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Whether to gain more flexibility and scalability, replace on-premise hardware, or modernise the infrastructure, moving IT workloads to a public cloud has become key to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) digitalisation strategies. However, receiving maximum business value from the cloud requires careful planning and consideration both pre- and post-migration.
Deriving maximum business value from the cloud is not a one-off endeavour that is completed by the time the virtual machines have been lifted into the cloud; instead, in order to be successful, it is an ongoing effort that requires regular reviews and continuous optimisation. For most SMEs, working with a managed service provider (MSP) is routine, and having a trusted MSP at your side can help alleviate cloud pitfalls.
For SMEs and MSPs alike, once the migration is complete, there’s the inherent convenience of no longer needing on-premises hardware maintenance visits. Additionally, cloud migration makes it easier to access applications and data remotely – which simplifies collaboration among virtual teams.
Avoid pitfalls and reap the benefits of cloud migration
While the initial focus of cloud transition is usually on ensuring applications are reliable and continuity is provided in the new environment, you don’t want to miss out on its optimisation opportunities. From better utilisation of computing resources to easier access and higher performance, cloud elasticity allows users to seamlessly adapt to fluctuating workloads.
However, if the migration was a pure ‘lift and shift’ project that prioritised speed and convenience, SMEs run the risk of missing the opportunity to streamline their IT environment. Further, they may find themselves at risk of losing valuable data or suffering damaging downtime. Like on-premises servers, the cloud doesn’t provide a built-in continuity guarantee and can experience outages that, due to their ‘blast radius’, can have significant impact on a large number of customers.
For instance, in October 2021, an outage lasting nearly eight hours impacted the virtual machines and services of Microsoft Azure users across the globe. When attempting to carry out operations such as start, create, update and delete, users received error messages. This type of incident isn’t a one-off occurrence: In December 2021, an outage of over an hour affected Amazon’s own services. Enterprise customers couldn’t view information on their Amazon Web Service status page. And just one week later, Microsoft Azure’s Active Directory service went down, preventing users from signing into their Microsoft services.
When situations such as these take place, the extended downtimes can be detrimental to SMEs. Not being able to access business-critical applications and data when it’s needed could result in lost business, lost revenue, reputational damage and even physical harm. In
case of a cloud service failure, a cyber incident, or a ransomware attack, SMEs that rely on infrastructure in the cloud must ensure they have a solid strategy that includes the quick restoration of data and keeping operations functional. In fact, under Microsoft's shared responsibility model, customers are explicitly responsible for keeping their own data secure, protected, and recoverable.
Unfortunately, the built-in data protection and recovery options offered by cloud providers are relatively limited. For instance, Microsoft Azure’s free-of-charge, basic Data Redundancy backup doesn’t allow automated recovery, nor does it store historical data. And Microsoft Azure Site Recovery, which is provided at an additional cost, doesn’t give customers the ability to recover from a backup that is more than 72-hours old.
Most SMEs can’t afford to risk downtime and the best way to prevent data loss is to perform cloud backups both within Microsoft Azure, as well as to a separate, secure cloud. Third-party business continuity solutions for the cloud are a good solution as many of them offer additional security measures, including ransomware protection and data deletion defences.
Gain confidence by relying on your MSP
SMEs that have made the move to the cloud and are using an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) should still expect the same level of business continuity they had on-premises. To ensure this, they should ask their MSP what measures are in place. Questions to ask include: Can they provide evidence of a reliable continuity strategy? Is the strategy tested on a regular basis to ensure backups are working properly and services can be restored quickly? And how will the business continue to operate in the event of a significant cloud outage that lasts several hours?
Transitioning to the cloud can provide SMEs with the opportunity to improve their overall security posture by implementing secure identity management and multi-factor authentication across all applications – so it’s also important to discuss security with your MSP, as well as ask how well the new infrastructure is protected against cyberattacks.
When it comes to gaining maximum cloud advantages, SMEs should expect nearly immediate increased agility: being able to expand licences and workloads as needed. Often, applications that were constrained by old on-premises hardware will perform better, providing added business value. Once the cloud infrastructure is running, mature and stable, SMEs should initiate conversations with their MSP about optimising their operating costs in the cloud. Is there a way to optimise workloads and reduce costs without compromising performance and quality?
Finally, it’s worth looking at quality of services reports and using analytics to ensure the cloud continues to deliver value over the long term. Evaluate the cost of the cloud services used versus their business benefits and have your MSP demonstrate its value during quarterly business reviews. Above all, know what you want to achieve for your business – remember the cloud is only a vehicle to help you reach your goals, not a goal in itself.