How Cloud Migration will Lead Digital Transformation in 2020 and Onward

September 29, 2020
Cloud, Data Protection, Hybrid IT, IT Services, Partner

This is a condensed version of US Signal's participation in Crain's Chicago Business' content piece, "Roundtable on Cloud Transformation."

In March, a national survey of CIOs revealed that more than half of IT decision makers expected digital transformation to increase significantly in 2020. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and organizations moved to the cloud at an even faster pace, looking to ensure business continuity by enabling employees to work more efficiently from home. Read on for cloud migration questions answered by one of our technology executives Paul Van Hyfte.

Ask the Expert: Paul Van Hyfte, EVP of Sales at US Signal

Paul Van Hyfte is executive vice president of sales for US Signal. Previously, he served as the company's vice president of cloud sales, and before that, director of cloud sales. He has worked with internal teams to deliver cloud-hosting and disaster-recovery solutions that improve end users' agility, decrease IT departments' time to market new applications, and address business continuance and storage solutions.

Has the pandemic presented new ways to leverage the cloud?

Absolutely. Organizations were immediately forced into work-from-home situations. Some weren't prepared to accommodate this for any length of time, or at the scale required for normal business operations. When you consider the available bandwidth required to support incoming VPN connections to corporate headquarters—at a scale larger than ever—there's a strong case for shifting these services to a cloud platform. It can take a carrier upwards to 90 days to upgrade internet bandwidth at a corporate location. Cloud service providers often have more aggregate bandwidth available, and provisioning it is a quick and easy process. The same can be said for computing resources.

What are some common misconceptions about the cloud?

Often, prospects shy away from cloud services because of the misconception that they are not as secure.  The reality is that we go through great lengths and frequent third party audits to ensure proper data segregation and security controls. US Signal has a team of Information Security Professionals that ensure technical safeguards are implemented on any technology that is utilized. US Signal’s Security Operations Center (SOC) utilizes a SIEM platform for centralized log collection to monitor deployed enterprise, cloud, and service provider technology to identify, correlate, and remediate any potential security incidents.

Another common misconception is that it's inexpensive. That's because cloud costs are frequently evaluated based on surface factors only, and not the totality of the solution being offered by a provider. Operational and environmental factors such as power plant diversity, redundancy, physical structure management, security, compliance, network diversity and the time that goes into managing the data center environment are left out of the cost equation. For many customers, their focus includes only compute, memory and storage costs—missing the true value of cloud computing.

What are some top benefits of migrating to the cloud?

Managing a data center requires significant investment in staffing and expertise.  Effective management requires well developed practices around security, capacity planning, change management, BC/DR and day to day operations. These practices can often consume focus and time that could be better spent driving innovation efforts. A strategic shift to cloud services gives IT leaders the time and human resources to spend on higher-value activities that align with the overall goals of the business.

In addition, when data center operations are outsourced to a cloud provider, flexibility and speed to market are among the top benefits. Eliminating hardware maintenance contracts and time for physical asset deployment allows customers to spin up resources in minutes and respond to the needs of the business quickly.

Are cloud solutions more useful to certain sizes or types of organizations?

Cloud solutions are useful regardless of the size or type of organization. How is often the challenging part. That's where an experienced partner provides value. Not every application makes sense for cloud deployment, and frequently, multiple cloud services and multiple providers need to still integrate with on-premises equipment to provide the best fit. If they can understand the structure of an application, the data associated with it and how the business is using it, they can define where the application should live. This principle cares little about the size or type of an organization. 

That being said, we often see that startups and the SMB space are able to consume cloud services with more ease. Startups have the advantage, in that they have no legacy applications or infrastructure to consider. Small and medium-sized businesses typically have a lighter footprint, making it easier for them to shift with greater speed. Large enterprises often have legacy systems that need to be brought along, making them less cloud ready and the time to value longer.

What options are available?

