Many SMEs are migrating their infrastructure to the cloud, tapping into the many benefits on offer. However, it is important that business leaders recognise that continuous optimisation of this new environment is crucial to deriving maximum business value. Bob Petrocelli, CTO, Datto, tells us how organisations can make the most of their cloud infrastructure.
For many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), moving IT workloads to a public cloud such as Azure is a key part of their digitalisation strategy. Whether they make the shift to gain more flexibility and scalability, to replace on-premises hardware or to modernise their infrastructure, it needs careful planning and consideration both pre and post migration. Deriving maximum business value from the cloud is not a one-off endeavour that is completed by the time the virtual machines have been lifted into the cloud; instead, in order to be successful, it is an ongoing effort that requires regular reviews and continuous optimisation.
Usually, the SME will have worked with a managed service provider (MSP) at their side to migrate their IT infrastructure into the cloud. The move may even have been driven by the MSP as they seek to optimise how they service their growing client base. Either way, the initial focus of any cloud transition is usually on ensuring applications work as they should in the new environment, on reliability and continuity.
From the point of view of the SME, once they have made the move to the cloud, they will appreciate the convenience of no longer needing on-premises hardware maintenance visits, alongside easier remote access to applications and data – which simplifies collaboration in virtual teams – as well as better performance thanks to state-of-the-art infrastructure.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
However, if the cloud migration project stops there, businesses will miss out on valuable optimisation opportunities. The cloud offers a myriad of advantages, from better utilisation of computing resources to easier access and higher performance. Its elasticity allows users to seamlessly adapt to fluctuating workloads as their business requirements evolve, so for a real return on investment, organisations will want to reap all those benefits of using the cloud.
Moreover, if the migration was a pure ‘lift and shift’ project that prioritised speed and convenience, businesses could not only miss an opportunity to streamline their IT environment – they may also suddenly find themselves at risk of losing valuable data or suffering damaging downtime. Just like on-premises servers, the cloud doesn’t come with a built-in continuity guarantee. Cloud services can experience major outages that due to their ‘blast radius’ have a significant impact on very large numbers of customers.
For example, in October 2021, an outage lasting nearly eight hours hit users of Azure virtual machines and services all over the world. Users saw error messages when attempting to carry out operations such as start, create, update and delete.
These events aren’t rare one-off incidents, either. In December 2021, an outage of over an hour affected Amazon’s own services. Enterprise customers couldn’t see any information on their Amazon Web Service status page. Just one week later, Azure’s Active Directory service went down, preventing users from signing into their Microsoft services.
Extended downtimes can be extremely damaging to businesses. Not being able to access business-critical applications and data when it’s needed could result in lost business, lost revenue, reputational damage or worse and even physical harm. Organisations that rely on infrastructure in the cloud must therefore ensure that they have a solid strategy for how to restore data quickly and keep operations up and running in case of a cloud service failure, a cyber incident or a ransomware attack. In fact, although not all organisations are aware of this, under Microsoft’s shared responsibility model, customers are explicitly responsible for keeping their own data secure, protected and recoverable.
Unfortunately, the built-in data protection and recovery options offered by cloud providers are fairly limited: Azure’s free-of-charge, basic data redundancy backup component for instance doesn’t allow automated recovery and doesn’t store historical data. And Azure Site Recovery, which comes at an extra cost, doesn’t give customers the ability to recover from a backup point that is older than 72 hours.
For businesses that cannot afford to risk downtime, the best way to prevent data loss is to perform cloud backups both within Azure as well as to a separate, secure cloud. Third-party business continuity solutions for the cloud – such as the purpose-built Datto Continuity for Microsoft Azure – are a good solution as they offer additional security measures including ransomware protection and data deletion defences. MSPs can implement these for their customers.
What to ask of your MSP
As a general rule, businesses that have made the move to the cloud and are using Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) solutions such as Microsoft Azure should still expect the same level of Business Continuity they had on-premises. They shouldn’t be afraid to ask their migration partner exactly what measures are in place. For example, can the MSP provide evidence of a reliable continuity strategy? Is the strategy tested on a regular basis, for example quarterly, to ensure the backups are working as they should and services can be restored quickly? And how does the MSP ensure your business can continue to operate even when there is a major cloud outage that lasts several hours?
The cost of the continuity solution should be comparable to what the business previously paid for on-premises data protection. If the fee is too small, this could be a sign that the MSP is relying on the basic Azure backup feature alone.
Additionally, the move to the cloud can be a great opportunity to improve an organisation’s overall security posture by implementing secure identity management and multi-factor authentication across all applications – so it’s important to discuss security with the migration partner, too, and ask how well the new infrastructure is protected against cyberattacks.
When it comes to making the most of the advantages the cloud offers post migration, businesses should expect more agility and this can be immediate: being able to expand licences and workloads as needed, for example when moving into new regions, opening new offices or onboarding new employees. Often, applications that were constrained by old on-premises hardware will perform better, bringing added business value. But it doesn’t end there. Once the cloud infrastructure is running, mature and stable, organisations should also have an open discussion with their MSP about optimising their operating costs in the cloud. Is there a way to optimise workloads and save costs without compromising performance and quality?
Finally, it’s worth looking at quality of services reports and using analytics to make sure the cloud continues to deliver value in the medium and long term. Evaluate the cost of the cloud services used versus their business benefits, and demand that your MSP demonstrates value during quarterly business reviews.
If appropriate, have a roadmap for how to develop your business further, with templates for geographic expansion that exploit the elastic nature of the cloud. Make an ongoing effort to protect the assets you have in the cloud so you can survive future outages and cyberattacks. And above all, know what you want to achieve for your business – remember the cloud is only a vehicle to help you reach your goals, not a goal in itself.Click below to share this article