Blog: Three key considerations when moving complex systems into the cloud

By Andy Haley, Director of Managed Services & Cyber Security, Meridian IT UK

In recent years, we’ve seen incredible advances in the evolution and maturity of cloud technologies. What seemed like a nice-but-impractical idea 10 or 15 years ago has now become the default infrastructure paradigm for Internet-age businesses: many have made the leap from tiny startup to digital giant by piggybacking on the scalability and performance of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and other public cloud platforms.

However, not all organisations have the luxury of starting their business in the cloud. For thousands of long-established companies, there’s an elephant in the (server) room. The complexity of real-world IT environments, where there’s a tangled network of dependencies between different types of applications, databases and other on-premise legacy systems, can make it much more challenging to move towards a cloud-based model.

Nevertheless, there are ways to deal with these problems. It all starts with asking the right questions—and that’s what we’re doing to do in this article.

1. What’s the right cloud platform for our complex, real-world environments?

If you’re a company of a certain age, you’ll probably be running a mix of different platforms, all adopted at different times and for different purposes. The first step in assessing a move to cloud is to work out which systems are the best candidates for cloud migration—the ones that will be simplest to move, and the ones whose migration will create the most business value. For example, modern third-party applications are often the easiest to migrate; the application vendor may even provide their own software-as-a-service version, together with migration services to move your data safely into the cloud.

Next easiest are bespoke or highly customised applications that run on modern platforms, such as Linux or Windows, and are built for commodity Intel or AMD processor architectures. These are bread-and-butter for the major public cloud platforms, and there’s no shortage of information about how to move them onto cloud-based virtual machines or containerise them with technologies like Docker and Kubernetes.

Where it starts to get tricky is with larger, older, more business-critical applications that run on specialist operating systems such as AIX and IBM i. Since these systems are built to run on the IBM Power Systems platform, they can’t just be lifted and shifted into any old public cloud. Fortunately, specialist cloud providers do exist—Meridian’s Power Cloud, for example, gives you access to one of the largest privately owned IBM Power Systems installations on earth, enabling you to continue to run your business-critical applications while benefiting from all the usual advantages of cloud hosting: no up-front investment, predictable monthly costs, and near-limitless scalability.

2. How can we ensure a cloud platform delivers business value?

A cloud strategy is essentially a form of outsourcing, and one of the key decisions is how much to outsource. At one end of the spectrum, moving to cloud could mean nothing more than taking the big box out of your server room and putting it into someone else’s data centre—but if that’s all you’re doing, you’ll miss out on the real benefits of cloud.

The return on investment you get from avoiding capital expenditure on new servers every few years is significant, but it’s only half the story. The other half is that the right cloud provider can save you huge amounts on the cost of maintaining your infrastructure. Recruiting, hiring and retaining infrastructure specialists in-house is enormously expensive, especially for specialist platforms where expertise is in short supply. And every hour your team spends on troubleshooting hardware problems or patching operating systems is an hour they’re not spending on developing new functionality for your business.
That’s why shifting up from simple cloud hosting to a more comprehensive Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model is often the right choice. As an example, for Meridian Power Cloud clients, we provide 24/7 support and regular upgrades to keep both the hardware and the operating system layer current, patched and secure—so all you need to do is focus on your applications.

3. How can we move to cloud without disrupting our business?

When you have a complex environment, it’s likely that you won’t be able to migrate everything to the cloud in a single move. In fact, it’s likely that some small subset of your applications will always need to remain on premises.  As a result, either temporarily or permanently, you’re going to be working with a hybrid cloud architecture, and you’ll need to work out how your new cloud services are going to interact with the systems that remain in your own server room.

BHSF is a good example of a company that found a way to make a virtue of this necessity. Their overall strategy was to move away from their aging Power Systems server into the Meridian Power Cloud, but in the short term, their biggest concern was disaster recovery. So they went for a two-state approach: first, setting up a cloud DR environment as a hot standby for their on-premises server, and then later moving the production environment into the cloud. You can read the full story here .You can take a similar approach by introducing cloud environments for lower-risk or lower-priority systems, and learning from that experience before you move your more critical systems. By creating and testing your hybrid architecture first, you’ll know whether you have a solid platform before you start the migration phase. And you can then plan to move your systems into the cloud gradually, at the right time for the business, whenever it’s going to cause the least disruption.

Next steps

Of course, cloud migrations are always challenging, and we have only covered the tip of the iceberg here. But if you’d like to learn more, help is at hand. Meridian IT’s experienced managed services team has helped dozens of companies like BHSF migrate to the cloud successfully. To discuss how we can help your business, please reach out to us today at info@meridianit.co.uk or call us today on 01564 330650.

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