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Cloud computing is now mainstream, but some sectors like banking, utilities and the public sector are still cautious. Here are some of the first steps organisations exploring cloud options should take. How to get cloud ready.

In 2015, ‘cloud’ sounds like old news in the world of IT.

By and large, cloud is now mainstream, and increasingly so. Salesforce started selling Software as a Service over the web as far back as 1999.

84 percent of UK companies have adopted two or more cloud services, according to a recent Cloud Industry Forum report, up by eight percent over the last year and 75 percent since 2010.

However a small but notable minority of organisations are yet to make the move – particularly those in more risk-averse sectors, like banking, utilities and the public sector, especially areas like defence or the NHS.

Factors like security concerns, capability, upfront costs, connectivity issues and application readiness are all cited as drawbacks – with varying levels of justification.

However none of these necessarily have to hold an organisation back from ‘dipping their toe in the water’ and starting to try out cloud applications for limited areas of their organisation.

Even the (understandably) security-obsessed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US and the UK Ministry of Defence have started moving parts of their ICT estate to cloud – so there really is no reason not to at least consider taking the first steps.

Here are some tips from the experts for those yet to start or at the early stages of moving to cloud…

Cloud computing: Think small

You don’t have to move everything at once.

“Migrating to the cloud can be best for certain application or workloads and most cost-effective when looking at an already planned upgrade,” says Katharine Rudd, global cloud services lead at Alsbridge.

“For example, if you have an Oracle SAP rollout that requires additional infrastructure investment, it can make sense to move that heavy workload up to the cloud,” she adds.

“Find small but unpleasant issues annoying users and fix them with cloud,” suggests Erika Erdos, AWS’s head of public sector in EMEA.

For example this could be cloud collaboration tools to make it easier to share files or work remotely.

“It could take such a long time to move fully to cloud, so start with something staff will benefit from immediately and get then onside,” she says.

Short duration, manageable projects with defined objectives can help to build internal confidence and show progress, according to Tim Hearn, UK public sector lead for VMWare.

“Any project longer than nine months probably needs to be cut down,” he suggests.

Cloud computing: Do your homework

The first step for any organisation considering cloud services should be to do some basic research.

Get on Google, look at supplier websites, get a feel for their business, check them on Companies House and see how long they have been operating or are likely to operate, suggests Neil Everatt, CEO of Software Europe.

You need to also do research to help present a thorough case to the board and the users – “they’re just as important”, he adds.

Rudd says organisations need to assess the market, which is flooded with public, managed, hosted, hybrid and ‘a la carte’ offerings.

“Knowing what you need and what you don’t will make a big difference in the service, availability and cost you ultimately pay,” she says.

You need to “become informed” about your domain and your existing providers, too, according to Hearn.

“Understand what you have and how it works, both in your domain but in your service providers also,” he says.

It’s worth speaking to similar organisations who have already taken the plunge, Erdos suggests.

“A lot of the organisations which are moving more slowly are looking for someone else to be first, so they can learn from their experiences,” she says.

“So speak to others – see the outcomes, also the journey to get there, tips for migration, how painful was it but also learn about the benefits, the savings and the agility they’ve gained,” Erdos adds.

Cloud computing: Check yourself  

Obviously, cloud – being delivered over the web - relies on a decent internet connection.

It’s important you check your technology, network and infrastructure are able to support cloud services.

“You move away from having to have all this resilience and cost in your internal network infrastructure,” KPMG’s former principal adviser Steven Salmon wrote in 2013.

“Suddenly you’re in a position where you need to duplicate it for your internet [end] points. These…may have been considered of relatively low importance, but now become very significant for all sites. So you have to look at your overall communications strategy and the balance between your WAN and the internet,” he added.

The crucial question is: “Can I get high-speed access to the application from all sites and remote offices?”, according to Everatt.

“Moving to cloud means significant changes in how traffic moves through the network. If you don’t have the right infrastructure in place, bottlenecks can result in declining performance and higher costs,” says Rudd.

