The pandemic changed a lot of things, from the way we work to the systems we are using. Its impact was felt in organizations and businesses all over the world. With a dramatic increase of people working from home, IT leaders have quickly realized that the cloud was to play a major role in their operations if they were to thrive.
For some businesses, migrating to the cloud had started before the pandemic hit the country. However, for many, the transition to the cloud was merely a plan for the future. The state of the world sped up the process and a lot of organizations found themselves having to adapt all of the sudden.
This turbulent time brought a lot of challenges and, with cloud now a top priority, businesses need to make sure that they are ready for the change.
To shed light on this topic, I talked to experts in the industry and asked them what has made cloud migration so important during these challenging times.
A rise in cloud migration
With the start of lockdown, businesses were in a position where they couldn’t make their employees work in the traditional way – in offices – so they were forced to adapt and continue their cloud journey in an accelerated velocity, Dan Hills, Head of DevOps at Costain Group PLC, tells me. Indeed, he continues, the first step was to make sure that all users were able to work from a vast majority of locations. Then, it was about ensuring that cloud computing offered every employee the flexibility they needed to work and connect with each other.
‘COVID and lockdown have given us the best proof of concept that we could have asked for in successfully proving to the business and giving it the confidence that the vast majority of staff can work in a modern way.’ Dan states.
Cloud plays a vital part in it as it shows businesses how they can further enhance and provide benefits for each department or project by migrating traditional solutions to the cloud.
Similarly, Othman Baalache, Principal Cloud Architect at the Commercial Bank of Dubai, highlights that, with the increase of remote working, organizations have started to shift towards more flexible and reliable ways of working. Moreover, he states the fact that there is also a rise in demand for digital services in order to facilitate processes. Thus, businesses have to act fast to meet customers’ needs.
Moreover, as Arman Kamran, CTO of Prima Recon and enterprise scaled Agile Transition coach, emphasizes, cloud migration provides businesses with a quick, reliable, robust, and elastic IT power to stay afloat and expand their operations. At the beginning of lockdown, as we’ve seen, most companies did not have the capacity to accommodate such a sudden rise in their staff working remotely. This led to many server crashes and VPN connection drop, which put ‘connection curfews’ on remote workers based on their domain of responsibility.
On the other hand, companies that already had a Cloud Service Model were able to enjoy the immediate benefit of having the raised connectivity requirements covered by their service providers. ‘Others, which were following a Hybrid Model (a mix of Cloud Services and their own Data Centers) noticed that offloading more of their workload from the Data Centre’s and their on-premise networking infrastructure would not only provide them with the needed service elasticity but also would extend the financial benefits they had been experiencing in their Cloud transition so far.’
Thus, the sanitary crisis made the move to cloud a necessity for survival for companies that had to adapt to this new working model, which will probably last even after lockdown.
Yet, Dan says, lockdown has forced everyone and not only the IT department to adapt quickly to this new way of working. Hence, technologies and security have increased to a point where it is possible that offices might not be required at all in the future.
Lee Gardiner, DevOps Lead at Collinson, reinforces this idea by pointing out that the cloud is the future. ‘Server hardware and its management require skill sets that are a thing of the past’, he says, while ‘cloud is an enabler for great infrastructure with ease.’
According to everyone, the major benefits of moving from on-premises infrastructure to a cloud-based model are cost-saving, security, sustainability, collaboration, and service elasticity.
Indeed, Arman and Dan underline the fact that the cloud allows businesses to save a lot on capital expenditure to focus on an Operating expenditure costing models which enable them to focus on what is important for them. It also allows them to follow a pay-as-you-go spending model on most of their services, hence adjusting the spending as close to the real demand level as possible and avoiding having under-utilization of resources.
Moving to cloud can be daunting at first in relation to the costs but then, there are a number of added cost benefits that will make it worth it.
Dan also points out that moving to a cloud-based infrastructure and platform allows the integration seamlessly into a DevSecOps model where all new infrastructure and applications have security baked in from the outset of any deployment or new application.
Moreover, migrating to the cloud can provide insights into specific areas quickly and easily using data factories to provide key information for projects. Using cloud also helps the business to be much more environmentally friendly and results in fewer carbon footprints.
Cloud, as Arman goes on, has a lot of available resources to cover businesses’ needs and is able to adjust them to the rising demands, avoiding crashes in the services or excess capacity left to pay for. A Cloud Service Model also brings more technical agility as they can now allow their teams to explore and experiment with new technological solutions or business workflows for much less cost and time. This has led to much-needed innovation.
Othman agrees with that, saying that Cloud brings elasticity, reliability, cost-effectivity, resilience, and innovation. According to him, cloud must be seen ‘as a platform which enables you to make money rather than spend’.
Furthermore, Dan points out that this accelerated migration has led to many changes include the ‘reprioritizing of upskilling and retraining staff and ensuring that the team can support, administrate and monitor the platform effectively from a remote location but also provide them the confidence that cloud computing offers the flexibility and adaptability that any modern business requires to be successful’. Collaboration is a key tool.
Othman adds that companies’ mantra should be ‘Cloud First’ and so when a solution up for support renewal or a major update is available, the first instinct should be to look to migration is a SaaS/IaaS first before anything else. This mandate has expedited the velocity of migration, a consequence of which is significant cost savings on aging hardware, electricity, and air-con among others.
Lee also highlights the fact that cloud migration often has ‘very little to do with massively scaling infrastructure but more about job satisfaction’. Indeed, he says that happier staff results in new technologies, new methodologies, and a renewed joy of learning. Hence, cloud migration has definitely made people happier, and thus ‘businesses benefit from increased stability, agility and a lower time to market when coupled with DevOps practices such as infrastructure as code and CICD’.
… But also risks!
