Cloud migration services demand new talents, approaches and more

Partners evolve as they move customers' business apps to the cloud, learning the skills and approach and about further business opportunities.

IT shops that want to use the cloud as the compute platform for some or all of their applications must first migrate those applications to the cloud. That task is easier said than done, and many companies are turning to channel partners for help. However, as customers are increasingly turning to the channel for help moving certain business functions off-premises, the migration demands a skill set -- and mindset -- that traditional partners may not have.

Over the years, customers have developed a relationship with their solution providers as strategic sources for their traditional hardware and software needs, observed Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies. "It is almost an impulse on their part when they hear about cloud to turn to [their solution providers],'' he said. "Unfortunately, in many cases, the traditional channel partners have not been keeping pace with this movement to cloud. Either their heads are down doing what they've always done and not paying attention to it … or they're threatened by it, because they've made their money helping companies select and deploy" hardware and software and keeping it up and running.

Some traditional partners falsely believe that once applications are in the cloud, not much work is needed to maintain them, Kaplan said. Yet once applications are migrated, there is still opportunity for channel companies to provide management/monitoring support as well as troubleshoot any issues that might arise with cloud-based systems.

For those channel companies that are happy to manage their customers' cloud-based systems, migrating apps to the cloud may require modifying the code of the existing software and, in some cases, implementing data integration connectors that will link to a software as a service solution and align the data during the cloud migration process, said Kaplan.

"You want to start small and incrementally grow'' the number of applications being migrated, he said. "That's the most appealing part of these cloud services: You don't have to make a big bet upfront."

A typical cloud migration

Software and service company Cloud Technology Partners (CTP) has done cloud migration services work for the past four years. The company is now seeing an increase in activity, as more clients are moving beyond the strategy phase and into the execution phase, said John Treadway, senior vice president.

That's the most appealing part of these cloud services: You don't have to make a big bet upfront.
Jeff Kaplanmanaging director, THINKstrategies

The amount of work required to migrate applications to the cloud depends on the type of client and business, said Treadway. At the beginning, a mindset change needs to occur with the client: Regardless of whether the client opts to use a public cloud like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or a private cloud, the operations are going to be different than what a company is used to, Treadway said, so IT departments first need to understand the monitoring tools and processes to maintain the service levels they need. They also need to understand that while the expectations of the business for service levels, performance and security remain the same, "the way you meet these expectations often requires very different processes, tools, skill sets, and a deeper insight into what's going on inside the application and the infrastructure," Treadway said.

As an example, achieving availability in traditional IT typically requires a deep focus on the infrastructure, building out and managing redundancy and more, he said. "In a cloud, you don't often have direct control over the infrastructure -- so you need to move availability management up to the application layer."

Echoing Kaplan, Treadway said, "They're starting with something simple and low-risk, and they learn, and then move to the next level. … So they're going at what I'll say is an evolutionary pace and moving carefully and deliberately."

CTP does a portfolio analysis on the apps a customer wants moved to determine the amount of code work it needs to do. When a company wants to move hundreds of workloads to the cloud, like an entire data center consolidation, "the work involved … is sometimes just moving it, so we use a set of tools to capture workloads." These workloads are often in a virtualized environment and don't require changes before moving them into a cloud environment.

"Before we start moving [applications] … it's like a building process, and you have to make sure the site is prepared and make sure there's a set of core capabilities in place," he said. For example, if a customer wants an application moved to a public cloud like AWS, Treadway said CTP has to ensure the connectivity, network and tools are in place to do so.

Since many organizations have already moved from a physical to virtual environment, those migrations generally go smoothly and will run well on AWS, said Treadway. "There are not a lot of technical impediments to running on a public cloud on the infrastructure as a service side, because you're going from virtual machine to virtual machine." They don't require a lot of analysis.

Once CTP captures the workloads to be migrated, it copies the workloads to AWS and then checks them to ensure they're running smoothly. He said if CTP parallelizes the work, the company can migrate multiple apps in one day. It depends on the number of people involved in the process and how motivated the client is to get it done.

The firm has done cloud migration services projects where they have moved 50 apps in 50 days. Once CTP invests the time into getting the client set up, the tools in place and the ground prepared, "the migrations happen very quickly." The important thing is making sure to test and keep the quality high, he stressed. "Once you've done that, the 50 apps themselves … move over in about two to three weeks."

Companies move everything from departmental and commercial off-the-shelf apps to customized apps built off-premises. A lot of the apps are fairly small, some are content management systems like WordPress or Drupal, and some are custom-written in Java, he said. "They don't tend to be big, hairy, mission-critical apps that are complex or risk-prone."

Grappling with migration complexities

With more complex, specialty migrations, Treadway said he spends more time looking into each application -- its architecture, the size of the deployment, and the way it interacts with itself and other systems in the enterprise. "You have to dive deeply into these larger apps in the architecture and coding level to understand them." He said CTP looks at security issues more deeply and makes sure the app leverages the cloud appropriately so that it scales during peak times.

"That's not trivial, so you have to analyze the app and understand what it needs to make sure it's successful in the cloud,'' he said. "It will run, but it won't be anywhere near optimized for a cloud deployment if I just lift it and shift it like I do the rest of the apps."

He said CTP looks at the best, most cloud-native design patterns and coding practices and then analyzes a client's apps "to uncover gaps which are opportunities to improve the apps."

"The client either does the modernization effort on their own or we do it, or sometimes, we do it in tandem with the in-house development team or offshore client development teams."

Most apps can run just as well in the cloud as they can on-premises, Treadway said -- often without having to make a lot of changes. "That said, the bigger, the more complex and mission-critical [the application], the more value of doing a deep analysis along the way and making significant code, operations and architecture improvements."

Like CTP, Claris Networks often moves customers to public clouds because it makes financial sense, said Dan Thompson, product development manager.

Claris Networks' biggest vertical market is medical. Electronic medical records (EMR) systems are the most common apps the company moves to the cloud. Usually, Claris Networks will involve the EMR system's vendor in the data migration plan and find out if they have a cloud offering, Thompson said. If a systems vendor does not have a cloud offering, Claris Networks must recreate the application, which "tends to be bumpier road."

"You have to rewrite it,'' said Thompson. "We have helped some people do that, and it's very messy."

In one case, for a client's document management app used for cataloging drawings, Claris Networks used a programming interface from Salesforce. "When we moved [the application] to the cloud, it still managed their documents, but it looked different." It had the same functionality, but it was a completely different app, he said.

More often than not, he said the company tends to move a customer's entire server, as opposed to just the business apps. "What we've found is moving everything down to the operating system makes more sense,'' he said, because the goal is to keep the same user experience and familiarity with a system.

"It gets messy, because either your own staff has to be able to recreate the app in the cloud" or the customer's staff has to. Oftentimes, neither staff has the programming expertise. "Our opinion is it's easier to move everything, rather than an app."

This was first published in July 2014

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