Lessons from a Cloud Journey

Understand how a Cloud migration will impact your organization.

Moving to the Cloud?

If you have done any research on the benefits of moving to “the Cloud,” you are aware that there are many advantages to the strategy.  By migrating your applications, internal services, and automated processes to the Cloud, you gain an increase in accessibility, scalability, flexibility, agility, productivity and security.

In addition, you could also see an overall reduction in the total cost of ownership of your technology environment.  However, making this shift is not only about technology.  It is also about people, processes, leadership, culture, standardization, accountability and most importantly – change.

Change

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Lessons Learned from a Cloud Journey

Lesson 1 – Organizational Alignment

As with any major initiative, it is imperative that the entire team, from the Executive Team to Infrastructure to Applications to Support to Security, understand the objectives and be in alignment.  If even one division is not on board with the transition, it will have a major impact on the project and could even potentially bring it to a slow, painful death.  This is where leadership is absolutely critical.  Moving to the Cloud requires a fundamental shift in the way an organization runs on a daily basis.  Leadership must continuously be involved  to ensure teams are striving towards the objectives.

As an example, one large customer set an objective that all of their infrastructure and applications should be moved to the Cloud within 18-24 months.   All teams involved had to understand that this was the ultimate goal and Management had to ensure the work their teams performed on a daily basis helped move the entire organization toward that goal.  If your teams are working in silos, it will be a big challenge to make your Cloud initiative a success.

Organizational Alignment
Change in culture

Lesson 2 – Change in Culture

It is imperative that all players involved understand that to take full advantage of the Cloud, you do want to just take a “lift and shift” approach.  By this we mean…in order to see the full benefits, you must change the way your IT organization runs its business.  As you move capabilities to the Cloud, there is a  fundamental shift in responsibilities – something Amazon calls a “Shared Responsibility Model.”  Your responsibility no longer involves managing storage, compute, or databases.  Instead your focus becomes application monitoring, data and analytics, and access management.

Are your teams ready to make those changes?  Do you have the right skills in house?  Are people concerned they will lose their jobs?  Change is hard and leadership must address these concerns early on.  You must invest in employee training so your teams can ramp up on the new roles and responsibilities.  If you do not have the right skills in place, you might have to bring in external resources, or make some tough decisions.  Again, change is hard, but it can also be a source of energy, growth and value.

As you begin to reshape your organization, you will undoubtedly face some resistance to the changes being made.  Early wins will be important to create enough momentum that any naysayers will have no choice but to get on board or depart with the organization.  Although good people leaving brings different challenges, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  Start with some simple initiatives such as moving a DNS server, or migrating a simple, static website, to establish early success.  Focus on creating a culture of transparency, accountability and innovation sharing and reward those individuals who are embracing the change.  And finally, communicate, communicate, communicate!  Share your successes early and often to accelerate the change.

Lesson 2 – Change in Culture

It is imperative that all players involved understand that to take full advantage of the Cloud, you do want to just take a “lift and shift” approach.  By this we mean…in order to see the full benefits, you must change the way your IT organization runs its business.  As you move capabilities to the Cloud, there is a  fundamental shift in responsibilities – something Amazon calls a “Shared Responsibility Model.”  Your responsibility no longer involves managing storage, compute, or databases.  Instead your focus becomes application monitoring, data and analytics, and access management.

Are your teams ready to make those changes?  Do you have the right skills in house?  Are people concerned they will lose their jobs?  Change is hard and leadership must address these concerns early on.  You must invest in employee training so your teams can ramp up on the new roles and responsibilities.  If you do not have the right skills in place, you might have to bring in external resources, or make some tough decisions.  Again, change is hard, but it can also be a source of energy, growth and value.

As you begin to reshape your organization, you will undoubtedly face some resistance to the changes being made.  Early wins will be important to create enough momentum that any naysayers will have no choice but to get on board or depart with the organization.  Although good people leaving brings different challenges, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  Start with some simple initiatives such as moving a DNS server, or migrating a simple, static website, to establish early success.  Focus on creating a culture of transparency, accountability and innovation sharing and reward those individuals who are embracing the change.  And finally, communicate, communicate, communicate!  Share your successes early and often to accelerate the change.

Change in culture

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Lesson 3 – Technical Debt

One challenge that often exists in moving to the Cloud is ensuring there are enough human resources to both keep the lights on AND drive the Cloud transformation forward.  Often, an organization’s IT staff members are too busy maintaining the current environment and ensuring the business continues functioning.  Although this is obviously critical, it usually means the current team has too much “technical debt,” which can be defined as not doing things right in the first place.  The result of technical debt is that the IT team is spending more time putting out fires and not adding business value.

If you haven’t read a book called The Phoenix Project, we highly recommend that you do before embarking on a huge transformation.  It is an awesome book that will most likely hit very close to home in regards to your own IT organization.  As explained in this Infoq interview with the authors, the story involves a fictitious organization that is suffering from “a lack of collaboration between teams, a blame culture, over dependency on individual heroes, imposing tools over collaboration, power games and pushing for individual goals andprojects.”  Sound familiar?  All of this can, and probably will, lead to an increase in technical debt.

So how do you begin to steer the ship so it doesn’t sink from the weight of your technical debt?  You must establish a balance between Running the Business (RTB) and Changing the Business (CTB).  That means balancing your time, resources and budget to ensure you are reducing technical debt while also developing the new capabilities the business is demanding.  Your focus should be on adding continuous business value and not inward-facing tasks that add no value at all.  What is the correct balance?  Well, that depends on how much change your organization can stomach.  That said, at a minimum, you should be striving for an RTB/CTB split of 40%/60%.  Anything less than that and you will simply be spinning your wheels.