Cloud service is not impartial to issues and although cloud providers have helped mitigate their clients’ worries over the years, some concerns might persist, especially with the rise in cloud migration.
One of the most important risks, as Lee points out, is the lack of infrastructure as code (IaC). Indeed, he emphasizes the fact that if a change is not IaC then there will be major consequences. IaC ensures that documentation is carried out on the fly and that it’s a collective responsibility.
Moreover, if the cost is mismanaged then it can spiral from months to months. Thus, it is vital to carry out frequent audits of storage/compute/network consumption to ensure items are correctly right-sized.
Dan also highlights latency as a risk of cloud migration. Businesses need to ensure that every aspect of the cloud platform is optimized and using modern tools to mitigate latency issues. There is the issue of control as well as it is impossible to control everything in cloud. Using external cloud services means that the responsibilities for some of the policies and governance reside in cloud providers’ hands. This is a risk as there is no way to ‘see end to end with the full clarity needed if and where a bottleneck is occurring’.
Another risk is if businesses do not have a clear strategy, the cloud cost can become out of control very quickly. There is then an absolute need to know and understand exactly what to pay for and estimate the monthly cost so no mistakes are made.
Arman reinforces this idea by pointing out that one of the main risks of cloud migration is the weaknesses of the migration plan and the flaws in the orchestration of the outcomes. Not having proper knowledge of the solutions will slow down the process. it is then vital that IT staffs are aware of the requirements for safe implementation of their solutions and controlling access to that data. According to him, they also need to know how to benefit from the best practices in Cloud Solutions’ architecture and proper setup of resources to optimize their cost by maximizing their elasticity.
Moreover, Arman points out that cloud can also negatively affect service providers catering to the now-considered ‘old ways’, putting their livelihood and future in jeopardy. The same thing is happening to businesses in the field of selling IT infrastructure components and their installation and support services. Indeed, so many people lost their jobs due to the pandemic and this was only exacerbated by the cascading effect of this major shift in the IT service structure of companies.
Similarly, Othman brings up the fact that more expertise is now required to deal with cloud implementations and adoption while there are more concerns over security and data regulations.
Why is Cloud so important?
With our new ways of working, data center access is becoming extremely difficult. There are only a few providers that fully enable their dedicated or collocated customers with the right tooling to work completely remotely and the ability to upgrade hardware is hindered completely, Lee emphasizes. Likewise, there are even fewer providers that can give the security and capacity planning that cloud providers provide.
Thus, Cloud is now vital for businesses to survive. Cloud allows to meet capacity demands accurately and with agility, resulting in less waste.
Moreover, Dan stresses the fact that ‘if lockdown has proved anything, it is that cloud is here to stay and is fundamental to the flexibility and scalability of every business.’ While the pandemic lasts, cloud will remain essential.
With cloud, he says, businesses ‘can build, configure and host without the need to the initial capex outlay, install without having to visit any office outside your home study and scale up or down as the bandwidth dictates’. Besides, ‘cloud offers the platform to get apps quicker time to market and time to recovery alongside the automation to deploy test and scripts to ensure its as bug-free and performant as possible’. Something that would be impossible in a traditional server model.
Due to the severe economic impacts of COVID-19, combined with the need for less capital spending and lower cost of running the business remotely, Arman underlines that cloud has now become critical for organizations to thrive in an ever-competitive market.
A switch to the cloud in 2021?
When major players in a market sector start cutting costs and raising efficiencies through technological innovation, soon, their entire sector follows the same path. Indeed, as Arman points out, cloud is now a necessity and in order to survive, all sectors will switch to the cloud in the upcoming years.
Hence, businesses will either opt for complete, partial (incremental), or even co-existing (hybrid) migration models, which will allow them to start moving their computing, storage, and networking much faster than all previous IT upgrade projects.
Dan also believes that, nowadays, a company can’t be successful by working in a traditional client/server on-premises way without even exploring a cloud-first strategy. Cloud computing provides now better flexibility, time to market, and a range of DR options that a traditional infrastructure and applications don’t have.
For Othman, if some organizations are not using cloud today for collaboration, communication, and others, they are not reaching the desired number of clients and not operating in the most optimal way. Then, every company should start using a form of cloud in one way or the other. According to him, the question should be when but how.
Lee believes in a switch to cloud as well considering the benefits and flexibility it brings. He says that ‘network bandwidth/latency is a thing of the past with most servers carrying 20G+ network connections minimum.’
‘The beauty of cloud is what the migrated infrastructure will become, will it remain as a typical virtual machine, will a database migrate to a managed database service, where and when does it end if at all?’
Will the future be cloud-driven?
Lee, Arman, Othman, and Dan all do believe that the future will be cloud-driven.
Lee points out that, as we are starting to see a shift away from what we refer to as legacy cloud (Virtual Machines) to serverless and fully cloud-optimized, there is less waste, more application stability, and businesses are providing the very best service to their customers.
As we progress towards the cloud, there will be less concern over the operation process and more focus on innovations and connectivity. Hence, typical and traditional data centers will simply be out scaled by the cloud.
According to Lee, ‘it’s a fantastic time to be in technology and I look forward to working with the developments of the future that do not have the worries that we do with infrastructure.’
Othman underlines that the cloud is everywhere. In the coming years, it will be ‘in every home in every device so the world is in need of cloud experts and more focus from the cloud providers to make the services available to every corner of the globe’.
Finally, Arman emphasizes that the future is already here as enterprises are moving to permanently remote working models to save money. Even small organizations are able to benefit from the cost of saving, availability, and elasticity of cloud-based services.
All over the world, the demand for Cloud Services is increasing at an accelerated pace and there is no sign of slowing down.
Thanks to Dan Hills, Arman Kamran, Othman Baalache, and Lee Gardiner, your inputs were essential to shed light on this topic!