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How to uncloud: Best practices for exiting the public cloud

A company planning to migrate from the cloud to an in-house data center or colocation facility faces a number of challenges, writes Datalink's Irwin Teodoro.

While companies used the early forms of "cloud computing" as far back as the 1970s, the concept as we know it today can trace its origins back only a decade. In that short time, the number of cloud service providers and organizations using them has exploded.

Today, however, companies are getting smarter about the cloud options available to them and are developing standards for what applications and data should, and should not, be hosted in the public cloud. In fact, some organizations have begun to uncloud. That is, companies are pulling certain aspects of their operations off of the public cloud, due in part to advancements in their ability to support a hybrid cloud internally.

When organizations uncloud: Causes and challenges

This reverse migration trend, referred to with growing frequency as unclouding, has many drivers. These include a failure to realize the expected financial advantages, unforeseen security and compliance issues, and the inability to achieve the deep integrations with legacy systems needed to make the public cloud a viable option.

Once an organization has decided to uncloud and migrate its infrastructure and data back in-house or to a colocation facility, it must address a number of challenges.
Irwin TeodoroNational Practice Director, Data Center Transformation, Datalink

Once an organization has decided to uncloud and migrate its infrastructure and data back in-house or to a colocation facility, it must address a number of challenges. Companies very quickly discover that leaving the public cloud is no less complex a process than moving to it. In fact, in some ways, backing out can be an even more complicated task.

Typically the biggest issue is how to gracefully handle the dependencies that exist between and among an organization's applications. A close second is timing. Vendors must work within the public cloud provider's maintenance windows, and those don't always sync with the company's own timeline.

Another hurdle is the fact that outside migration tools that must be implemented into the public cloud environment likely won't work. And finally, with staffing and other resources having been reallocated when processing was moved to the public cloud, organizations must now be prepared to reassume responsibility for cloud-related tasks.

How to uncloud: Emerging best practices

As reverse migration from the cloud becomes more commonplace, a set of best practices has begun to solidify. Not surprisingly to IT services companies that have expertise in moving organizations into the cloud, or executing any other kind of technology transformation, the same principles apply when it's time to uncloud. Here are eight best practices for a smooth unclouding process:

1. Perform an inventory

As a first step, you must complete a comprehensive inventory of your assets in the cloud, including applications and infrastructure components. How thoroughly you complete this step has a direct bearing on the success of your project. Simply spot checking a list created during the migration to the cloud is not enough. It's likely that changes have been made to the environment since then, and failure to catch any assets added or modified can have serious consequences.

2. Map dependencies

Similar to the time and effort you invest in an asset inventory, you must complete an equally rigorous mapping of dependencies. Again, any errors or omissions here will impact the success of the unclouding process.

3. Map applications to infrastructure

Another mapping exercise -- of applications back to the infrastructure -- is also required. When that is complete, you have a solid foundation from which to work.

4. Understand SLAs

Service-level agreements (SLAs) are another key element of a reverse cloud migration. Ensuring that an organization can continue to meet those SLAs throughout the process is a critical measure of success. This requires an in-depth understanding of every nuance of the agreements.

5. Focus on applications

Companies should focus on unclouding applications versus systems. Too often, a system-based approach results in key elements being handled incorrectly and a less than satisfactory outcome. Application-centric migrations reduce risk.

6. Leave time for testing

Given the tight windows in which a reverse migration often must take place, vendors and/or the organizations they are working with sometimes skimp on testing. This is a mistake that will almost certainly come back to haunt you later.

7. Reallocate resources

Staff and resources that were reassigned when processing was moved to the cloud must be brought back to manage operations when unclouding takes place. Having your cloud services team in place and ready for the cutover will help produce a smooth transition.

8. Find a dedicated practice

Migration to or from the cloud is not a process to be taken lightly. Companies that want to ensure that their transformation is successful should work with a vendor that has a dedicated cloud practice, rather than a company that dabbles in the cloud as an offshoot of some other line of business.

Looking ahead

The causes for unclouding mentioned previously, plus the growing ease with which companies can manage their own cloud in-house, likely will mean that the reverse migration trend continues. To lessen the likelihood that unclouding will be needed, companies should invest more time and effort in determining, upfront, which apps are better served by the public or private cloud.

They should also begin to view their IT departments as service brokers. Operating in an IT as a service environment allows IT to be more flexible and responsive.

And finally, to truly take advantage of the best that the different types of clouds have to offer, organizations should understand that the ultimate goal is positive business outcomes, and public, private or hybrid cloud is just a means to an end.

About the author:
Irwin Teodoro is National Practice Director, Data Center Transformation, at Datalink. As the senior director of Datalink's data center transformation advanced services practice, he is responsible for defining the services offering and delivery practices for data center moves, consolidations, and migrations. Under his leadership, consulting teams plan, design, and manage related efforts for medium- and large-sized organizations.

Next Steps

Find out whether your customers should deploy apps in-house or in the cloud or whether they should uncloud

Read five tips for mitigating the risk of a cloud outage

Learn what to know before migrating applications to the cloud

Read about three leading causes of cloud failure

This was last published in November 2015

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What advice would you have for customers asking how to uncloud?
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"As reverse migration from the cloud becomes more commonplace..." - is there any data to support this, or customer testimonials? 
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I’ve not seen any non-trivial data regrading reverse migration.
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