Technical Debt
Document the Steps

Lesson 4 – Standardization & Documentation

Part of the power of the Cloud is that organizations can increase the speed and accuracy of their application deployment by automating the entire process.  However, as we have said many times, if you automate a bad process, you just get faster bad.  In our experience, we have seen very large organizations be challenged with a lack of process standardization.  Quite often, standard policies, processes and procedures are not identified and that often leads to incremental technical debt.  Working in silos, individuals tend to do whatever is necessary to get their job done, but they most likely do not realize the impact that is having on the organization as a whole.  The entire organization must agree on what processes are necessary, but are also not going to impede the organization from transforming.

Once these processes have been standardized, they must be documented so they are accessible to everyone.  In addition, a change management process must be put in place to ensure the documentation is constantly up-to-date.  The more these processes are followed, the less technical debt the organization will have, and the more energy it can put towards transforming.

As an example, migrating to the Cloud is a perfect time to do an application rationalization to determine which applications to migrate and which to sunset.  Does your organization have a standard process for sun-setting applications?  Do you have to archive it?  Do you need to keep the data?  Do you have a process so you can properly communicate to the business owners that the application is being decommissioned?

Lesson 4 – Standardization & Documentation

Part of the power of the Cloud is that organizations can increase the speed and accuracy of their application deployment by automating the entire process.  However, as we have said many times, if you automate a bad process, you just get faster bad.  In our experience, we have seen very large organizations be challenged with a lack of process standardization.  Quite often, standard policies, processes and procedures are not identified and that often leads to incremental technical debt.  Working in silos, individuals tend to do whatever is necessary to get their job done, but they most likely do not realize the impact that is having on the organization as a whole.  The entire organization must agree on what processes are necessary, but are also not going to impede the organization from transforming.

Once these processes have been standardized, they must be documented so they are accessible to everyone.  In addition, a change management process must be put in place to ensure the documentation is constantly up-to-date.  The more these processes are followed, the less technical debt the organization will have, and the more energy it can put towards transforming.

As an example, migrating to the Cloud is a perfect time to do an application rationalization to determine which applications to migrate and which to sunset.  Does your organization have a standard process for sun-setting applications?  Do you have to archive it?  Do you need to keep the data?  Do you have a process so you can properly communicate to the business owners that the application is being decommissioned?

Document the Steps

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Lesson 5 – Deciding What to Move

Deciding which applications to move into a cloud environment can be especially challenging if your organization has hundreds of applications. How do you know what to move first or last? What applications should move together? What can move by itself? Is your cloud environment architected to accept the application? These are questions you’ll need to answer as your prepare to migrate into the cloud. Here are three steps to help answer these questions:

  1. Compile one master list  – This may sound obvious, however, as your organization grows and you start to implement hundreds of applications to support various business needs, it’s easy to get lost in what applications exist across the organization. Different teams and departments may have their own lists based on what’s important to them. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy or complex. Keep it simple.
  2. Make the list ownership and maintenance a priority – One way to make this priority is to assign a team who will own and maintain this list. Organizations get busy with delivering projects, production support and day to day operations. Owning and maintaining your master list of applications is easy to push off for later. Then, before you know it, years go by and you’ve got a pile of hundreds of applications being used with minimal knowledge across the organization. Develop a process to frequently collect and communicate the information so it stays fresh and people know where to go to contribute to and/or receive this information.
  3. Know your applications – Decide what is important for your organization to know about each app and use this for things such as driving decisions, providing better support and building better security. Here are ideas for attributes to collect on each application – What does it do?  Who are the Business and Technical Owners?  Who are the users? How many users?  What are the dependencies?  How old is it?

Implementing these three steps can add tremendous value to an organization migrating a large numbers of applications to the cloud. This will help prioritize which apps to move, which are dependent on others and what you need to do to get your cloud environment ready.

Deciding what applications to move
A Packing Guide

Lesson 6 – A Packing Guide

Say you are selling your house and buying a new one. You probably aren’t going to take everything in your existing house, box it up and move it directly into your new house. Maybe you are upsizing because your family is growing, maybe the kids have all gone off and started their own life and a smaller abode is perfect, or maybe you are just moving to a better neighborhood. No matter what the reason, this is the perfect opportunity to sort, filter, upsize, downsize or upgrade many of the things you own.

It might not be exactly the same as moving houses, but going from your old data center to the Cloud is an amazing opportunity to “clean house”. Sit down with your customers and talk through priorities and the action plan.

For each workload you must decide – Do we move it?  Do we sunset it?  Do we outsource it?  Do we re-factor it?  Do we re-architect it?  Or do we just lift-and-shift it?

Moving to the Cloud is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. So don’t waste it!  Take the time to “clean house” and make your organization better than it has ever been before.

Lesson 6 – A Packing Guide

Say you are selling your house and buying a new one. You probably aren’t going to take everything in your existing house, box it up and move it directly into your new house. Maybe you are upsizing because your family is growing, maybe the kids have all gone off and started their own life and a smaller abode is perfect, or maybe you are just moving to a better neighborhood. No matter what the reason, this is the perfect opportunity to sort, filter, upsize, downsize or upgrade many of the things you own.

It might not be exactly the same as moving houses, but going from your old data center to the Cloud is an amazing opportunity to “clean house”. Sit down with your customers and talk through priorities and the action plan.

For each workload you must decide – Do we move it?  Do we sunset it?  Do we outsource it?  Do we re-factor it?  Do we re-architect it?  Or do we just lift-and-shift it?

Moving to the Cloud is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. So don’t waste it!  Take the time to “clean house” and make your organization better than it has ever been before.

A Packing Guide