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Migrating Traditional Workloads to the Cloud: Q&A with Kris Bliesner

| by Daniel Bryant Follow 796 Followers on Nov 08, 2015. Estimated reading time: 5 minutes |

InfoQ recently sat down with Kris Bliesner, founder and CTO of 2nd Watch, who has developed deep experience of migrating workloads from traditional IT estates to the cloud. Bliesner identified common challenges with cloud workload migration, discussed recommended processes, and offered his thoughts on the topics of security, compliance, DevOps and automation.

InfoQ: Thanks for taking the time out to speak to InfoQ today Kris. Could you briefly introduce yourself and the work you do please?

Bliesner: Hello. I am Kris Bliesner, the CTO and cofounder of 2nd Watch. We’re an AWS Premier Consulting Partner, and our AWS cloud services together with our methodologies, experts, and tools help enterprises harness the public cloud. We provide workload migration services and are an AWS Managed Services partner. Our Managed Cloud service offering includes managed billing, performance monitoring, security and compliance.

InfoQ: We understand that you have helped many organizations migrate business workloads to the cloud. Could you explain some of the most common issues with this process please, and explain briefly how you overcome these?

Bliesner: It varies from organization to organization. However, we do find that most companies don’t really know what they have. They may think they know but it changes and they didn’t track it well. So change management is an issue. We do an accurate assessment with clients upfront, every time, to understand all of their applications and resources. This gives our clients confidence that we know what we are doing and we’re not going to miss anything. Another challenge is in migrating large data sets. We just did an assessment for a company that is planning to move 16 PB of data. Moving that large of a data set in any sort of a timeframe that makes sense is a real pain. I’m looking at AWS Snowball as a way to potentially do this a lot faster.

InfoQ: Security, governance and compliance appear to be well-discussed topics at the moment. How do you think this fits with the current rise of the 'DevOps' methodology and approach?

Bliesner: This is a great question. To frame it though, understand that DevOps is still pretty new in the enterprise. Less than 10% of the work being done at large companies goes through the DevOps process right now. But if you look at some of the tools being used in DevOps, they aren’t really optimized for the IT operations people and they don’t have the level of security and control enterprises expect. Even something like Docker which is really popular right now, it’s not quite there yet. If you’ve got an application with dozens of micro-services running, that’s going to require a lot more attention to configure it and to make sure that there aren’t security loopholes. It creates a new plan of attack for a hacker. We haven’t seen great thinking around security and governance yet.  

InfoQ: Could you provide us with a broad play-by-play example of the migration of a business process running on a private data center to the cloud, and provide insight to what kind of development/operational process changes are required?

Bliesner: We have multiple ways to do migrations but it always starts with the assessment. The first step is to put applications into buckets, such as re-host, refactor, and retire. It’s important to understand what each “bucket” entails. So with re-host, another way of saying “lift and shift,” we are taking an application and essentially putting it up in the cloud with minimal changes. That is something that can be done in a few weeks and the cost will be much lower than if you are going to refactor an application. Refactoring can involve making changes to it that might be required for the application to run in the cloud. The goal, regardless, is to get that application or workload into the cloud quickly and then you can work on optimizing it. 

As far as processes, there are differences in the cloud such as, the network might be unicast and you are running multicast on premises, and you’re going to have less visibility to certain pieces of the infrastructure such as storage and hypervisor. But generally, moving an ERP system to the cloud, there’s not much different at the application level to deploy and manage it in a new environment. The issue is less about the actual migration and more about managing operations later. Cloud providers need to give more metrics. IT people like to have this data, because they’re used to looking down into all of the details at every layer. Because that’s not possible in the cloud, companies are increasingly using monitoring tools like New Relic or Nagios to make sure that everything is performing to expectations. And of course you need to prepare for issues that may happen on the hardware side with the cloud platform, which can mean having a disaster recovery site and processes to quickly move your applications to another host if necessary.

InfoQ: What level of automation do you typically recommend in the build and deploy phases of a migrated application, and how do you enable this and the resulting testing required?

Bliesner: We recommend as much as possible. We are big fans of CloudFormation templates on AWS and Azure has something similar. When you are moving a large and unwieldy application such as an ERP package, without automation, it’s going to be pretty hard to quickly test a hot fix. The idea of data center as code and tracking changes to it is a best practice. You can deploy the entire data center in 30 minutes with templates and you can destroy it just as fast. Automation is most helpful for handling the deployment over time. If you want to move workloads or test or create a backup site, you can do that very easily later through templates.  CloudFormation doesn’t have built in testing or pre-prep functionality so there is a bit of trail and error here but the good news is that it code and you can even automate the generation of it as we have.  The concept is to treat the entire datacenter from an application perspective as a single thing to be created or destroyed as needed.  This is the huge power of the Cloud to transform your IT business process.

Additional information on ‘top business issues when moving to the cloud’ and ‘application development in the cloud’ can be found on the 2ndWatch blog

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