Cloud computing: Test out suppliers

Don’t be scared to ask potential (and existing) suppliers tough questions and put them to the test.

“Check their security credentials, visit their premises and check their uptime statistics. Find out where your data will be held,” says Everatt.

The six main criteria to consider when picking a supplier are experience, capability, capacity, clearly defined pricing, if you believe you could form a strong ‘partnership’ with them, and whether they offer managed or self-managed services, according to IT not-for-profit Eduserv.

It’s a good idea to start by testing ‘heavy lifting’ backend tasks like test and development, backup and analytics, before moving onto production workloads, says AWS’s UK enterprise account manager Chris Hayman.

“It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing choice – start slowly by testing, then ramp up as your needs evolve. You can integrate with on-premise data and there are a number of tools available to help with that. There’s no need for a big bang approach,” he adds.

Hearn says the focus should be on building an “ecosystem” of companies you can trust, who are able to collaborate with each other and you to help “extend your skills and bring in new ideas”.

Cloud computing: Conquer security scares

“Don’t be fearful of security” is Hearn’s main piece of advice – in other words, don’t use it as an excuse not to move to cloud – rather, see it as just another part of the process.

“Security is very much achievable; it’s just different when you are not primarily concerned with the physical defence of your own data centre,” he says.

The main factors to bear in mind relate to data protection, compliance, interoperability and data portability, identity and access management and auditing, according to the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA).

Adaptability and availability, risk management and detailed security service layer agreement [SLA] formalisation are also important considerations, the agency said in a report earlier this year.

Customers should classify services and data that can be moved to the cloud, conduct a risk analysis, set security requirements, select security controls and test providers’ assurances about security.

They should also set up contingency plans, for example termination of cloud contracts or the deletion of data, the agency recommended.

Cloud computing: Do you have the right skills?

Inevitably, moving to cloud means you may need to bring some new skills into your IT department – for example individuals able to manage the interface between cloud services and existing IT.

Rudd advises: “Assess existing skill sets. Cloud requires a mix of new skills along with traditional IT expertise, and enterprises need to understand what additional skill sets their in-house team may require.”

It may be that you need to hire some new people – equally, you may be able to retrain some of your existing staff and ‘upskill’ them.

“Build a core IT team based on digital and software-defined skills. Most IT teams in departments need retraining or refreshing to meet needs of a digital environment. Learn from the old but don’t be constrained by it,” Hearn says.

Cloud computing: Don’t forget culture

As it is hard to measure and relates to ‘soft’ skills, culture often gets forgotten in cloud implementations – wrongly so, because IT implementations often live or die by whether or not the organisation is able to adapt to them.

Indeed, it is usually company culture that holds back transformation, not technology.

With that in mind, you need to make sure you ‘take people with you’. A good start is to identify early adopters and get them to communicate the benefits of cloud for you, according to Erdos.

“In every organisation there are pioneers: people who want to move faster. Identify your pioneers, find people who are excited about the changes and help them to help you change the culture of your organisation and help it adapt to cloud,” she says.

One factor that often restricts organisations is fear of failure, according to Hearn, so they should try to build a culture that sees failure as a learning exercise, not a condemnation of capability.

“Allow people to fail and learn from mistakes, reward success, enable people to be creative, instil a ‘can do’ and ‘relentless execution’ based culture,” Hearn says.

It’s important to explain IT is changing from a technology-focused function to a business-focused group of IT specialists focused on the organisations’ future needs, not everyday service delivery, according to Ivan Harris, Eduserv’s chief strategy officer.

One piece of advice from multiple experts is to communicate often, in small amounts over an extended period of time – also avoid jargon wherever possible.

“Allow concerns and questions to be aired as early as possible.  It is worth remembering that sometimes your most hard-core initial sceptics, once they are convinced, turn into your most dedicated and vocal supporters,” says VMWare cloud operations architect Pierre Moncassin.

What do you think? Did we miss anything off the list? What else do organisations need to consider as part of their move to cloud?