Empowered by the cloud, businesses can realize new levels of power, agility, and competitive advantage.
Cloud computing has transformed business, helping organizations of all sizes realize a level of efficiency and IT confidence that was unattainable just a decade ago. There are many reasons why business and IT decision makers are enthusiastic about cloud computing.
Research from Microsoft shows the following key drivers for cloud adoption:
- 58% of survey respondents say it simplifies IT management
- 51% say it increase access to IT resources
- 44% report reduced IT costs
- 42% point to boosted efficiency and productivity
Despite the enthusiasm surrounding cloud computing, many small and midsized businesses are still unsure about how to best embrace it. Complete Network has been guiding businesses through the cloud migration process for over two decades. During that time, we’ve identified three elements that are essential to migration success.
Element 1 – Start with a Comprehensive IT Audit
Any major IT project, like a cloud migration, should begin with a thorough analysis of your network infrastructure. This process not only provides a big-picture understanding of how the cloud can best complement your existing IT systems, but it is also critical to uncovering any issues that could derail or delay the migration once it’s started.
Some important things you’ll want to take note of during the audit process:
- Legacy software products
Older software applications can be an obstacle to smooth cloud migrations. In some cases, they’ll be directly incompatible with new cloud-based products, which can lead to system instability. Other times, they’ll produce data that requires manual reformatting, which negates the efficiency gains made by the cloud strategy.
- Infrastructure bottlenecks
Cloud applications are dependent on fast, reliable Internet access to function correctly. Without the right network hardware and configuration, businesses often discover that their new cloud software can’t deliver the desired user experience and ROI.
- Inefficient workflows
The goal of any cloud computing program is to increase the efficiency of your business. The auditing process provides an opportunity to take stock of which workflows need updating, so you can make improvements where they’re most needed.
- Competency gaps
Do you have the internal IT competencies to address each of the issues that you’ve located during the audit? If not, you’ll need to invest in education for internal IT staff or institute a plan for engaging external cloud computing expertise. You can read more about the benefits of outsourcing here.
The audit should give you a sense of which type of cloud services you’d best benefit from, and what deployment strategy is right for your business. It should also help you identify any underlying issues that will complicate the migration process, saving you time and money as you move through the process.
Element 2 – Define a Clear Roadmap for Migration Success
There is no one-size-fits all approach to cloud success. Even migrating a single IT function to the cloud presents options and complexities. A clear migration plan helps you avoid pitfalls and will ensure that any cloud migration – no matter how simple or complex – yields a strong, positive outcome.
Identify the Optimal Cloud Products for Your Business
With a good sense of your goals and potential problem areas, you can begin the process of identifying the right products and services for your business. You should have your IT team (or an external cloud consultant) create a shortlist of software products, then vet each of those to determine which best fit your goals.
The two most popular cloud computing products, Microsoft 365 and Google G-Suite, are popular starting point for a cloud computing program. Most small and midsized businesses can reap immediate productivity gains from them, and they provide a great foundation for future cloud initiatives.
Which one is right for your company? There are some important differences you may wish to consider.
|Google G-Suite||Microsoft 365|
|Browser-based productivity that’s deeply integrated into Gmail||Tight integration with the Microsoft ecosystem, including Word, Excel, and Outlook|
|Three easy pricing tiers: Basic, Business, and Enterprise||Complex pricing to meet the needs of organizations small, medium, and large|
|Simple, clean interface that’s intuitive to learn||Features more advanced functionality for power-users|
|Provides the best experience when connected to the Internet||Smooth online and off-line functionality|
After you choose a product, you’ll likely embark on a lengthy application migration phase, during which employee emails, contacts, and data are all safely moved to the new platform. This process will also involve configuring file sharing permissions and collaboration tools to match the needs of your team.
Deploying “core” cloud computing products like Office 365 or G-Suite helps attract users to cloud productivity, gives them an easy way to familiarize themselves with the basic concepts, and helps to keep morale high through future cloud projects.
Budgeting for a Cloud Migration
One of the great benefits of cloud computing is streamlined budgeting. By transferring high, one-time capital expenditures to lower, ongoing operating expenditures, most businesses can move toward financial predictability that brings greater overall confidence.
But achieving that cost efficiency is not always a given. According to research firm IDC, less than 40% of businesses were able to accurately predict the cost of their cloud migration, with 58% claiming the total cost was higher than estimated.
Financial accounting is vital to managing the cost complexity of a cloud migration.
- Identify necessary network or hardware upgrades
- Expand telecommunications capacity to account for increased bandwidth
- Do per-user accounting for each software product
- Budget for tools and services to support your cloud migration, like security software, password management tools, VPN software, and so on
Plan for Work-from-Home Arrangements
Work-from-home arrangements will continue to grow in importance in the coming years. The cloud is central to ensuring the success of those efforts, helping you keep productivity high as your team communicates and collaborates from outside the office.
To make sure that your cloud platforms are properly supporting work from home, you should gauge how each company workload will use your cloud resources, and strategically compensate to increase the capacity, capabilities, and security of your cloud solutions where needed.
