Cloud Migration Planning Made Simple – Just Do This

Need some help with your cloud migrating planning? Moving much of your IT to the cloud can bring a lot of benefits, but it can also feel overwhelming.

To make sure your migration is as stress-free and problem-free as possible, spend time creating a detailed project plan. That way, you will be well-prepared for the actual migration.

To give yourself a head start, we have created a list of things to pay attention to while developing your cloud migration plan.

Make sure everything mentioned has been covered by your plan and you will be ready for a smooth migration.

1. Clarify Your Migration Goals

Before you get stuck into the nitty-gritty of cloud migration, step back and focus on your higher-level objectives.

Migration to the cloud is not an end in itself. There are many excellent reasons to migrate your systems to the cloud, but your organisation will have its own priorities that should inform how you approach migration.

A key element determining how you migrate, and which cloud provider you pick, will be the relative importance placed on cost savings, security, uptime, manageability, platform scalability, resilience, technical support, migration support, and speed of migration.

It's better to discuss priorities upfront than to ignore them till later in the migration process, when changing suppliers, solution designs and software choices is likely to prove more disruptive and costly.

2. Document Existing IT Setup

Before you even begin migrating, take an inventory of IT you currently have - at least, the server-room elements of it - so no server-based functions are overlooked in your cloud migration planning.

You should track down every server application, database, IP address, firewall, DNS server, subnet, virtual machine (VM) you currently have, and any other critical component of your current configuration.

Next, find and review the contracts covering the commercial arrangements you currently have with technology vendors and service providers. Note contract termination dates, cancellation processes, and fees you would incur were you to cancel existing arrangements.

If you're paying for the use of a server/firewall/filtering/backup device, who will own it at the end of your current contract? If your supplier will own it, do you have to return the devices or will your supplier collect it? If you own the hardware, how can you arrange its removal from your old supplier's facilties?

3. Analyse Needs

A big part of cloud migration planning is determining your organisation's current and future needs. Project planning your cloud migration provides a timely opportunity to review how your systems are being used.

This isn't just a box-ticking exercise to figure out how to move your workloads from A to B without changing anything. It's about finding out how you could improve your systems' performance by taking advantage of the cloud, so your systems more closely match what you really need - at peak usage periods and in quiet periods. What IT resources will you need if your company continues to grow, and demand for your new digital-powered services continue to outpace the general growth of your business?

Don't just focus on compute (computational power and RAM), but also bandwidth requirements and expected data storage volumes.

Look into the extent that data is moving across your network and measure the bandwidth requirement of your VMs. Be sure to measure during peak times when each system is under the highest amount of stress. Knowing the bandwidth usage and becoming aware of bottlenecks will help when configuring the new system in ways that reduce slowdowns. The data will also help you make decisions about the amount of bandwidth you'll need between your main office and your cloud hosting provider.

4. Talk to Cloud Providers

This will sharpen your thinking. It will help you decide what you want from your cloud provider. The questions you are asked will help uncover complications you hadn't considered.

You'll also get a feel for what it would be like to work with these organisations. In later meetings, salesmen will play a lesser role, and their colleagues - technical experts such as 'cloud architects' - are likely to play a greater role. These experts bring a lot of experience as they've helped many other customers plan their cloud migrations.

Rather surprisingly, much of this isn't cloud providers trying to upsell you ever more expensive options. Instead, it tends to involve cloud providers gently nudging you in the direction of a solution that's right for your organisation - avoiding overspecing the solution, so you end up with something that's much better than what you have now - but still affordable.

6. Gain Approval in Principle

By now you'll know approximately how much your cloud solution is likely to cost, and what benefits it will bring to your business.

This is the point to agree in principle to going ahead with the cloud migration. If others in the business have concerns that need to be addressed, now is the time for them to raise those concerns, so they can be addressed prior to anything being signed.

As part of this, you should get a feel - based on the ball-park pricing already supplied - for how technically ambitious your business is willing to be and how much it's willing to spend. This will obviously set the parameters for your forthcoming negotiation with cloud hosting providers.

If there are objections to your suggested cloud migration plan, you may find that suppliers are able to help you answer these concerns.

5. Choose Your Cloud Provider

Now is the time to review detailed proposals, cost estimates, and technical specifications.

