Where to Start with Microsoft Azure

In collaboration with Microsoft. 

Cloud migration often comes across as an immediate win for organizations, making infrastructure simpler and less expensive to manage. In truth, making the move to a public cloud provider like Microsoft Azure can be a complex, protracted process.

In many cases, expert guidance makes the difference between success and failure.

Cloud transitions often don’t succeed — at least not right away. Many run into problems like spiraling costs, misconfigurations and challenges surrounding shared security responsibilities.

None of this is to say that migrating to the public cloud is a bad idea. On the contrary: Moving the right workloads into Azure will yield considerable operational benefits. Nonetheless, your success depends on taking an approach that accounts for all relevant infrastructure, dependencies and possible risks along the way.

For example, Azure can provide the scalability, security and deep integrations with the Microsoft ecosystem to modernize existing IT environment and address evolving business requirements. Of course, this only works with proper planning and management.

Let’s look at some of the common roadblocks to a successful Azure deployment and how to overcome them.

Common Cloud Challenges

Every Azure migration needs a detailed plan that accounts for:

  • The technical feasibility of migrating the workload in questions
  • All associated risks and costs
  • Any relevant application dependencies
  • Formal management and governance policies

While building such plans, you will likely flag one or more of these concerns. In some cases, moving and supporting a given workload in Azure may require a skill set your organization doesn’t have on staff.

The Skills Gap in the Cloud

The early 2019 edition of the Emerging Risks Survey from Gartner found that “talent shortage” had become the top concern for IT decision-makers, up from third place in the previous quarter.

Public cloud infrastructure requires skills, like scalable architecture, cloud security and cloud-specific technologies such as microservices or containerization. In today’s tech talent marketplace, all of these are in short supply.

The services within Azure are undergoing continuous updates and improvements. This means Azure consumers need to dedicate time and resources to keeping up with these changes and mitigating the impact on their IT environments.

In response to the need for specialized expertise and practices like DevOps, many organizations have built strategic partnerships with managed service providers (MSPs). As overall public cloud consumption continues to grow, the need for specialized assistance with cloud migration and management will likely grow in tandem.

Budgetary Pressure During Cloud Migrations

Cost savings are perhaps the most well-publicized benefits to cloud adoption and migration. Moving from capital expenditure (CAPEX) model of procurement in the data center to operating expense (OPEX) in the cloud has a certain appeal.

But shifting workloads into the public cloud is far from guaranteed to save organizations money. In fact, in the following situations,  migrating to the cloud increases costs:

  • Limited or no accountability for commissioning and decommissioning workloads, resulting in unnecessary or redundant cloud resources.
  • Inadequate visibility into existing cloud resources, some of which may no longer be needed (such as instances spun up for testing or now-defunct projects).
  • Over-provisioning resources to accommodate peak capacity, a practice held over from the on-premise data center that’s often unnecessary.

A survey of decision-makers in enterprise IT found that many were disappointed with the level of savings they realized in the cloud. This was especially true for “lift-and-shift” transitions, where few if any modifications are made to a given workload prior to migration. These results highlight the need for rightsizing of cloud resources, i.e. ensuring that the services being used match the customer’s actual needs.

Misconfigurations and Security Vulnerabilities

Data breaches have only grown more expensive, as organizations place more strategic assets and operations into complex cloud architectures. These often require precise management by both the cloud service provider and the customer. Misconfigurations are a common cause of these breaches because they can leak data or expose resources to direct attack.

The 2020 Cloud Misconfigurations Report estimated that organizations worldwide collectively lost about $5 trillion across 2018 and 2019 due to configuration errors in the cloud.

Ensuring the right configurations and mapping the relevant application dependencies is complex work. A shortage of specialized skills, combined with fluctuating IT budgets and the growth of remote work, make it tough to coordinate in-house efforts to find and address every vulnerability. Working with a managed IT service and solutions provider is often a necessary step for mitigating risk in the cloud.

How Softchoice Will Help Guide Your Azure Journey

Many of the challenges above are relevant to organizations moving into Azure for the first time.

However, even organizations with one or more workloads running in Azure today can benefit from reassessing their current status, internal skill sets, cloud budgets and security practices. In our experience, there’s always room for improvement.

Softchoice is a certified Azure Expert MSP (Microsoft’s highest designation for cloud MSPs) with 500+ cloud migrations under our belt. We have designed solutions, including the Softchoice Public Cloud Accelerator and Cloud Workload Assessment, to provide the full breadth of support you need for a successful Azure migration, from technical support to ongoing technology mentorship.

To learn more,  download our guide, “The Essential Starter’s Guide to Microsoft Azure for IT Leaders” or connect with a member of our team.

 

How a Pandemic is Driving Innovation

From grocery store clerks to physicians and nurses, COVID-19 made us keenly aware of the people on the front lines ensuring life would go on, and that we were kept safe. 

According to a series of new studies, businesses of all sizes are starting to look at the cloud as a new kind of essential service. With the shift to remote work and digital operations, innovation in the cloud has never been so critical.  

