Migration to the cloud: four best practices
Now that more and more companies are making the switch to the cloud – or are considering making this switch – the need for best practices and thorough advice for a smooth transition is increasing accordingly. Whether it is about the use of scrum teams or setting up a separate API factory, there are four lessons that any organisation with cloud ambitions should take to heart.
While Amazon (market leader in cloud infrastructure) opened its third European data centre (in London) late last year, Google announced its plans for 2017 and said it would scale up the number of world-wide regions in which the company is active from five to fourteen and the number of zones from fifteen to forty. Earlier on, Microsoft had said it was making huge investments in a major roll-out of its cloud solution Azure Cloud, with new data centres in Germany, Canada and the US.
There is a lot of investment activity on the supply side. Interest in cloud services is growing on the demand side too, not only in Europe and the US, but also in emerging markets like China and India. The scalability and flexibility of the cloud tempt companies into exploring the possibilities for solutions like infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS). Especially the hybrid cloud, where high scalability and flexibility are coupled with relatively low total cost of ownership, is gaining popularity. There are still challenges to be addressed concerning (continuously changing) legislation and regulations, security, governance and network performance.
According to Mritunjay Singh, director of Indian ICT service provider Persistent Systems, service providers that are considering cloud migration will face an important choice sooner or later. In an article on www.information-management.com, he emphasises the importance of such providers ensuring that the transition to the cloud will be a smooth affair. What is the most efficient and effective approach for a company to put the possibilities of a public, private or hybrid cloud to the best use possible? The experience of service providers that have opted for cloud computing so far, yield four best practices which companies poised for taking the plunge can take advantage of.
The first best practice concerns the composition of vertical project groups, in which all relevant departments of the organisation (from IT operations to cloud service management) are represented. This vertical approach of cloud projects proved to be a success in many companies, since it leads to a faster process than a horizontally-oriented approach does. As the left hand has to know full well what the right hand does, it is essential for vertically organised projects to succeed, that the mutual coordination is good and that resources are used efficiently. For outsourcing partners in a project team that do not have these competencies at their disposal, keeping the business part of the project separated from the technology part may be an alternative. A vertical approach could have the disadvantage that companies, in the preparatory phase in particular, often remain bound to multiple service providers, which might lead to inefficiency in the longer run.
As to sizeable cloud projects in particular it can be advisable to divide them into smaller units which are then taken on by a scrum team, rather than taking on the entire project in one go. Smaller project teams are often cross-functional by nature when operating in a scrum setting and have a tight rhythm of clearly defined completion moments (mostly every three to four weeks). From this perspective, the scrum approach would safeguard an efficient project approach.
Companies that opt for dealing with cloud projects in collaboration with the outsourcing partner in a scrum-based manner are well-advised to define clear results with clearly described functionalities and ‘story points’. A properly organised scrum team is flexible and can respond quickly to rapidly changing technologies and market circumstances so typical of the present-day young cloud computing landscape.
The fundamental building blocks in an IT environment, APIs are the basis for any cloud project. Customer experience largely depends on the quality of the APIs used. Most definitely in the current fast-changing technology spectrum, APIs are used throughout the organisation and therefore cannot be static anyhow: they need to be maintained and updated continuously. This is the only way to keep pace with the quick developments in operational environments, in legislation and regulations, and in security requirements.
Simultaneously, we should realise that APIs depend on context and data, and consequently they should be regarded as separate from applications. API functionality requires a different type of expertise, so it is wise to manage them separately in a so-called ‘API factory’: a separate team consisting of members who know the enterprise standards. This working method may have the disadvantage that APIs need to be designed and managed within the entire enterprise context. For API factory members to be actually effective, they must have profound knowledge of the business activities and of the respective industry.
User experience at the centre
Design should drive technology, not the other way around. In cloud projects, too, the user-centred design should be the basis of all interaction of the user with the cloud. Internationally operating companies with customers in multiple countries would be well-advised to adjust the user experience in the cloud to local preferences. In the United States, mobile banking is still looked upon with suspicion: concerns about security are still a major obstacle for its large-scale acceptance, and most Americans still prefer to use the laptop or desktop for their banking matters. In various other countries, the picture looks entirely different, for instance in India and Korea but also in Germany, where the percentage of mobile transactions is considerably higher.