When talking to providers, share your organisation's goals for the project, approximate budgetary constraints and desired timescales for migration, and any remaining concerns that still need to be addressed. This will help ensure you get detailed,  custom proposals that will meet your organisation's needs, fit your budget and deliver what you technically require.

You and your team will want to review all aspects of any proposals. When it's pretty obvious (to you at least) that you're likely to pick a given provider, run the terms and conditions past your organisation's legal department in advance, so that this review doesn't delay your cloud project.

7. Develop an Ordered Schedule of Works

Trial migrations and the 'real' migrations will likely be scheduled over several weeks or months, often outside normal business hours.

Your cloud migration plan should make clear what needs to be done, in what order, by who, when. It should also highlight which users are likely to be affected, how long any downtime (if any) is likely to be, and who needs to be forewarned about the change.

Your schedule will need to be shared with internal IT staff, the cloud service provider, and any external IT support personnel involved in the migration. This will ensure all interested parties have enough senior technical staff on hand to help with the migration, often at times when they wouldn't ordinarily be there, e.g. at 7pm on a Friday. 

A cloud migration schedule allows you to forewarn other parts of your organisation that the IT systems they rely upon might be unavailable at certain times during the migration. This allows them to plan accordingly, and brief their staff. It's good internal politics to ensure any cloud migration related disruptions to IT are flagged up to affected managers well in advance.

8. Create a Contact Sheet

Given the number of moving parts in cloud migration planning, it is critical that you have up-to-date contact information of everyone involved in the project. Especially given the interdependencies of systems, there may be an urgent need to contact a staff member, consultant, provider, or vendor, should there be unexpected problems during the migration. Be sure that all stakeholders have the contact information of the other migration participants, to facilitate rapid communication when necessary.

Bear in mind, there may be no-one manning the corporate switchboard out-of-hours, so you need direct phone numbers for all contacts. Where people are physically moving equipment, you need their mobile numbers.

If the changes you are making could impact email services, make sure you have an alternative email address for each person whose corporate email address could be affected. 

9. Communicate with Stakeholders

A critical component of any cloud migration plan is creating and implementing a strategy to communicate with stakeholders outside of the IT department.

Even when everything goes smoothly, migration to the cloud can be disruptive for managers and staff. Communication needs to begin early and include the benefit of the change to the organisation and individual users.

Give members of the organisation a clear idea of what to expect during and after the migration process. If certain legacy systems will no longer be available post-migration, make sure affected users know this in advance!

Finally, be sure that people know who to contact if they have questions or concerns about the cloud migration.

10. Clean-Up, Pre-Migration

Before moving everything to the cloud, it is helpful to ensure you aren't moving too much data that's no longer needed. Include a step in your cloud migration plan to review what data you currently have.

Remove any unnecessary files by looking for unusual file extensions, excessive duplicates, and outdated files no longer needed for compliance. This is also an excellent time to eliminate unused server applications, databases, and unused VMs.

This clean-up serves several purposes. It may cut your cloud bills, somewhat. It may reduce the amount of material that could be 'discovered' by opponents during legal actions. It may also eliminate some security risks. For example, by eliminating old outdated apps/VMs that aren't used much and which are no longer entitled to security updates.

11. Complete a Full Backup

You will not want to begin your migration until you have a complete backup of all critical data. Where possible, it is best to use a single backup system to protect everything - files, emails, databases, virtual machine images - as that simplifies data restoration in the event of a problem, and it simplifies IT staff training and reduces the number of backup-related suppliers you need to deal with.

Bear in mind that post-migration, you'll need to backup the data that's stored on your new cloud. As part of your cloud migration planning, you should check whether your existing backup system is able to backup your cloud-based data. If not, you need another backup solution ready for when your data has shifted to the cloud. 

12. Update IT-Related Documentation

For example, you may want to document how to create, pause and delete a new virtual machine on your new cloud. 

While it is possible to create such documentation after the migration is complete, it's wiser to update your IT-related documentation before, during and after the migration process, as you're likely to be needing some of the knowledge during the migration process itself.

Your new cloud provider may have some documentation already that can serve as the basis for your new documentation. But whatever it publishes is likely to be generic, written without any awareness of your organisation's unique processes around the provisioning, management and supporting of IT systems.

Your documentation should include instructions covering standard procedures such as backing up or restoring lost/corrupted data, and how to access support from your provider.

