There’s a lot to consider when moving your business to the Cloud. Our Commercial Director Jude shares his knowledge on the migration process including things to consider before you move, and what questions you should be directing at your IT team (if you have one).
Since 2020 (what with the home working exodus and lockdowns), small and medium sized businesses across the world have been realising the benefits that the cloud offers. Despite this, many are still using more server infrastructure than they need to. The two reasons I bump into most frequently are:
1) It’s not clearly understood what’s needed to get rid of old infrastructure. In many cases, it’s just that a plan has not been laid out for them.
2) There are software applications integral to the business that still rely on server hardware onsite.
There are other, more specific reasons – concerns around security, connectivity, costs and perceived complexity, for example – but generally speaking these are often symptoms of one of the two reasons above.
What I’d like to do, as concisely as possible (after all, I’m aware very few actually find this stuff as interesting as we do!), is explain the basics of what you need to consider before migrating your business’s technology to the cloud. The hope is that you read this and have an idea of the type of things to consider, and what questions you should be asking of your IT team.
The Cloud Checklist
3. Line of business applications
4. Remote access
5. Workstations and devices
Without fast, reliable internet connectivity, cloud services wouldn’t exist. This is the first consideration before even looking to the cloud which is, after all, services delivered over the internet. Fibre to the cabinet connections are a good starting point, offering an 80/20 split of download to upload speeds – higher downloads, lower uploads. If you’re a small team (10-15 staff), this isn’t a bad option.
The increasingly available Fibre to the Premises product offers much higher performance (up to 500Mbps download speeds), for good value. Don’t mistake this for Fibre Leased Lines though, which offer “private bandwidth”. The previously mentioned connections are shared, whereas Leased Lines offer a completely private connection, not suffering from the noisy neighbour effect.
4G/5G connections can offer excellent speed, but are still expensive if you’re a heavy user, so take advice based on your usage before committing. And signal strength is paramount too.
Email, instant messaging, file sharing, telecoms and video calling are all imperative to a collaborative team. Everyone is aware of Outlook and its email, contact and calendar functions, but consider how you plan to share data with colleagues and customers, and how you’re going to work on documents together. Sharing documents with one another via email isn’t viable in the long term.
Microsoft and Google alike provide all-in-one services (Microsoft 365 and Google G-Suite) that enable businesses to buy into all of these tools with a single subscription, priced per user, per month. Before you ask, we prefer 365 at Resolve, but whichever option you prefer, the crucial point is wherever your user accounts are is where your services should also be. This is because your user accounts (or, identities) are the keys to everything else; yes, you can setup sign-ins between platforms, but it would be much easier if you didn’t have to. Keep as many things under one roof as possible – that way, you sign into one system and you’re into them all.
A centralised location for saving and sharing data, accessible to all members of your team, is ideal. Additionally, somewhere that staff can save their own files and folders without consuming storage space and adding complexity to the primary file share (not to mention, they may want some privacy). Given that cloud providers charge you per GB of storage used, it’s important you plan out your storage design layout – getting this right from the beginning will save a lot of hassle further down the road.
When planning your cloud migration strategy, any good technology partner will be able to guide you through communications. If you have an old phone system in your office, consider a fully cloud alternative which does away with the need for a phone line and only requires the addition of a handset or software-based phone to make calls. Email and instant messaging are commonly accessible in the cloud now too, ensure they’re under the same platform from the same provider, if you want to make life a bit easier.
3. Line of Business Applications
According to Wikipedia, a “line-of-business application” is one of the set of critical computer applications perceived as vital to running an enterprise. This is your software applications that the business could not run without. Nearly all businesses rely on LOB applications for their accounting, for example (although some are still 100% paper based – yes, really!). Many of the most common applications are already fully cloud-based and typically delivered to you via a web browser – this is referred to as Software-as-a-Service, or “SaaS”.
Part of the cloud migration strategy that requires careful planning is a thorough assessment of your applications. Audit all of your applications; are you already using cloud-based apps, or do you have software that requires onsite servers? How do these applications respond when delivered over the internet? Many organisations are still using applications that rely on Microsoft SQL Servers with no real SaaS option from the developer. If that is the case, all is not lost – these server workloads can be migrated to cloud based infrastructure. Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS are great choices for lifting the servers off your physical infrastructure onsite, and moving them to cloud providers as they are. Keep in mind this changes your options for remote working – more on that next…
4. Remote Access
Typically, being cloud based involves nothing by way of IT infrastructure onsite. Your data, user accounts, communications and identities all reside on software and services that are delivered seamlessly to your computers. This is very much reality for many businesses, and achievable for many others. If your planning uncovers no applications or workloads that require you to run or host your own servers, you’re able to manage everything through tools delivered directly to your computers – often referred to (certainly in the Microsoft world) as Modern Workplace tools.
