Many organizations have been interested in capturing the benefits of the cloud. With so much discussion even in the mainstream press about the value of cloud computing, just about every organization is interested in what the cloud can do for them. Without too much hyperbole, it is true that the cloud can be game changing for most organizations, but the challenge is how to move your small business to the cloud cost-effectively and quickly.
Making the Shift
For organizations with very little pre-existing IT infrastructure, the shift to the cloud is a relatively simple and natural process. In many ways, an organization may already be using the cloud by purchasing Office 365™ or G Suite™ licenses. With little previous infrastructure, perhaps there are just a few on-prem components that need to shift to the cloud, which should be quite easy to handle for these types of organizations.
The challenge in moving a small-to-medium business (SMB) to the cloud comes when the organization already has legacy solutions and infrastructure in place. Being grounded on-prem can make it more difficult to work through the mechanics of making the shift cloudward, and the process can ultimately be costly. Depending on how it is carried out, however, the process can be made easier, both on the organization’s employees and pocketbook.
If anything, there are many highly interested parties in supporting an organization’s move to the cloud including MSPs, software vendors, and infrastructure providers. For a fee, organizations can completely offload the shift to the cloud and let the professionals do what they do best. Of course, you’ll want to judiciously use those resources and control the plan of attack.
In any case, there are several requirements and considerations around how to do what’s best for your organization’s cloud migration. In this article, we’ll give you some ideas and an approach on how to move your small business to the cloud effectively.
First things first. With any potentially significant project, it is important to start with a set of requirements. When you say you want to move to the cloud, what does that mean to your organization? Is that just using WiFi internally and leveraging G Suite or Office 365 for email, or is it using AWS® as your data center? Or, perhaps it is deeper than that, and you want your HR systems and payroll to be run by cloud services, too?
The cloud can mean many things to people, and understanding what it means to use it is where most organizations need to start their process. Without getting overly technical, we like to ask the question of what “things” need to be in the cloud and why—i.e. systems, servers, applications, files, networks, tools, etc.?
Developing an Approach
Once you’ve thought through what’s important to you and what requirements you have, we’d suggest coming up with a game plan. This plan, ideally, would help illuminate the approach that you’ll take. Will you start in a particular area and move from there, or will you slowly migrate away from all of your legacy solutions to their new, cloud-forward counterparts?
There are a variety of different approaches that you can take, but we’d definitely suggest not trying to do too many things at once if you have a great deal of legacy equipment and solutions. Taking on a significant cloud transformation, and trying to do it all at once, is a recipe for disaster.
This portion of a cloud transformation project may be considered the most difficult one because it is often tedious and time consuming. It is always more interesting to talk about various tools and technology than to work through the details, steps, and overall strategy that you’ll take. Stay disciplined and work through an approach that is best for you.
This is also a great time to enlist outside resources to help. Many MSPs have performed full cloud transformations for dozens of organizations. As such, MSPs will often have an excellent perspective, or at minimum ask some insightful questions that will spark some thought and debate. Reach out to trusted colleagues and providers for help if and when you need it.
Now that you have some goals and a plan on how to get there, you’ll need to start to investigate how to accomplish those goals. A key part of this is looking at cloud solutions. By definition, shifting to the cloud will involve branded and/or third party solutions that have become the leading cloud providers in their category. There is no shortage of cloud solutions out there and, unfortunately, there are also a few vendors purporting to be cloud forward when they aren’t.
We would always advocate doing your homework and taking your time to find the right solutions for your organization. With the homework you did earlier in determining your critical requirements, you should have a good handle on what’s important to you and what isn’t. Make sure that the potential solutions that you are choosing are meeting your requirements and, if not, that you have a thoughtful approach to mitigating those initial requirements.
In this phase of your cloud transformation, you’ll be bombarded by vendors and others looking to help support your move to their tool. This is a great time to leverage that support and help, but understand that it is biased. You’ll need to strip away the bias and try to get to the core information that you are looking for so that you can make the best decisions for your organization.
There is nothing wrong with leveraging technical experts at the vendors you are considering, as long as you understand their position. You can also neutralize biased approaches by emphasizing that you want verifiable data and information rather than conjecture and claims without backing. We’d also suggest that it is important to let your requirements guide your decisions, rather than the manipulated market share data that many like to trumpet.
While AWS may indeed be the market share leader in Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), it may not be the best solution for your organization for some reason or another. Or, on the other hand, Office 365 may be exactly what you need, and you will be joining millions of other organizations that have made O365 the number one cloud productivity platform. When it comes to deciding what cloud technology to use, the only right choice is not settling until you determine the best solution for your organization.
Now that you’ve come up with your plan, assessed the cloud solutions that are right for you, and have purchased them, you are ready for the next phase: migrating to these new platforms. In some cases, migration may not be needed at all, and you’ll simply set up your cloud solution (or enlist help to get started) and get going. In other cases, you’ll have existing solutions and need to migrate from one solution to another.
In most cases, cloud solutions will have the resources to work with you through the migration step by step, or they will at least provide you with guiding literature on the best ways to do it. Virtually every cloud solution realizes that there are legacy alternatives that their customers have most likely used previously, so it is in their best interest to make the migration as seamless as possible to ensure you don’t look back. Ask your solution providers for their best advice and even talk to some of their other customers to learn what worked and didn’t.
At the end of the day what really matters is developing a cloud migration plan that suits your use case and solution. For some migrations, you’ll want extremely detailed step-by-step plans on how to make the move. In other cases, you may be able to just follow some directions, import your data in, and be good to go. Like the planning you did in the earlier sections of this process, take the time to understand which approach you’ll need and allocate enough time to getting the migration done right the first time. It may take a bit longer and cost a bit more, but you’ll be up and running in the cloud faster, and reaping the benefits earlier.
One crucial, yet often missed aspect of moving to the cloud is employee training. Not all of your employees and contractors will be familiar with the concepts of cloud infrastructure, or know “out of the box” how to use these new IT resources. Take some time to walk through the reasons behind the shift to new cloud IT solutions, and how they can best leverage them. Many of your solution providers will have detailed training videos, classes, or documents that your employees can leverage.
One other facet of training that we would be remiss not to mention is security. With your data and business shifting to the cloud, you’ll want to train your employees on how they can protect themselves and your organization. The good news is that most cloud solution providers have invested in security—perhaps more than any individual organization can in their own infrastructure—so, it is wise to take advantage of it if you can.
Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible and encourage your employees to only use their secured work devices for accessing work data and applications. It’s also important to teach them about the various approaches that attackers take to get their information and what they can do to prevent that.
Moving to the cloud for an SMB can be a game changing decision, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just a little bit of planning and effort on the front end will go a long way during the process of shifting over. If you have any questions about making your transition to the cloud, feel free to contact us.