How do we migrate our business to the public cloud?

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The public cloud is no longer a bleeding edge technology for the trailblazers. It’s mainstream now. As you think about it, you consider your customers and the SLAs they’ve come to expect.

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It’s not if, but when to move to the cloud, how to get there, and how fast will be the transition?

Here are my thoughts on what to start thinking about.

1. Ramp up team, skills & paradigm thinking

Teams with experience in traditional datacenters have certain ways of architecting solutions, and thinking about problems. For example they may choose NFS servers to host objects, where in the cloud you will use object storage such as S3.

S3 has all sorts of new features, like lifecycle policies, and super super redundant eleven 9’s of durability. But your applications may need to be retrofitted to work with it, and your devs may need to learn about new features and functionality.

What about networking? This changes a lot in the cloud, with VPCs, and virtual appliances like NATs and Gateways. And what about security groups?

Interacting with this new world of cloud resources, requires new skillsets and new ways of thinking. So priority one will be getting your engineering teams learning, and upgrading skills. I wrote a piece about this how do I migrate my skills to the cloud?

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2. Adapt to a new security model

With the old style datacenter, you typically have a firewall, and everything gets blocked & controlled. The new world of cloud computing uses security groups. These can be applied at the network level, across your VPC, or at the server level. And of course you can have many security groups with overlapping jurisdictions. Here’s how you setup a VPC with Terraform

So understanding how things work in the public cloud is quite new and challenging. There are ingress and egress rules, ways to audit with network flow logs, and more.

However again, it’s one thing to have the features available, it’s quite another to put them to proper use.

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3. Adapt to fragile components & networks

While the public cloud collectively is extremely resilient, the individual components such as EC2 instances are decidedly not reliable. It’s expected that they can and will die frequently. It’s your job as the customer to build things in a self-healing way.

That means VPCs with multiple subnets, across availability zones (multi-az). And that means redundant instances for everything. What’s more you front your servers with load balancers (classic or application). These themselves are redundant.

Whether you are building a containerized application and deploying on ECS or a traditional auto-scaling webserver with database backend, you’ll need to plan for failure. And that means code that detects, and reacts to such failures without downtime to the end user.

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4. Build infrastructure as code

You’ve heard about devops, now it’s time to put it into practice. Building your complete stack in code, is very possible with tools like Terraform. But you may have trouble along the way. I wrote I tried to write infra as code with Terraform and AWS and it didn’t go as expected

So there’s a learning curve. Both for your operations teams who have previously called Rackspace to get a new server provisioned. And also for your business, learning what incurs an outage, and the tricky finicky sides to managing your public cloud through code.

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5. Audit, log & monitor

As you automate more and more pieces, you may have less confidence in the overall scope of your deployments. How many servers am I using right now? How many S3 buckets? What about elastic IPs?

As your automation can itself spinup new temporary environments, those resource counts will change from moment to moment. Even a spike in user engagement or a sudden flash sale, can change your cloud footprint in an instant.

That’s where heavy use of logging such as ELK (elasticsearch, logstash and kibana) can really help. Sure AWS offers CloudWatch and CloudTrail, but again you must put it all to good use.

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