In that scenario, remote access is achieved simply by logging onto your laptop and connecting to the internet. This is a great situation to be in (and is very often the single biggest driver behind moving to the cloud in the first place).
There’s another common scenario though: if your business is using applications requiring servers, the remote access becomes slightly more complex. Because many of these applications do not support a direct connection over the internet, in the way that, for example, SaaS applications like Sales Force, Xero or HubSpot do, then you’re required to host them on servers which your team configure and manage in the cloud.
There are many options, but the first question to ask is, does your application provide support over VPN connections? If the answer is yes, a secured VPN gateway alongside your cloud server allows you to connect and start working straight away over the internet. If the answer is no, you need to effectively remote to the cloud server network via something like Windows Remote Desktop. Development in this type of technology has been at the forefront for quite some time. Microsoft and other vendors are well aware that this is a common way of working, and have developed Azure Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 alongside the more traditional Remote Desktop Services (or, Terminal Services, if you’re getting on a bit!).
These services are more complex and require expertise to administer but provide some excellent advantages to remote workers. Their ability to fluctuate based on use with clever configurations means you’re only paying for what you use, and they provide a unique security advantage in that company data resides in a single location – more on that later!
5. Workstations and Devices
The cloud presents the opportunity for businesses to work from anywhere, at anytime. At Resolve, we saw a rapid uptake in interest in migration projects during the 2020 lockdowns; suddenly businesses of all shapes and sizes were realising the advantages a flexible technology setup presents. Consequently, several products were in huge demand; laptops, docking stations, monitors, cables, keyboards, mice and webcams were suddenly very hard to secure.
Ultimately, I tend not to recommend specific hardware for businesses – it’s one of those subjective things that we only offer guidance on. In the context of connecting to cloud services, your main considerations should be that it’s a portable machine (if you’re expecting to make use of agile working), it should run an “in-life” operating system, and it should be powerful enough for what you’re asking of it. Consider the storage space on the machine too – many cloud storage systems rely on synchronization – saving local copies of your data temporarily to your hard drive to speed up your work. Aside from that, screen size, form factor, colour and ergonomics are all in your court.
There’s a good chance your business already relies heavily on cloud services and so you may be familiar with the steps you go through to secure your account.
When thinking about internet security, perhaps the best way I’ve heard it put is that your identity (your email address, username, passwords) are everything. These are the keys to unlock all systems, the digital key cards to gain entry to your company. That’s why the vast majority of cyber attacks, from a single attack on an individual to a state-sponsored hack, generally target identities. If your credentials are compromised, the systems and data you can access is compromised too. This is where the idea of Zero Trust comes into play – IT should be working towards an environment that questions every new connection and assumes it’s malicious until proven otherwise. Zero Trust falls outside the scope of this article, but suffice to say security for a cloud based business should be taken very seriously.
Essentially, by migrating your services to the cloud, your attack surface is widened considerably – where before, a hacker would need to gain entry to a network before being able to test username and password combinations, now, the login page to these systems is available to anyone with an internet connection and a web browser.
Generally, your cloud migration strategy should have security at its heart. Multi-factor Authentication for company systems should be enabled without question and enforced routinely. New devices should be quarantined before approval by IT. Data should be labelled and classified to avoid ending up in the wrong hands. Monitoring and alerting should be setup to check for unknown or potentially malicious login attempts. All of this may be off-putting, especially if there is some reluctance around migrating to the cloud on the grounds of security, however, a good IT partner will be able to strip the complexity out and take care of this.
This short meander through the fundamental considerations of migrating your business technology to the cloud only scratches the surface. We have worked on migrations that have been completed in one week, and others which have taken years – the scope is always different and the business requirements never the same. However, the six points covered above affect every business in some shape or form, and hopefully provide some useful guidance on where your considerations should be placed, if nothing else, so you can ask the right questions!
Resolve is more than happy to engage with you if you need some advice – we have years of experience in this field. Please give us a nudge, if you want to talk!