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.

 

Cloud Success Stories – Part 2

Cloud adoption has been on a trajectory of steady acceleration for several years.

At the end of 2019, our own cloud adoption research found that two-thirds of IT leaders surveyed intended to take a “cloud-first” posture for new applications and workloads.

Furthermore, while the global pandemic has disrupted technology plans and budgets, in many cases we’ve seen that organizations that had made progress toward cloud adoption were better positioned to pivot in their responses than those who hadn’t.

The pandemic has highlighted the business value of the cloud, helping organizations to sustain operations, support newly remote workers and pivot in response to new economic conditions.

In fact, we expect cloud adoption and migration to speed up as organizations rethink their workspaces and go-to-market strategies for post-pandemic recovery.

Sharing Customer Stories

Many of the organizations we work with at Softchoice have started or are moving forward faster with their cloud adoption journeys with the intent to build differentiated, next-generation product offerings on a modern infrastructure foundation.

However, each organization – and each application – is on a journey of its own. We wanted to share our experience helping 1,400+ organizations transition to the cloud and help others benefit from what they’ve learned.

This series will explore real-life stories on the journey to the cloud. In this article, we’ll look at two organizations and how Microsoft Azure helped them advance toward greater business agility.

Work Truck Solutions

The Challenge: Work Truck Solutions (WTS) wanted to refresh its technology stack to support an all-new online marketplace providing authoritative, up-to-date data on commercial trucks and vans.   

“Softchoice guided us toward the right Azure resources and helped us make a crucial upgrade that benefited our audiences” – Craig Vitt, Software Engineering Manager, Work Truck Solutions

The Journey:

  • Work Truck Solutions had deployed on Azure as early as 2012, but its new domain needed to reinforce its status as a source of industry knowledge
  • As the application needed to serve a national audience, unlike its earlier dealer-centric offerings, they needed a technology stack that combined scalability with manageable costs.
  • The company partnered with Softchoice to select and implement the right Azure resources to meet key KPIs, including site traffic, lead generation, and conversions.
  • Using the latest technologies, Softchoice ensured that the application could be deployed to numerous environments and aligned with DevOps workflows.
  • The initial launch exceeded expectations and as of April 2020, the marketplace had aggregated 160,000+ commercial vehicles, including data on customizable bodies, upfits and more.

Next Steps

  • WTS has embarked on a roadmap toward expanding capabilities, integrating duplicate continuous integration (C/I) and testing environments to run sprints in parallel.
  • With Softchoice, WTS is also focused on reducing technical debt related to legacy Azure resources, finding additional cost savings, and ensuring continued scalability and growth.

Read the full case study

Lumenpulse

The Challenge: Lumenpulse needed to replace legacy infrastructure supporting its ERP systems to support scalability and digital transformation without disrupting its 24/7/365 operations.

We’ve built a foundation for technological transformation at Lumenpulse. We’re anticipating many gains in productivity, efficiency and scalability.” – Alexandre Azevedo, IT Director, Lumenpulse

The Journey:

  • During a rapid expansion, Lumenpulse became concerned about the capacity of legacy ERP systems, including end-of-life Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 to scale.
  • They needed to transition to a future-proof ERP system, without interrupting ERP access for its fast-growing global manufacturing operations.
  • With Softchoice, they conducted a workload assessment of the existing environment and mapped its virtual machines to determine readiness for migration to the public cloud.
  • After making the decision to migrate to Microsoft Azure, Lumenpulse worked with Softchoice to implement an array of Azure resources to modernize its ERP and business operations.
  • The full deployment was completed on time after 10 months, after which Lumenpulse was onboarded to a fully managed cloud and end-user support arrangement with Softchoice.
  • Lumenpulse has since benefited from streamlining of routine tasks and lower costs resulting from tiering inactive data to low-cost storage and Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances.

Next Steps:

  • Through the Softchoice Keystone Operations Center, Lumenpulse has 24/7/365 access to Microsoft-certified technical engineers for cloud infrastructure monitoring and escalation.
  • Under the Softchoice Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, they also benefit from flexible monthly billing to keep the costs of their Azure deployments under control.

Read the full case study

What’s Next for You Cloud Journey? 

We’ve covered two stories where businesses have re-invented their business operations and product offerings through cloud adoption and migration.

But no cloud transition is ever fully complete. Working with a strategic managed services partner like Softchoice will help you:

  • Achieve the right mix of cloud services to meet your business needs
  • Take the risk out of cloud adoption and migration
  • Help you reduce and control costs in your cloud environment
  • Drive product and service innovation while maintaining security and compliance
  • Help you address cloud infrastructure skills gaps

Planning to migrate one or more workloads to the public cloud? 

Learn more about how we can help by exploring Softchoice Cloud Services.

The Role of DevOps in Building Cloud Applications

In collaboration with Microsoft. 

Why do so many software projects overrun their budgets and timelines, or even fail altogether? While there are many possible causes, from the technical to the cultural, the most common include inadequate communication, lack of collaboration and difficulty adapting to the specific skills and demands of cloud computing.

For example, imagine a system administrator who has been overseeing an on-prem application, which is now in the process of being moved into Microsoft Azure. At each stage of the app lifecycle, from initial lift-and-shift through modernization, new skills will be needed to navigate the transition and meet all the project requirements. 

