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5 pitfalls to avoid when migrating to the cloud

Not analyzing your apps, your business, and your costs can be major mistakes.Mistakes can be costly. They also can be so painful they keep you from venturing any further ahead.

Of course, that’s true with almost anything tech-related, but IT managers will tell you that there are some common, and potentially damaging, pitfalls that anyone looking at a cloud migration should work to avoid.

Migration mistakes can cost the enterprise money and time, and eliminate or reduce any expected increases in agility as well as speed and cost savings.

Those stumbles and losses could cause business execs to back off from a bigger cloud migration. It also could cause execs to lose faith in their IT leaders.

“This is part of the learning curve,” said Deepak Mohan, an analyst with IDC. “The negatives are attributed to the cloud and not to these mistakes that need to be corrected... If a company does not realize the cost savings and they fail to see the results they thought they’d get, the result is that there is a drop in faith and a lowering of confidence in your cloud strategy. And that will cause a slowdown in adoption.”

Part of the issue is that the cloud is really a different beast for a lot of IT shops.

Everyday IT jobs, like data storage, app dev and resource allocation, suddenly need to be thought about and handled differently.

“What we learned is that while it’s easy to get started, cloud is completely different from IT,” said Temujin Baker, senior manager of engineering and architecture for King County, Wash. “How you run your business in the cloud is different than how you run it” on premises. “There are changes in how you do your work, the skills that are needed, the process.”

King County, with 220 connected sites and more than 13,000 employees, started migrating to the cloud in 2015, using AWS and Microsoft Azure.

It started with 1,600 on-premises applications and now has 30 of the 1,600 running in the cloud, with plans to move 120 more to the cloud this year. The county will consolidate and modernize some of its on-premises apps, so not all will move to the cloud.

Aaron Barak, King County’s director of operations, said 2015 was all about seeing where the pitfalls lie and figuring out the best ways to avoid them.

“The first year or two was really about learning and getting our staff ready to support the move,” said Barak.

And while Daniel Morreale, CIO of Hunterdon Healthcare System in Flemington, N.J., said there definitely are pitfalls in the path to the cloud, there are ways to avoid them.

“I expect that each instance is going to be a little bit different so there will always be an opportunity to make a mistake and then learn what you did wrong,” he said. “Making my data accessible from anywhere in the world and the capacity to eliminate a lot of my hardware and not cooling my data center and dealing with power, it makes moving to the cloud a good value proposition.”

Here is some guidance from IT people who have started their own cloud migrations, as well as from industry analysts, on some big mistakes to avoid in your own move to the cloud.

1. Not analyzing your apps before the migration

One of the mistakes that Dave Bartoletti, an analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., warned against is failing to analyze a company’s applications before considering any kind of cloud move.

“The first mistake is trying to do too much,” said Bartoletti, adding that IT managers need to start the migration with a small set of applications. “You need to run a portfolio analysis—either with a consultant or on your own—to determine what apps are good for the initial migration.”

For instance, organizations need to split their applications into two initial groups - apps that will be migrated and apps that will be replaced.

It generally wouldn’t make a lot of sense to migrate an on-premises email application when an enterprise simply could start using a cloud-based app, like one in Microsoft’s Office 365.

Bartoletti also recommends IT managers check how compliant-sensitive an application is.

“The cloud is a safe place to run compliance-sensitive workloads—but don’t make your most sensitive data or applications the place to start your migration,” he warned.

Companies also should be aware of applications that have an elastic load pattern. If an app tends to have workloads that drop and spike, then it’s a good candidate for the cloud where it easily can be scaled up and down, taking advantage of cloud pricing so a company isn’t paying for hardware when it’s not using it.

Hunterdon Healthcare’s Morreale said they made a mistake during their initial cloud migration because they didn’t do enough application analysis.

The single hospital—with 186 beds, 60 ambulatory locations and about 3,000 users—is in the process of moving to the cloud and is completely doing away with its data center.

The company started the move last June by converting its email system to Google’s cloud-based G Suite service.

A mistake Morreale said they made when moving to G Suite from Novell’s GroupWise was not analyzing what their users needed from their old email system and not figuring out how differently G Suite was going to work from what end users were accustomed to.

“G Suite and GroupWise do calendaring pretty differently,” he explained. “We did not provide our executive assistants who manage multiple calendars at the same time with the tools they’d need to be efficient. We recognized that by day 2 and saw that we had messed up... The needs were not adequately explained or understood. We ...admit that we blew it.”

Morreale turned to IT consultants SADA Systems, which sent someone in for a week to sit down with the executive assistants in small groups and one-on-one sessions to help them learn how to handle their calendars.

When King County migrated its enterprise backup, they too erred in fully analyzing their app.

Baker explained they did a lot of testing when it came to moving the data to the cloud. What they didn’t do was test how it would work getting the data back for an actual restoration.

“The purpose of the backup system isn’t to back up, but to restore,” he said. “The performance of the restoration wasn’t there because we hadn’t done the full testing of the application. With an on-site restore, it starts as soon as you press a button. With the cloud, there’s a three-hour-plus window where the service has to go back and get that data before we get a restore. That’s something that we hadn’t fully anticipated.”

The lesson was to test the whole process the way it will be used.

King County’s Barak added that factoring in the time it takes to retrieve the data and send it back, with a large outage, the delay could have extended to 24 hours.

2. Forgetting to do a business analysis before starting