Cloud Adoption was Already Speeding Up Before COVID-19 

Numerous studies conducted just before the COVID-19 outbreak showed businesses were already expanding their journey to the cloud. A Softchoice survey of North American leaders found 66% of businesses intended to go cloud-first” on all new workloads. 

We also found that 37% of businesses were starting to look to cloud as an innovation engine, that is using cloud infrastructure to build new applications and services or unlock new insights from their data. At the same time, O’Reilly’s Cloud Adoption in 2020 study said almost half of all businesses planned to move 75% or more of their applications to the cloud by 2021. 

Along came the devastating global pandemic. Instead of seeing massive cuts to cloud budgets and initiatives, however, we saw IT leaders move to the cloud faster than before.  

 In one poll40% of respondents said COVID-19 was accelerating their move to the cloud. Meanwhile, 76% said the pandemic had led them to increase their spending on private and public cloud infrastructure services, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. 

 Why Cloud Innovation is Accelerating 

 All of this makes perfect sense when you consider what businesses are facing — and how the cloud can help them overcome it. Stay at home orders, social distancing and a radical shift in consumer behavior has forced businesses to rethink workplace experienceand go-to-market strategies almost overnight.  

“What you are going to see is an acceleration of more people going 100% to the cloud,” said Mary Treseler, O’Reilly’s vice president of content strategy in an interview with Tech Republic 

As businesses get back to (relative) normal, business and IT leaders are looking to the future with some uncertainty. They do not want to be caught off guard again, and they are looking to the cloud to shore up remote work and other business continuity capabilities.  

Don’t Take Our Word for It  

This pandemic-prompted innovation meshes with what we’ve learned through this year’s virtual Innovation Executive Forums. Two stories stand out from our recent event with senior IT leaders in Central Canada, showing just how fast innovation happening now. 

After COVID-19 shut down operations, an IEF member in the food retail industry worked with legal and finance teams to create a new curbside pickup and eCommerce application. The new app took just three weeks to launch. 

Another IEF member in the travel industry said his business lost almost 95% of its revenues in April and May. In response, the IT leader helped the business lay the groundwork to deliver more tailored, end-to-end travel experiences. He says IT has had to shift priorities and shorten delivery timelines to help the business survive 

In both of these stories, IT was forced to act quickly to keep the business alive and thriving. In each case, relying on cloud infrastructure, platforms and applications made a rapid response possible 

Speed Bumps Expected  

In our cloud adoption research, Softchoice found that security and compliance concerns were among the top hurdles keeping businesses from moving to the cloudBusiness leaders also struggled to recruit and retain the specialized talent needed to manage cloud infrastructure and control costs.  

Now that the pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption, don’t expect these challenges to disappear. In fact, because speed is now part of the equation, we expect these challenges to become even more important to navigate in the months ahead. To do that, finding the right partner – such as Softchoice – can make all the difference.  

 For more information on surviving and thriving in the COVID-19 era with cloud innovation, download our research brief, “Cloud: An Innovation Engine.” 

How to Solve 4 Common Cloud Management Challenges

Your organization has implemented cloud services like infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) in your environment. You are considering taking a cloud-first approach for new workloads, making cloud the new standard for application delivery.

Due to current economic pressures, you have a mandate to maximize efficiency and bring costs under control. You may also be tasked to deliver on projects that will help the business compete and thrive once recovery begins.

You want to make these things happen, but run into the same challenges facing many cloud adopters:

  • You are exceeding your planned cloud budget but don’t have enough data to pinpoint the source of those unexpected costs. Or you don’t have a consistent way to drive accountability for line of business (LOB) departments that are commissioning cloud resources on their own.
  • Senior management is concerned about security and compliance in the cloud (as they should be),but your IT team has limited tools to enforce its policies.
  • The business relies on cloud infrastructure and services to be always-on, but IT hasn’t had the time or resources to establish a formal structure for cloud operations.
  • Many of your IT staff are comfortable in a traditional data center, but public cloud infrastructure skills are hard to hire for and often come at a premium. Perhaps you would like to retrain staff, but your team needs to spend most of its time maintaining current operations.

With the right tools, policies and partnerships, however, you can get a greater impact from your cloud investments and refocus on business priorities.

We’ll examine the cloud management benefits of improving visibility and accountability for cloud costs, establishing effective cloud governance, enhancing the efficiency and resilience of cloud operations and closing gaps in public cloud infrastructure skills.

Improving Visibility and Accountability for Cloud Costs

When you migrated some critical workloads to public cloud IaaS and PaaS, you probably learned fast that the same approaches that apply on-premise infrastructure don’t always work in the cloud.

In the cloud, approaches like over-provisioning resources to meet demand often drive up unnecessary spend. At the same time, public cloud services make it relatively easy to commission new resources, allowing LOB departments to spin up new instances outside the purview of the IT department. If some of these are left idle or underutilized, the result is further wasted spend.

