May 10, 2012

Developing a Cloud Migration Strategy, Part 2: Process, Costs & Things to Consider

We may have jumped the gun a little by discussing what systems to migrate in part 1 of this look at developing a cloud migration strategy, but now we’re going to ask and answer the question of How to Migrate.

Migrating to a cloud based application or service is different from installing some software or server in your office. It is imperative that you read and understand the legal agreement you’re signing because governs the business and service relationship you are establishing.

Cloud service providers are looking out for their best interests in these agreements and you should too.

Here are some typical questions you should answer as part of evaluating a new solution:

  • Who owns the data?
  • How can data move into and out of this system?
  • What happens to my data if we close our account?
  • What format can data be retrieved in?
  • How much uptime can I expect?
  • Do you offer service credits if there is a problem with your service?
  • What type of support is provided?

The list can go on and on.

The cloud is a great resource because we don’t have to worry if the server is running out of space, or is out of warranty. Unfortunately these concerns are replaced with questions surrounding up-time, availability and data portability. Google has a great resource in their Data Liberation Project.

Once you’re satisfied that you know, understand, and are happy with the terms of service provided by your solution vendor, it’s time to migrate.

Another benefit of the cloud is that often you can get free 30 day trials of any service. These 30 days are a great opportunity to fully test a system to see if it truly will meet all of your expectations and uncover some areas that will require changes from your current solution.

During this trial period it is also key that the executive level at the organization is in support of any proposed change. While Google Apps may be what your younger staff are clamoring for, unless the executives embrace Google’s webcentric and tag based approach to managing email, it will be difficult to fully leverage all of the features that are available.

If your trial is successful, the next step is to pick a date for the migration and make the jump. While it may be appealing to have a phased migration, we’ve seen that there is little to gain and much to lose from that approach. Apart from the technical challenges, having staff work in multiple platforms will slow down the learning and adoption of the new.

Now that you’ve finally made the big switch to your new email/CRM/file system the hard work is over, right?

If it was only that simple. As with any IT system, you’ll need an expert to help resolve the problems that inevitably arise and to use the system to its fullest. Identifying and planning for that role ahead of time will make everyone feel a lot better. You’ll likely need to have some ongoing support and, depending on the agreement you signed, you may be entitled to web, email, or phone support. While it may be compelling to go with the lowest cost option, I’ve found that paying for support is well worth it after having spent several days trying to get a response using web based forums.

The promise of the cloud is that you don’t have to worry about servers anymore. The reality of the cloud is that you have a lot of other things to think about.

Just because your data is in the cloud doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about it anymore. You have to think differently about it. That may mean critically evaluating your IT staffing to make sure that the skills you have on-staff match up with your new requirements. Instead of needing hard computer repair skills you may need soft effective use skills. Instead of server admin skills you may need information systems management and contracting skills.

The promise and shift of data to the cloud is very exciting because now we can focus more attention on how data is being used instead of making sure that the underlying systems are available. If we’re able to understand our business processes and find better ways to use technology to support our mission we’ll all be better for it.

Read Part 1 of “Developing a Cloud Migration Strategy: What Systems Can You Migrate?


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Matthew Eshleman
As the Chief Technology Officer at Community IT, Matthew Eshleman is responsible for shaping Community IT’s strategy in assessing and recommending technology solutions to clients. With a deep background in network infrastructure technology he fundamentally understands how technology works and interoperates both in the office and in the cloud. Matt joined Community IT as an intern in the summer of 2000 and after finishing his dual degrees in Computer Science and Computer Information Systems at Eastern Mennonite University he rejoined Community IT as a network administrator in January of 2001. Matt has steadily progressed up at Community IT and while working full time received his MBA from the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins University. Matt is a frequent speaker at NTEN events and has presented at the Inside NGO conference and Non-Profit Risk Management Summit. He lives in Baltimore MD with his wife, daughter and son. Matt is an active member of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and the support committee of the Baltimore Mennonite Voluntary Service unit.