has a good percentage of its workloads virtualized, then it is a good candidate for cloud. Cloud builds on server virtualization: Virtualization moves workloads among different systems quickly, easily and often automatically while cloud gives businesses the flexibility to order, use and discontinue these workloads.

Adapt business processes to cloud

Managerial issues also play a role in a cloud migration plan. Change is difficult and raises soft and hard costs. Organizations need to spend time examining -- and often altering -- existing business processes. Employees need to be trained on how to manage the new systems.

With public cloud, enterprises establish service-level agreements with input from legal departments as well as IT. Companies may keep data center systems running rather than migrate to cloud simply because employees are comfortable with how they run.

Monitor and manage

After IT organizations adopt some amount and style of cloud computing, they need tools to keep tabs on system performance just as they would in a data center. Traditional suppliers provide tools -- such as Unified Infrastructure Management from CA Technologies -- that allow users to monitor public cloud services like Amazon Web Services and SalesForce. Cloud vendors also offer tools; Rackspace Cloud Monitoring can actually monitor third-party cloud solutions. A number of startups are getting into the market. Founded in 2008, AppDynamics raised more than $100 million to develop performance monitoring solutions.

Despite the issues, companies are adopting cloud. IDC expects total cloud IT infrastructure spending (server, storage and Ethernet switches) to grow by 26.4% in 2015 and reach $33.4 billion. In comparison, spending on non-cloud IT infrastructure is expected to remain flat at $67 billion.

As companies walk down the path to cloud, they find an ever increasing array of choices. "Over the next four to five years, IDC expects the community of developers to triple and to create a ten-fold increase in the number of new cloud-based solutions," said Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at IDC.

About the author:
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in data center issues. He has been writing about technology for two decades, is based in Sudbury, Mass. and can be reached at
[email protected].

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