By all accounts, these are bright times for cloud computing. The majority of mid-size and large organizations now have some level of investment in the cloud, and the percentage of data and applications that a typical company is willing to store in the cloud is increasing significantly.

But not everything should go to the cloud, and IT execs should consider carefully the strategy behind each cloud investment. Information Management editor David Weldon spoke with Sean Jennings, co-founder and senior vice president of solutions architecture at Virtustream, an EMC Federation company, about current cloud trends and the questions that IT leaders should be asking when establishing a cloud migration strategy.

Where are your clients at in terms of cloud computing investments for private, public, and hybrid strategies?

Over the past couple years, we’ve witnessed a coming of age for cloud computing. The model has been proven and there are no longer hesitations around cost, efficiency or even security; the cloud has graduated from a niche, project-based IT initiative to the computing norm for businesses of all sizes.

We’ve seen an increasing sophistication from our clients in regards to the cloud in recent years. While the majority of the cloud market is still public, there’s arguably an even stronger growth trajectory emerging for the hybrid and private cloud – largely driven by compliance-conscious enterprises and public sector organizations that had previously been more hesitant to store and manage data in the cloud due to security concerns. As the market has evolved and security has improved, there’s been a heightened imperative to accelerate cloud initiatives in those sectors in particular.

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Right now, for instance, hybrid is just a sliver of the market, but it is growing fast. According to Gartner, “Nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of 2017.” There’s an enormous opportunity for the hybrid cloud market as more and more public sector agencies and enterprises in highly regulated industries (such as the financial sector) look to realize the benefits of the cloud. For them, public cloud isn’t an option.

What factors or goals are driving clients to move data from on premise to cloud-based storage?

Cloud migration is increasingly a board-level mandate. Another big factor driving cloud adoption is money; the cloud has been proven time and again as a more cost-effective model than running an on-premises data center, and concerns about security relative to a physical data center have also been largely assuaged in recent years.

For example, Virtustream offers a consumption-based billing model, so our customers only pay for what they use (much like a utility company). It seems like this should be obvious (standard, even), but counter-intuitively, this is a huge differentiator for us. With money so often being the bottom line for businesses, cost savings end up being a big factor in the decision for our customers to move to the cloud.

Ironically, with increased security awareness resulting from well-advertised breaches, some clients have come to realize that enterprise-centric cloud architectures have a stronger security posture than what they have been able to build themselves. This is driving rapid adoption of pre-engineered cloud architectures and appliances for hybrid and private deployments, as well as careful vetting of purpose-built multitenant public clouds with strong tenant separation, encryption, and continuous monitoring of security compliance.

What are good reasons to migrate data to the cloud versus bad reasons to do so?

We frequently attend meetings where an executive says “I have a requirement to have a cloud strategy. I need to move something to the cloud this year.” But that’s neither a strategy, nor reason enough to migrate applications, processes, and data to the cloud.

Corporate execs and IT managers need to have clear idea of what they’re looking to achieve by moving to the cloud. Whether it’s reducing overhead costs, increasing internal IT efficiencies, or ensuring that data is kept secure and compliant, it’s imperative to know what you’re aiming to achieve.

What are the key considerations that corporate execs and IT managers need to think about as they migrate their data to the cloud?

One of the biggest pitfalls that corporate execs and IT managers fall into as they migrate to the cloud is insufficient planning. In an effort to speed up the migration process and reduce costs spent in the overhaul, it’s easy to rely heavily on cloud service providers, who are the assumed experts. But that can be a mistake.

While CSPs may have patterns they follow and tools they use, they typically have a very generic approach, and don’t necessarily know your business. Always ensure that there is a plan that takes into account your specific applications, has checkpoints and validation, and that is proven and repeatable. Most importantly; have well defined acceptance criteria in place.

CIOs and IT managers should have a clearly defined idea of what they want to achieve and a migration strategy. Investing the time into mapping out what a business wants to achieve by moving to the cloud is imperative for success.

Another critical success factor for is having a strong understanding of their cloud service provider’s service level agreement (SLA) beforehand. Some service providers can be guilty of oversimplifying the process and offering generic services, rather than ones tailored for the specific applications at hand. It’s tempting to rely on a provider’s pre-defined SLA and ignore the nitty-gritty details, but when it comes to things like performance, data security, and compliance, the details matter.

What are the least obvious issues with the above that data managers and IT leaders should be aware of?

One of the less obvious things that IT leaders and data managers should keep in mind is what performance and uptime guarantees should look like. Establish baselines in performance and speed of applications and processes so that you can set in place the best strategy and SLA, and have a way to measure success.

Another mistake that some IT professionals make is in believing that compliance equals security. It’s true that the conditions required to achieve third-party compliance standards and certifications can be good indicators of security posture. However, they’re only point-in-time snapshots.

Because there is such a substantial amount of work and time that goes into certifications, it’s sometimes the case that the results are outdated before the ink is even dry on the certificate. It’s important to have a platform that provides continuous monitoring of the compliance posture.

How should a chief data officer or CIO best measure success with a data migration effort to the cloud?

The best measure of success with a data migration effort comes down to seamlessness. We often hear from CIOs and IT managers that their teams and clients/users didn’t even know that the migration had already happened because there was no down time in the process. And in even a short time, they already noticed significant gains in the speed and efficiency of applications and processes, not to mention cost savings. The best technologies are the ones you don’t notice — the ones that make your life and job easier, but don’t get in the way.

What message would you most like IT execs and data execs to receive when it comes to cloud migration initiatives?

If IT and data execs only walk away with a few takeaways, they should be: Ensure you have a thoughtful and proven cloud migration strategy in place before you begin, make sure you understand what’s really in your cloud service provider’s service level agreement (SLA), and ensure that their commitments are measurable and that the vendor reports on them. Do those things and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

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