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The shift to the public cloud: Advice for businesses making the move

The shift to the public cloud: Advice for businesses making the move

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The pandemic has accelerated the shift to the cloud for many organisations, which have realised the many benefits. But, to make the most of the benefits, businesses need to be aware of potential cloud pitfalls too – and have a seamless Business Continuity and data protection strategy in place. Bob Petrocelli, CTO of Datto discusses current cloud adoption trends and provides useful advice for SME organisations wanting to migrate their business applications to the public cloud.

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to the cloud for many organisations. By decoupling their business applications and workloads from on-premises hardware and moving to Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) solutions such as Microsoft Azure, businesses can make better use of computing resources, scale more flexibly and gain room for seamless growth. In addition, migrating to the cloud can be a key driver in modernising business practices, facilitating continued remote working, as well as improving collaboration, performance and security.

While larger enterprises are ahead with cloud adoption – with public cloud end-user spending forecasted to grow 23% in 2021– SMEs are now also starting to eye up Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure. Azure in particular feels like a natural choice for smaller organisations that already rely heavily on Microsoft solutions. There are financial advantages to this choice too: organisations already using on-premises Windows Server and SQL Server licences can use those licences in the Azure cloud at no additional cost.

So, for many SMEs, Azure seems to be the default option – whether they are lifting and shifting all their existing on-premises virtual machine servers to the cloud as-is or taking a hybrid approach that consolidates some workloads to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications such as Office365 before moving the rest of their infrastructure to the cloud.

The factors accelerating the cloud trend

While the first few months of the pandemic saw many major infrastructure projects temporarily put on hold while businesses focused on implementing remote working, demand for cloud migration support is now picking up fast. This is driven by several factors. Small businesses making the move largely benefit from the same advantages as larger enterprises: no more one-time capital outlay on hardware, controllable costs, doing more with fewer resources and the flexibility to scale up or down as required. Cloud applications and services make it easier for organisations to support remote workforces. Moreover, the cloud transition can give businesses direct access to the latest technology and cutting edge tools, so adopting a cloud infrastructure becomes a key component of a forward-looking IT strategy.

On the other hand, transferring data and applications into the cloud includes a level of perceived loss of control. Technology overwhelm is real for SMEs which have no or little internal IT expertise. Cloud contracts and cost models can be complex and difficult to understand and can be a reason SMEs hesitate to make the move.

In addition, many SMEs are unnerved by endless reports of ransomware and other cyberattacks – and question whether the cloud is secure. Keeping all applications and data in the local server room can – on the face of it – feel a lot safer, so moving to the cloud inevitably throws up a number of data protection questions.

The truth is, migrating to the cloud, if done correctly, can actually improve an organisation’s level of security. Cloud providers and third-party vendors alike have developed sophisticated security solutions and are constantly improving these to mitigate the latest threats. By making use of these tools and services, and with support from an experienced IT partner, SMEs can put in place a more comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

Here is some advice for businesses wanting to make the move to the cloud:

Enlist the help of an expert

Firstly, and crucially, don’t tackle this transition on your own. Shifting your infrastructure is a complex task, so find a trusted managed service provider (MSP) with proven experience in cloud migrations. Many MSPs have helped numerous clients with successful cloud projects and are experts in this space. They can help you decide on when to migrate, which parts of your infrastructure to move to the cloud and how to do it smoothly. For peace of mind, make sure they have strong security capabilities and can put in place the right security controls to meet your requirements. When selecting your partner, look into how they are pricing their services, too. Is the pricing transparent and predictable? Could there be fluctuations in your monthly costs?

Plan ahead

Work with your MSP to create a three to five year strategic IT plan. This should be informed by your current and anticipated future IT needs, in line with your business expansion plans, and include an overall timeline for strategy and investments. Remember that your migration doesn’t have to happen all at once but can be done step by step. Look carefully at your business goals and determine which parts of your business could be run more effectively in the cloud, then consider each application one by one and decide on the right time to modernise it. Most organisations opt for a hybrid approach of hosting some applications in the cloud and keeping some on-premises, so with the help of your MSP, decide what is right for you.

Don’t try to change everything at once

The cloud by its very nature can be optimised and adjusted over time. Take advantage of this flexibility to keep your migration simple. For example, move your servers to the cloud first, then make sure you are happy with the outcome before you consider adding more applications or migrating users to Azure Virtual Desktop.

Be ready with change management

Moving your infrastructure to the cloud will change how end-users access and use applications. From the very beginning of your migration project, bring your staff on side by keeping them well informed and managing expectations. Plan your communication carefully, understand how the user experience will differ and consider what training your staff will need to work efficiently within your new infrastructure. Your MSP should be able to help you navigate this process by providing user training and documentation. This is also a good time to revisit security basics and update your employee security awareness training.

Implement strong data protection measures

Work with your MSP to implement a strong security strategy. Data protection and recovery needs to be carefully considered, because IaaS providers don’t have it covered out of box. While Azure provides a built-in backup component, this may not meet your objectives in terms of data recovery times and recovery points. For example, Azure Data Redundancy, which is provided free of charge, doesn’t store historical data, and doesn’t provide automated recovery, while Azure Site Recovery does not provide the ability to recover from a historical backup point beyond 72 hours.

Instead, to ensure true Business Continuity, spread your risk by performing cloud backups both within Azure and to a separate private cloud so you can keep operations up and running – or restore them quickly – at any time, even in the case of an Azure outage. Leading third-party Business Continuity and data recovery (BCDR) solutions developed specifically for the public cloud offer extra security measures such as ransomware detection and data deletion defences, and your MSP should be able to implement these. Work with them to put in place a BCDR strategy that covers all your workloads, regardless of whether they live on-premises or in the cloud, to ensure all your data is recoverable in the event of deletion, corruption or a ransomware attack.

If done correctly, migrating to the cloud will optimise your infrastructure and open up new opportunities. Plan carefully, find a trusted partner to see the project through with you – and set yourself up for success.

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