Proper cloud planning can help create seamless work from home productivity.
- Configure file sharing services, like Google Drive or Microsoft SharePoint, to allow employees to transfer information between users and teams with confidence
- Integrate Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony tools into your workflows to put low-cost, person-to-person and teleconferencing functions within easy reach
- Install endpoint management software on all devices, connecting to cloud services to maximize accountability and security
- Regularly test cloud infrastructure to ensure that on-premise and cloud tools are functioning properly
To learn more about developing a robust work-from-home IT solution, read “7 Tips for Building a Secure Work-From-Home System” here.
Integrate Cloud and On-Premise Applications
Cloud computing is designed to tear down “data silos” and enable information to flow freely between users and applications. Achieving this seamless integration of cloud and on-premise software requires careful planning.
Complete Network’s team of virtual chief information officers (vCIOs) have a documented process for helping businesses achieve this integration, which includes the following elements:
- Determine which workloads are best handled on-premises and which tasks should involve cloud applications
- Track cloud service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure resources aren’t bottlenecked and that they don’t lead to sudden overruns in pay-as-you-go products
Address Cultural Changes
Most businesses worry about the technical aspects of their cloud migration, but there are cultural shifts that you’ll need to account for, as well. According to this recent study, cultural inertia is one of the biggest obstacles to successful adoption, especially at the management level.
Achieving buy-in and support from every executive in the company is a critical component of cloud success. Here are some tips for relaying the strategic importance of cloud computing to company leadership.
- Identify cloud use cases for each department and promote holistic cloud migration as opposed to the simple “lift and shift” approach of moving legacy services to the cloud
- Satisfy executive concerns by carefully accounting for the costs associated with one or multiple cloud deployments
- Upskill key staff members with training to ensure they have the expertise to maximize the impact of the cloud deployment
Element 3 – Approach the Cloud with Security and Compliance First
Despite the enormous improvements to the security of cloud products in recent years, many businesses still overlook important security vulnerabilities during the migration process or create new cybersecurity risks with poorly configured software or hardware.
Prepare Your Network Infrastructure for Cloud Security
The first step toward ensuring that your cloud applications don’t violate the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of your data is to ensure that any existing security backdoors or vulnerabilities have been properly addressed.
This process, known in the cybersecurity world as “hardening,” usually begins with a deep inspection of your network devices and software to locate security risk. This is followed by step-by-step remediation and testing of each discovered issue to ensure risks have been fully addressed.
During the hardening process, you should:
- Update the firmware on routers, switches, and firewalls
- Manage configurations for each application, ensuring uniform controls for each user and group
- Remove or disable non-essential software, drivers, and file-sharing tools to close back-doors
- Implement logging situations so that all network access and traffic is properly monitored
For help with this hardening process, you may wish to refer to the Center for Internet Security (CIS) guidelines, which are considered an industry standard. If any doubt persists, contact a professional with experience to help guide you through the process.
Securing In-Transit Data with a Well-Maintained VPN Solution
VPN connections are the most effective way to protect data that’s in transit. By creating a shielded, secure tunnel for data to pass through, VPNs allow your team to connect to cloud platforms and other network resources with confidence that hackers can’t access that data.
While many companies already have VPN solutions, some haven’t taken the time to update them for the era of full-team, cloud productivity. Other times, vital VPN-related maintenance work gets lost in the long list of day-to-day network maintenance tasks.
You should build and properly maintain a quality VPN solution to ensure secure cloud connectivity.
- Validate all VPN-connected devices to make sure that personal devices don’t access company resources
- Regularly test VPN performance to ensure it never becomes a bottleneck to cloud productivity
- Configure and review VPN log files to look for unusual behavior and monitor bandwidth usage
Enforce Strong Password Policies
Strong employee password policies are your business’s first line of defense against cyberattacks. With key services in the cloud — and sensitive data moving between systems at different locations — it becomes even more important that your team is observing the current best practices.
For example, any business that wants to create a security-first approach to the cloud should deploy two-factor authentication (2FA) on all their cloud services. Verifying users with a second method, such as biometric data or a temporary passcode, has been shown to reduce the occurrence of a successful cyberattack by as much as 99%, according to Microsoft.
In addition to deploying 2FA, there are several other password-related policies that you’ll want to enforce to secure your cloud platforms, which include:
- Ensuring that duplicate passwords aren’t being used on different cloud services
- Eliminating default and weak passwords from user and administrators
- Forbidding public or personal information from being used in employee passwords
If you’d like to learn more about today’s best practices for password creation and management, we’ve written an extensive guide, which you can read here.
Complete Network — 20 Years of Cloud Expertise
Complete Network has been helping businesses achieve cloud success since the technology first reached the mainstream over 20 years ago. Since then, we’ve developed a thorough, documented process for guiding businesses to the cloud with confidence, helping them navigate all the difficulties associated with cloud migration.
This guide provides a small overview of our accumulated experience. If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to reach out and chat with us! Our team of senior engineers and vCIOs are friendly, easy to communicate with, and enthusiastic about helping businesses in Albany, New York and Charlotte, North Carolina realize the full potential of the cloud.