A few years back, I had a conversation with the CIO of an insurance company in Hong Kong. This was 2019 when cloud computing was a recurring topic of discourse among CIOs. At the time, the cloud has been in discussion for over five years
“I still remember when I came to Hong Kong six years ago (2009), the cloud was the biggest buzzword in the industry. In 2014, (just for the fun of it) I included a cloud-based solution in the selection for a CRM project. All the people in my team were very defensive. They brought up all the concerns and issues that you could imagine around security, trusting vendors, etc.,” said Henk Ten Bos.
A lot has changed in six years. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic gave the cloud a significant boost and imperative as businesses were left with few choices to achieve business as usual. But despite the learnings over the years, migrating infrastructure to the cloud is not a simple process, particularly where the desire is to achieve the benefits of native-cloud performance.
Where Asia stands in the cloud journey today
According to Chris Chelliah, senior vice president for technology and customer strategy at Oracle APJ, at least one billion people in APAC will use digital services for life and work within the region in 2022.
He argued that this places companies at the sharp end of some of the toughest cloud migration challenges.
“While this acceleration brings opportunity, innovation, and growth it also means more data, workloads and risk to manage and mitigate alongside other key business and cloud migration goals.”Chris Chelliah
Forrester believes that cloud powers future-fit enterprises and cloud-native is redefining everything in the cloud,” he continued.
“Today, roughly 40% of applications have already been migrated to the cloud, and enterprises are more likely to focus on modernisation, powered by cloud-native technologies across platforms and practices, as opposed to lift-and-shift migration using virtual machines with a monolithic architecture,” said Forrester VP and research director, Charlie Dai.
Why cloud migration projects fail
A Cloud Security Alliance report suggests that 90% of CIOs have experienced failed or disrupted data migration projects – mostly due to the complexity of moving from on-premises environments to the cloud.
“Most cloud migration projects fail for the same reason most IT projects fail. Years of data have shown us that the bigger the project, the more likely it is to fail to deliver any return on investment. Unclear goals, insufficient scope definition, and inconsistent commitments by management are all common causes for failure,” said Nigel Kersten, field CTO for Puppet.
"Anyone undertaking such a project must do three things: answer the why of a migration, communicate the answers widely, and break up the project into smaller and smaller components, each with well-defined goals."Nigel Kersten
“You also need to be prepared to commit to re-architecting your applications and systems to take advantage of the cloud,” he added.
Challenges in the cloud migration journey
According to Dai, companies in Asia pursuing such a strategy will face a lack of skill sets and experiences in cloud migration within the hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments.
“This is in addition to the complexity of heterogeneous legacy systems, and the insufficient planning for business stakeholder alignment as well as cultural and organisational change," he added.
Chelliah warns that organisations migrating on-premises workloads to the cloud will need to ensure continuity for existing operational systems during the migration process. “There is a risk of incomplete and inaccurate data backups due to lack of expertise and understanding of data. This can lead to process failures and data loss,” he warned.
Keep an eye on milestones
Forrester’s Dai acknowledges that cloud migration is a journey, with each organisation carving its path with different milestones.
“In general, cloud migration can be separated into three milestones: running some of the existing non-mission-critical apps with capabilities to develop new apps in the cloud; running mission-critical apps with capabilities to drive digital innovation (big data, AI/ML, IoT) in the cloud; and modern technology operations across applications and infrastructure."Charlie Dai
Any complex undertaking will require breaking into pieces for better manageability – or at the very least, ensure that attention is given at every step of the process. Or as Chelliah puts it: “Any cloud migration should be measurable and quantifiable, so organisations should set KPIs at the start of the project to gauge the overall success.”
Kersten warns that simply setting goals like several applications moved can lead to undesirable outcomes, where critical steps such as re-architecting and re-platforming are skipped, simply to hit the overall milestones.
What matters most in cloud migration
Dai concedes that it is a relatively straightforward exercise to justify cloud migration based on anticipated cost savings, the cloud isn’t always going to be less expensive than on-premises operations.
“Starting with customer needs, such as differentiated customer experience or faster customer value delivery, to create a compelling business case up front and to revisit the case during the migration will be critical to convince business buyers of the merits of the journey and drive the migration effectively,” he opined.
Leader of the band
Every project must have a champion. But just as important, someone is committed to making it happen. Oracle’s Chelliah believes that successful cloud migration must be led by key leaders within an organisation.
“Even if the development and operations department are the ones driving the migration process, there must be a high-level executive sponsor spearheading the organisational-level change,” he added.
Kersten pointed out that organisational dynamics – how teams interact with each other, and whether there is a common understanding of team responsibilities to other teams – will be just as important.
“If you have that in place, with a managerial chain that sets clear goals and empowers teams to learn new skills as they’re required, then problems with expertise and technology disappear," he continued.
Achieving the goals
Asked how to ensure that a cloud migration achieves its set goals, Dai said: “Define the goals with a pragmatic and cloud-native first approach; think big and start small; embrace risk and plan for failure; be customer-obsessed and product-driven, and empower employees with the right mindset and technologies.”
Concurring with this view, Chelliah added that even after the migration, ongoing upkeep is needed to ensure the cloud environment is optimised and adjustments will undoubtedly be needed to tailor to changing business needs and priorities.