5 tips on cloud migration from those who know (with video)

LAS VEGAS -- For enterprises considering a move to the cloud, or even in the middle of a move right now, the transition can be daunting -- even a bit overwhelming.

IT managers jumping into the arena have to know here to start, what to avoid and how to steer around the minefields that can derail a project.

The good news is that there are IT pros who've already been through a cloud migration and overcome their own hurdles on their way to becoming seasoned cloud users. These aren't people who have simply used Gmail or Google Docs; they're already running a major part of their business - or even their entire enterprise -- in the cloud.

At the annual AWS re:Invent conference here this week, Computerworld talked to some of these cloud veterans. Here's their best advice:

It's easy to get excited about what apps or services you're moving to the cloud and forget about the connections you need to get them there.

Eric Geiger is vice president of IT operations at Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, a $70 billion wholesale bank that lends money to other financial institutions. The bank runs all of its internal production workloads on the AWS cloud.

"Focus on your connection," Geiger said. "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. 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."

Mike Chapple, senior director of IT Service Delivery at the University of Notre Dame, threw his weight behind the same advice.

"I couldn't agree more about thinking about what your network infrastructure is going to look like," he said, adding with a laugh, "We thought it was so important, we did it four different times."

The first apps or services that you move to the cloud are going to be significant. If the project works, your staff will be buoyed and business executives will be encouraged to continue the push. If the project doesn't work, however, it will be a blow to IT's, and executives', cloud enthusiasm.

"Be really careful about how you select the early projects you're going to do," said Chapple. "We do have an incredible diversity of services. We operate our own power plant. We have a hotel. We run 40 residence halls and, oh, yeah, we do all that teaching and learning and research. We have somewhere between 600 and 1,000 IT services. Sorting through that and finding the first projects you're going to do is really important.

"Make sure whatever you're going to pick, you're going to succeed with it," he added. "Look for things that are as straightforward as possible."

Notre Dame has migrated its website and global student and faculty authentication stores to AWS' cloud, and has plans to move 80% of its workload there in the next three years

Geiger also cautioned that cloud migrations shouldn't be done too quickly. Be steady. Be careful.

"Pay attention to the velocity of your migration," he said. "You don't have to migrate everything in one day.... It's tempting, but don't. Don't eat the elephant in one big bite. Do a little bit at a time. Find those simple wins and then do something else. Success promotes more success. Do just an app. Do just one service. Success will help your team feel better."

VJ Rao, Deputy CTO at the National Democratic Institute, a non-profit organization that works to support democracy around the world and runs all of its apps on the AWS platform, said migrating to the cloud is an opportunity to think about best practices - and whether you're actually on top of them.

"It's an opportunity to think about standards," he said. "There are probably a lot of things we're all doing that are probably not as secure as they could be. This move could serve as a blank slate for best practices. If you don't do that, you'll carry forward your bad practices."

That goes beyond security, according to Chapple.

"That's also true for your overall infrastructure," he said. "In this process of migrating everything, we're shining a flashlight in some very dark places and we're finding some creepy crawly things. How many times do you go through and look at everything you're doing This is a great opportunity."

Bob Micielli, director of Enterprise Technology Services with King County, Wash., said it's time to think outside the box...or at least outside the mainframe.

The issue for many IT people is that they've been working on the same kinds of systems for years, even decades. It's easy to narrow your thinking to a certain kind of system, a particular network.

Migrating to the cloud is a good time to wipe the slate and adopt a cloud-based way of thinking about the company's whole network.

"You really need to change your way of thinking," said Micielli, who saved his county $1 million by moving from tape backup to a cloud-based backup, as well as $300,000 in operating costs year over year. "We're married to our solutions. We've been with them for 30 or 40 years.... See what the cloud has to offer. Try to adopt a solution that is really cloud friendly, rather than making your system look just like it used to look while running a few things on the cloud.

"Let go of the way you've been doing things," he added.

Micielli thought he'd get the most cloud resistance from corporate management; Surprisingly, it came from his own IT staff.

"[My business leaders] were concerned, but we could prove to them that we could handle this," he said. "The biggest push back was from my own staff. That, I've found, has been the biggest challenge. People are competent in their certain technologies and now they're coming in and trying to figure out these new services.

"Before they felt like experts, 'I'm a storage architect. All I do is storage,' " he added. "In this world, that doesn't work anymore. You have to know about storage and security and networking."

Chapple also said that his biggest surprise migrating to the cloud at Notre Dame was the cultural shift in the IT shop.

"Some staff had been here for 30 or 40 years in some cases," he said. "We really needed to help them. People can't be living in one particular technical silo anymore."

Chapple noted that his operation has done a lot of training and brought about 17 people to the AWS re:Invent conference to help them learn more.

"We just do our best to make sure everybody has the ability to transform themselves," he said. "We heard quite a bit, 'I'm afraid I'm not going to have a job when this is done.' We say, 'You'll have the ability to have a job here, but that job may change.' It's a time of dramatic change, but there are opportunities for everybody."


Sharon Gaudin

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