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Azure Migration Strategy: The Safest Path to the Cloud

Since its inception in 2002, cloud computing has been a revolutionary force. Before cloud computing, companies needed to set up their own infrastructure. Some had their own on-premise data centers, with staff dedicated entirely to networking and communications.

What cloud vendors did was set up their own massive layer of infrastructure, and then outsource these resources to clients. This enabled businesses, big and small, in areas throughout the world, to use computing resources that previously were not affordable to them.

Today, cloud vendors offer a massive amount of services, such as database hosting, Artificial Intelligence (AI) resources, data warehousing, virtual machines, containerization workloads, and more. In Azure, all of these come with built-in backup and recovery capabilities, as well as security controls.

In this article, you will learn about the main benefits of migrating workloads to Azure, and key considerations to take into account before migrating. You will also learn what are the four crucial steps every Azure migration strategy should be composed of, including a review of two Azure migration tools that can help you during the migration planning stage.

Why Do Organizations Migrate to Azure?

There are many reasons why organizations choose to migrate to the cloud in general and Azure in particular. They may be looking to upgrade outdated software, outsource IT maintenance responsibilities, or replace an expiring data center contract. Almost always, migrating organizations are looking for ways to improve their system performance and availability while saving costs.

Azure can provide organizations with enterprise-grade infrastructure and support regardless of organization size. It offers a wide variety of services and hosting options that you can customize to your needs. With Azure, you can move your entire infrastructure, move specific workloads, or create a fully hybrid cloud. Once decided, you can dynamically change your resources and configurations as needed.

Migrating to Azure can also provide access to exclusive services and benefits that other providers cannot. For example, many organizations are already using Microsoft enterprise products. When you migrate to Azure, you can often bring your existing licenses with you, and data can be transferred directly.

Azure is also the only cloud provider approved by the US government for highly sensitive workloads managed by the government and its partners. This is in part due to the level of security Azure provides to customers.

Azure Migration Considerations

When considering a migration to Azure there are several considerations you should keep in mind:

  • Performance—while there is strong support for most workloads, some can be difficult or expensive to manage in Azure. For example, Power BI analyses or video encoding, both of which require large, frequent data transfers. To ensure cost-efficiency, you need to carefully weigh the importance of performance and monitor your configurations to ensure optimized performance.
  • Security and privacy—Azure offers substantial security support and services that you can use to secure your systems and data. However, you are responsible for implementing these systems and ensuring that configuration is correct. Additionally, a lack of clarity when it comes to compliance in the cloud can make it difficult to ensure that your implementation meets standards.
  • Migration cost—you should calculate the full potential cost of migration before moving data. This includes more than just the cost of the resources you are moving to. It also involves IT time and effort, downtime during migration, bandwidth, and potential loss of revenue due to temporary changes in productivity.
  • On-premises integration—hybrid capabilities are one of the central features of Azure and significant support for creating hybrid clouds exists. However, reliably and securely connecting your cloud and on-premises resources can be a challenge. Additionally, you effectively need to manage and monitor two systems when you create a hybrid.
  • Access controls—clouds are by nature, connected to the Internet. This is convenient for distributed workforces but also creates more opportunities for cyberattacks. Additionally, adding cloud resources requires configuring and assigning permissions for a new system to your employees. Strictly managing your access controls and ensuring that permissions are standardized is key.

4 Steps for Azure Migration

Once you are ready to start migrating to Azure, there are 4 steps you should follow. Taking your time at each phase can help you ensure that your migration is as smooth and successful as possible.

1. Assess

Migration should always start with an assessment phase. Before you can begin planning how to move, you need to understand what assets and resources you currently have, how they are stored and managed, and what performance or security requirements exist. You should also work to determine how moving to the cloud can benefit or affect your current configurations.

Once you have a general idea of the current state of your systems, you need to discuss with all relevant stakeholders the implications of migrating. Determine what stakeholder expectations and goals are and ensure that those expectations match what is actually possible. You should also calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO) of your current systems. You can then compare it to an estimate for post-migration to ensure that you are not surprised by costs later.

Provided your stakeholders agree you can begin performing a more thorough assessment of your current systems. While inventorying your assets, it’s important to consider how current assets and infrastructure can be mapped to Azure. Make sure to include evaluations of networking, storage, security, and demands for scalability.

2. Plan

After your assessment phase, you can begin planning your actual migration. Taking the information you have already gained, you need to begin directly mapping assets to Azure services and resources. You also need to determine roles and responsibilities for migration and create procedures for the movement of assets.

There are a variety of Azure migration tools you can use to accomplish this. These tools can help you assess applications and data and provide recommendations for what specific resources or services best fit your needs.

Two particular tools that are helpful include:

  • Virtual Machine Readiness Assessment tool—you can use this tool to inspect your virtual and physical assets and generate a checklist for migrating those assets. Based on the tool’s evaluation, you get a report clarifying which assets can be easily moved and which require extra evaluation or effort.
  • Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) toolkit—this tool can help you plan the migration of a wide variety of assets, including Windows Servers, SQL Servers, Office products, and virtual machines. It provides templates you can use to evaluate your existing environments and determine how ready assets are to be moved.

3. Prepare

With a plan in place, or sometimes during planning, you can begin preparing for migration. To start, you need to ensure that those responsible for the migration have sufficient expertise for the move. If they do not, now is the time to organize training so they can become familiar with provisioning, configuring, and managing resources.

You also need to begin preparing your assets for transfer. This may include reformatting data, creating backups of servers, and modifying applications. You should make any necessary modifications to assets now so that you don’t have to scramble to make changes mid migration.

You may want to consider creating a proof of concept during this phase as well. This proof can help you test the skills that your IT staff has or are developing. It can also be valuable to show to stakeholders to ensure that they understand exactly what your plan is and how it will function.

4. Migrate

After preparations are done, you are ready to migrate your data. During this phase, it’s a good idea to start small with non-critical or less sensitive assets. Doing so enables you to test your plan in a low-risk way. If you find that something isn’t working as expected, you can adapt your plan accordingly with minimal impact.

As you proceed through the migration, make sure that you are monitoring the processes and periodically auditing your data and resources. You don’t want to discover after migration that the assets you transferred were corrupted or are suddenly non-functional. You also need to ensure that your configurations and access controls are properly set. Transferring your most sensitive data only to find that your resources are publicly available is avoidable.

Conclusion

Azure’s popularity can be attributed to its enterprise-level services, which take into account the need for hybrid infrastructure. This type of infrastructure is typically composed of a combination of on-premises and cloud resources. Azure’s built-in backup capabilities are also a bonus, because you don’t have to mess around with additional backup tooling.

Before migrating to Azure, you should follow four crucial stages: assess, plan, prepare, and then migrate. The assessment stage involves assessing your own situation, and researching the cloud vendor of your choice. Once you find a vendor that suits your needs, you should plan your migration carefully.

If you are considering Azure, you can use the Virtual Machine Readiness Assessment tool and the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) toolkit. Once you have a plan in place, you should prepare all needed resources, including tooling and talent. Be sure to create backups for recovery, and then migrate when everything is ready. Monitor to ensure all goes well, and enjoy a brand new infrastructure.

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