The fact is, moving to the cloud isn’t an all-or-nothing strategy. Most companies benefit from a hybrid approach that utilizes multiple IT environments, one of which could be the cloud. For some companies, it's not fiscally wise to move to the cloud and walk away from recently purchased IT infrastructure. For others, the interdependencies between mission-critical applications and legacy systems will allow them to move to the cloud over time. Then there are companies concerned about security, data privacy or regulatory compliance, and that lack the in-house expertise to provide the necessary guidance. This typically results in a hybrid cloud approach where a customer leverages a balance of applications and services based on the best fit for their application portfolio.

What's a typical ROI on a cloud investment?

This is one of the toughest metrics to measure for cloud investments. A strategic shift to cloud services often drives long-term value to the business in areas that can't directly be pointed to on a balance sheet. Sometimes, the financial costs can appear to be larger when consuming cloud services. That's the ironic nature of the cloud paradigm—it forces us to accept that we must measure success of these programs outside of the financial upside or downside.

So what can you look at if not the balance sheet? We get into details in the blog, "Determining the ROI of Data Protection."  

What challenges do organizations commonly experience when moving to the cloud, and how can they be addressed?

Often, organizations don't invest time in analyzing their workloads. It's important to understand where applications live and determine if they're mission-critical to the business. Anything that's mission-critical and/or sensitive can be separated from non-critical components to find the appropriate environment for each one. If you will be moving to the cloud, take advantage of the repeatable services the provider offers. Many companies decompose their applications and move everything to the cloud, missing out on using the services provided by the service providers.

Another challenge is the migration path to the cloud. Migrations can be complex, and proper planning is paramount to success. It's important to choose a cloud provider that has well-developed migration programs and experience to assist with planning and executing the move to the cloud.

We also asked another US Signal expert this question. Read what tips they provided for a smoother cloud migration.

What's a good first step for an organization considering a move to the cloud?

Start with data protection. In-house IT professionals may only design and implement a DR strategy once or twice in their entire careers. A cloud service provider offering disaster recovery as a service often has well-defined programs and referenceable solutions to simplify this process and also improve in the areas of testing and ongoing management. It's also expensive to maintain equipment you may never need to use and cloud is a great way to "pay as you go."

What are some best practices for selecting a cloud service provider?

Develop vendor criteria that are important to your organization. Every group is different but in general, you should evaluate cloud service providers based on security and compliance, contract flexibility, support, service-level agreement, performance and cost. Successful long-term partnerships with a service provider always include an evaluation of cultural alignment. It's crucial that an organization and the service provider share similar values, and put a premium on collaboration and share execution methodologies. In short, if they can't work well together, it won't work well.

What role does automation play in the cloud?

Automation allows engineers to define common configurations and speed their deployment. We can better ensure regular backup and disaster recovery processes by automating these programs as well. In general, automation drives more value by reducing time in less valuable areas. However, it's important to aim for a pragmatic approach, versus automating just for automation's sake.

What's the near-term outlook for cloud technologies and strategy?

I still see a lot of opportunities for organizations to leverage cloud services to support modernization efforts and contribute to their ability to transform as a business. Some organizations are just starting to look at cloud strategies, propelled by a compelling event such as the pandemic. Others believe in cloud technologies, but haven't fully realized the benefits because of rushing to move to the cloud without understanding the impact. Where customers have made that shift, we're seeing many more becoming educated on what works and what didn't work for their organization, and are looking to optimize their initial cloud deployment. I believe we will continue to see cloud technologies evolve in that they will likely continue a trend towards a more simplified SaaS model, giving organizations more options to repurchase an application based on per-user needs. The impact of this model is that it continues to simplify delivery and ongoing management by providing built-in/shared information security, predictable cost, scalable growth and data protection all as part of the service.

We'll Help You with Your Cloud Strategy

The IT industry is continuously changing, particularly in terms of cloud technologies. Staying on top of the changes —and leveraging them—requires the ability to move quickly, to be nimble yet adaptable, and to be resourceful. CSPs, like US Signal, are in the “cloud” business. They possess the expertise and experience in cloud technologies that you and your staff may not have. They can explain the options and their advantages and disadvantages. That alone is a time saver. US Signal takes a consultative approach make it a priority to understand your business, so we can steer you towards solutions best suited to your organization’s needs. Get in touch to get started.

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