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Cloud ops doesn't solve your problems, it creates new ones

There are many reasons to consider a cloud migration, but if you expect to cut costs or dramatically ease management, you'll be disappointed.

Enterprise cloud adoption creates as many challenges as it solves.

A cloud migration -- even a large-scale one -- doesn't spell the end of IT operations. Nor does it magically solve all a business's complex, difficult IT problems and choices. IT operations teams are skilled in data center infrastructure and services support. Cloud ops deeply affects both areas, more so than many embarking on cloud migrations anticipate. Too often, a cloud migration is a result of accounting, not IT ops, motivators. Sure, the business can save money with a cloud-based application. On the surface, that sounds ideal, but the first question is: What does it cost to get it there? If you ask the cloud provider, migration is dead simple. Be wary of big promises: The easy effort and quick timelines are often best-case situations that few companies ever fall into. In reality, cloud and the cloud migration present huge challenges for IT ops.

Pay to play

One of the first and most complex parts of moving anything to the cloud is licensing. Cloud ops groups struggle with confusing plans based on cores, connections and usage. These software contracts amount to a legal document, and you'd need a law degree to ensure the IT organization is in compliance. The vendor is happy to help calculate those numbers -- in its favor, of course. Cloud license models for SaaS can be more straightforward, but you'll pay for convenience.

Where things get really confusing is when the licensing model applies to burst modes in the cloud.

If you burst a Microsoft SQL Server instance into the cloud for two weeks during your company's busy period and that environment is dissolved shortly afterward, do you have to pay for it when it comes to your annual license renewal at the end of the year? If you were paying for the resources as a platform as a service, that cost was included in your platform cost; if you chose infrastructure as a service (IaaS), then it's not. With IT automation technologies, it's possible to use IaaS as a burst mode platform. Many cloud providers allow you to bring your existing software licensing terms. However, many on-premises apps and services were not designed for burst modes on flexible infrastructure. It's difficult to stay compliant without overpaying.

The people problem

Moving to the cloud doesn't remove management challenges; it just changes them.

Managing operations personnel is another cloud migration challenge. Internal applications require staff to monitor infrastructure and app performance and manage resources, updates and patches. Moving those applications to the cloud also reassigns many of those tasks to the cloud provider, leaving your operations center with staff looking for a clear purpose. Moving to the cloud doesn't simply mean you should be looking to clean house and remove your network operations center and its personnel. IT managers faced a similar challenge when adopting virtualization. Virtualization never led to a mass layoff, but rather a chance for staff members to find new roles in the ever-changing data center environment. Staff members affected by a cloud migration will now be looking at new roles working with cloud vendors in ensuring the applications work smoothly with existing on-premises systems.

Where's the silver bullet?

A key fact about moving to the cloud is it doesn't solve all of your problems. Sure, you won't have to worry about hardware infrastructure and licensing, but cloud ops creates an entire new collection of issues. Network bandwidth becomes even more critical, as do application endpoints. This changes what ops needs to monitor to focus more on external bandwidth and security. While that isn't a bad thing, it takes time to adjust. Configuration control is another responsibility that remains, but it's now on autopilot, managed by the cloud provider. This lack of control can limit or simply remove your testing windows, challenging cloud ops staff to manage changes on an unpredictable or inconvenient schedule.

Moving to the cloud doesn't remove management challenges; it just changes them. You will still need staff to address these new issues. That doesn't mean cloud ops will be easier or harder -- just different. While this might not be great news to managers looking to save money, you must recognize the cloud is not a cost-saving measure, but rather a shift of resources from one bucket to another.

This was last published in February 2018

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