Some traditional competencies, applying patches for instance, are no longer as relevant as cloud service providers handle them. But  without a solid DevOps practice in place, a lot can go wrong, including:

  • Departmental silos that result in miscommunications and time-consuming rework or duplication of effort.
  • Software releases that fall behind schedule or suffer from lower quality even when completed.
  • In fact, the 2019 Accelerated State of DevOps Report found that DevOps made a major difference in an organization’s ability to deploy code fast, minimize lead times, avoid change failures and recover services.

DevOps helps solve some of the central problems with cloud application development and management. But what is DevOps, exactly, and how can teams get the most value from it?

Defining DevOps: A movement for better coordination and collaboration

DevOps can seem like a Rorschach Test. Every person who examines it will provide a different definition of what it is. Despite varying perceptions, there are some generally accepted principles of DevOps, as shown in definitions of the term from cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure.

DevOps encompasses:

  • An overarching cultural commitment to unifying development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) for superior collaboration between these teams and the elimination of silos. This component requires effective leadership to bring once-siloed departments together.
  • The widespread implementation of automation, as well as of practices such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (along with native security measures), infrastructure-as-code and Agile methodology.
  • Specific tools that support the more collaborative and continuous workflows in DevOps, including CI/CD platforms and Azure templates for automated deployment, provisioning and configuration of infrastructure.
  • Ongoing measurement of everything (for instance, the KPIs identified in the Accelerate State of DevOps Report, such as deployment frequency and average lead time) to ensure visibility into and refinement of processes. 

Through these principles, DevOps offers substantial value to any organization working its way through the cloud application lifecycle. The main benefits range from more consistent software quality and fewer defects to lower costs and faster time to market.

Greater consistency

Automation is a key tenet of DevOps, and for good reason: It helps remove many of the manual workflows that create bottlenecks during development, deployment and operations. Instead of relying on siloed workflows that are prone to human error, teams can instead automate activities like testing and deployment. Moreover, these workflows can be scaled and managed much more efficiently than before. 

The same infrastructure can be automatically deployed across multiple environments for development, quality assurance and more, plus governance is simplified by DevOps tools for tracking versions and changes. DevOps companies enjoy greater reliability of their IT operations even as they take on ambitious new projects.

Lower costs

DevOps boost agility, enabling teams to respond more quickly to changes in their markets and seize opportunities as they arise. Under a traditional ops model, shepherding just one app through its lifecycle from start to finish can take so long that it’s no longer relevant by the time it’s completed. 

The numerous delays and duplicated work associated with app development. For example, not having a clear picture of  requirements and specifications creates the need to navigate disparate documents. The cost of these inefficiencies adds up as the pace and quality of the project erode. DevOps offers a better blueprint for success.

Superior customer experience

Now that public cloud is an integral part of so much consumer and B2B software, customers have higher expectations for application and user experience. After all, public clouds can deliver many more resources on-demand faster than on-prem infrastructure. This supports use cases like audio/video streaming and conferencing, online backup and more sophisticated web apps.

In this context, it’s crucial for DevOps teams to evaluate KPIs related to customer experience on a regular basis. With the right implementation and tools, DevOps can help greatly with hitting metrics for website load times, conversation rates, dwell time and others relevant to a wide range of industries. Internally, DevOps can also provide a much improved experience for teams that once had to rely on disparate data sources and error-prone manual work to get almost anything done.

Getting more from DevOps in Azure 

Although DevOps can in theory be implemented to support any type of software project, it provides the most ROI in the cloud. Azure provides the infrastructure and tools to maximize the value of DevOps automation.

More specifically, Azure offers (among many other features):

Templates

Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates that can be pulled from the Azure Marketplace or from GitHub repositories. These resources allow for more efficient application provisioning, as well as the deployment of numerous services along with their dependencies. 

For example, virtual machines, databases, and various connections can all be configured with specific input/output parameters within ARM templates. Overall, Azure templates simplify deployment and rollback while providing convenient support for cross-configurations and updates.

ASR/DRaaS

Azure Site Recovery helps ensure that even complex applications in DevOps environments can have their critical workloads recovered with just one click. It’s simple to deploy from the Azure portal, receives automatic updates, eases regulatory compliance and reduces infrastructure costs compared to an on-prem DR solution.

Getting started with ASR can be as simple as replicating a VM(s) to a different Azure region. By using ASR, it’s possible to support high availability via secondary instances of key applications and also make accurate backups of critical data, in addition to having reliable DRaaS during a failure.

Serverless computing

Azure’s serverless offerings come with availability and fault tolerance built in and nothing that needs to be provisioned or managed in a traditional way. As a result, DevOps teams can move more quickly, taking advantage of Azure APIs and using a fully managed platform to build applications for edge, hybrid and cloud environments. 

Where to go next with Azure and DevOps

Microsoft has recognized Softchoice as an Azure Expert Managed Service Provider (MSP) for the delivery of high-fidelity managed services. We offer our Public Cloud Technology Review, which is a planning assessment that answers questions about which workloads to move into Azure, the costs and configurations necessary for running these targets on Azure and the specifics of Azure migrations.

Softchoice Managed Cloud services will also help with Azure cost management, operations, mentorship and support. Set up a conversation with an expert today to get started with our Azure offerings in your DevOps organization.