Relying on usage and cost data available from their cloud provider alone, you may not be receiving all the information you need to allocate the costs in your cloud environment. This in turn makes it more difficult to build an accurate picture of ROI for key initiatives.

By introducing tools to automate cost allocation, you get clearer visibility into exactly where cloud costs are coming from.  This allows the IT team to identify and decommission idle and underutilized resources. Meanwhile, you are also better equipped to bill or show back cloud costs to the appropriate LOB departments, driving greater accountability and awareness of cloud value.

By rounding out your team with a cloud managed service partner (MSP), you can also benefit from ongoing advice and mentorship on ways to eliminate unnecessary spending in the cloud and better manage burst and elastic spend.

Looking for more guidance on cost management in the cloud? Watch the webinar on-demand

Establishing Effective Cloud Governance

Early in your cloud journey, you may have learned the substantial difference between security and compliance in the cloud and the data center. While shifting to the cloud offsets some security and regulatory compliance responsibilities to the public cloud provider, the cloud consumer retains some core accountabilities.

From our experience at Softchoice, many new public cloud adopters make decisions quickly and in a decentralized manner, which results in manual efforts that in turn lead to sprawling patchworks of configuration standards.

Here, a formal governance model – a framework with a set of policies and standard practices for cost optimization, resiliency, security, or compliance – is vital for keeping the entire organization on track.

While Forrester indicates that IT teams should dedicate 10% to 15% of cross-functional resources to governance activities, many IT departments are stretched thin and don’t have the time to spare [1].

As Forrester recommends, a formal governance program starts with federated approach to continuous improvement and management guided by a central cloud advisory board. As an extension of this team, a formal cloud management role or group can help define and enforce standards and best practices.

In distributed or siloed cloud environments, it’s important to have a central place for cloud practitioners to share best practices.

For newer cloud adopters or organizations with lower confidence in their cloud capabilities, a cloud MSP will help select and implement the standards and tools necessary to monitor the health, usage, security threats and compliance across multiple cloud environments. They can also lend support in tracking and enforcing governance policies through automated cloud deployments based on built-in standards.

An effective formal governance model is critical to success in the cloud. Download the Forrester Report.

Enhancing the Efficiency and Resilience of Cloud Operations

When it comes to deploying new cloud services, you may have found it difficult to ensure your cloud infrastructure resilient and optimized for performance.  When your cloud infrastructure is serving critical applications and services, however, stabilizing the environment and operations to keep supporting your critical business applications is paramount.

Some of our cloud customers have found that when they need to access support from a public cloud provider, they spend a long time navigating complex phone trees and escalation paths to reach the best person to solve the problem. While these providers deliver the best support possible, the sheer volume of clientele makes it difficult to offer service tailored to a given organization’s environment or needs.

With the help of an MSP, you can adopt a turnkey operational model that addresses the processes, people and skills required to effectively manage their public cloud resources. Many MSPs are also equipped to help you take advantage of public cloud provider programs and incentives to reduce your cloud costs and build the best cloud setup for your needs.

Are you struggling to balance innovation projects with effective cloud governance? Get the guide.

Closing the Gaps in Public Cloud Infrastructure Skills and Experience

When your journey to the cloud began, you likely faced a considerable challenge: limited or no in-house expertise related to cloud management best practices.

In fact, Gartner indicates that by 2022, insufficient cloud IaaS skills will delay half of enterprise cloud migrations by 2 or more years [1].

Without these skills however, understanding cloud cost drivers, deploying cloud resources effectively and monitoring the health and performance in the environment becomes an uphill struggle.

We find that when many Softchoice customers have attempted to build cloud operations team in-house, they quickly hit a proverbial brick wall – demand for cloud-native skills far exceeds the current supply. Those with cloud experience have become rare and expensive to recruit.

Meanwhile, taking the time out to retrain and upskill internal IT staff on cloud skills risks leaving the current environment unmaintained. It also creates the possibility that investment in cloud knowledge or certification could leave the organization when somebody moves on to another opportunity.

With an MSP relationship in place, your IT team has the option to offload the operation and maintenance of their cloud services and infrastructure to a certified team of engineers. Meanwhile, some MSPs will provide ongoing training sessions to build cloud expertise within your team while moving at their own pace.

The results? In many cases, by working with an MSP you can operate your cloud environment at a lower cost than hiring, receive 24/7 support and remain safe in the knowledge that your staff are receiving ongoing education from cloud certified engineers.

What Are Your Next Steps?

If you plan to adopt or have recently adopted public cloud, one or more of these examples may have hit home. With the rapid adoption of public cloud, many organizations are looking to optimize costs and ensure they grow their cloud environments in a way that supports smart, sustainable growth.

But balancing your cloud journey with other IT and business priorities is a common – yet surmountable – challenge. Wherever you find yourself on your cloud transformation journey, Softchoice is positioned to help.

Explore Softchoice Managed Cloud Services.

[1] “4 Trends Impacting Cloud Adoption in 2020,” Smarter with Gartner, January 2020.