Bear in mind that in migrating certain systems to the cloud, you may be choosing to discontinue some legacy systems. In which case, any references to them will need removing.

The passwords for your new cloud systems should never be written in IT systems documentation. They should always be stored in a secure password manager.  

13. Train IT Staff, Possibly Users Too

As part of cloud migration planning, it is vital to arrange appropriate training, so employees (primarily IT staff) can take advantages of the new possibilities that weren't available previously.

IT staff will need to be trained to interact with the cloud provider. Who do they call or email if there's a problem? What are your new systems labelled? Are there any firewall rules or load balancers they need to be aware of? What Service Level Agreements apply? 

Work with your provider to clarify the scope of training, if any, they provide.

End-users may also need training. For, example, if you're shifting from one on-prem system to a different cloud-hosted, feature-rich SaaS offering, a huge amount of end-user training is likely to be required, if staff are to make the most of the new system.

14. Assess Security

It is critical to consider security before, during, and after cloud migration, so your move to the cloud doesn't accidentally result in a data leak or worsening IT security.

Your new cloud should come with some security straight out of the box - for example, there should be a firewall (probably a virtual one, as a minimum) and any new VM should be created from an up-to-date operating system template.

Make sure any cloud provider passwords are long enough, random enough, and unique enough to be secure.

You may opt to encrypt data that's shortly to flow to the cloud, for example by using secure data backup and recovery software to transfer data to the new system, while encrypting it in transit. 

This is also an excellent time to update corporate processes and policies, so that when employees leave the organisation, their credentials are revoked in a timely manner. They should lose access to everything - including cloud-based systems and SaaS systems, even if disabling their accounts involves manual processes.

If you're about to move to the cloud, it's the perfect time to consider how you keep your systems patched. Look into having your cloud provider handle all operating system patching for you so your data isn't put at risk longer than necessary. 

It is essential not to forget about any servers or other hardware left behind after the migration. Servers and legacy VMs must be taken offline, decommissioned or repurposed, otherwise they become a security risk, lying forgotten, with security patches left unapplied. If the hardware will be resold or recycled, ensure that it is professionally wiped before leaving your control.

15. Schedule a Trial Migration

Before completing a full cloud migration, schedule at least one trial migration to check for unexpected problems and to find  issues that need rectifying prior to the real migration.

Trial migrations don't have to be full migration attempts. You can migrate a subset of your VMs/applications or users at any one time. This ensures that if there ARE technical problems, there aren't so many that you'll be swamped, as you're only rocking the boat in regard to a subset of your systems or users.

Be sure to plan the test as far in advance as possible, schedule it during off-hours, and inform those whose work could be impacted. Once the test migration appears to have gone well, thoroughly test any applications, looking for potential issues. If such issues arise, attempt to fix them and document the changes that had to be made - such as changing file permissions, migrating things in a different order to account for dependencies etc.

Depending on the success of the trial migration, you may decide to leave migrated workloads running in the cloud. Alternatively, you may choose to bin the new stuff and go back to how things were before the migration - having learnt what you were hoping to.

16. Complete Migration

With the appropriate level of cloud migration planning, and successful trial migrations under your belt, you should be ready for the main event.

Be sure that your order and schedule of work is up to date. Ensure that all impacted parties have been notified of what to expect and when to expect it. This should include the entire IT team, managers and team leaders, end-users, and, where applicable, any customers or business partners likely to be affected.

As each portion of the migration is complete, check the operating system and software licenses are activated. Note that in some cases, this will involve deactivating licenses on the old servers and VMs. You will also need to update references to databases, websites, servers so that they point to the new cloud location. Finally, it is also critical to check firewall settings to ensure that your new cloud-based systems are protected, while still providing appropriate access to trusted users and networks.

17. Migration Follow-Up

Although the documentation process should have been part of cloud migration planning from the beginning, this is an excellent time to complete any final updates.

Ensure that all IT documents and staff training documents reflect the move to the cloud. Remove references to any onsite legacy systems that are no longer in use.

This is also a good time to check that your accounting department is up to speed on billing so that there is no risk of losing cloud services due to non-payment or late payment of cloud provider invoices.

With the new system up and running, the final step of your cloud migration planning is to schedule periodic reviews of performance, usage levels, bills and resource allocations.

To learn more about planning your cloud migration, download hSo's free guide to cloud migration. Click on the banner at the top of this page to learn more.

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