The right way to join the Microsoft cloud

The public cloud is trending and that is a good thing. For many companies, leveraging cloud resources brings benefits – both in terms of IT flexibility and security. For example, Microsoft spends more than USD 1 billion a year on cybersecurity for its Azure cloud service, which even large companies can't compete with. We all probably know that not all services and data belong in the cloud. But with careful planning and advance consideration of which applications are suited to the cloud and the best way of migrating them, there is nothing to stop businesses from using public cloud services like Azure.

It is particularly helpful if hyperscale providers such as Amazon or Microsoft provide best practices for cloud adoption. In the Microsoft world, this is known as the “Cloud Adoption Framework” or CAF for short and has become an incredibly helpful resource for businesses planning to deploy to the cloud. The CAF describes a complete approach in detail –from initial considerations to continuous improvement and compliance monitoring. It includes many templates and other tools to help businesses deploy and implement cloud services. The guidelines are focused on six (or seven) phases of a cloud deployment lifecycle. Each phase builds on the previous one and particular attention should be given to the initial Strategy and Plan phases for a successful outcome. The Cloud Journey Tracker can help you get started in the right direction. The CAF provides a framework for the entire cloud development lifecycle. Following the CAF is a great way of being certain that all bases are covered. Although the later phases in particular have a strong Azure focus, the CAF can be applied to any cloud service whether private or public. Amazon also provides a Cloud Adoption Framework for AWS.

What makes a CAF so valuable is the extensive list of fundamental questions that should be considered before starting a project. As with many infrastructure-based projects, careful preparation is critical. Failing to plan early on can force businesses to compromise on fixes later on, which doesn't get the best results. Microsoft has ensured that all important framework conditions are identified and considered with the Plan and Strategy  phases in the CAF, and also provides a helpful template for these phases. At least in theory, many companies usually dive straight into cloud implementation. Preliminary assessments are lengthy, require a great deal of coordination with other departments and may seem (incorrectly) to contradict an agile philosophy. But it is essential to ask the right questions at the beginning to avoid pitfalls later and be able to refer to the agreed objectives if the project is delayed or problems occur. That is why the reasons for a cloud solution need to be clarified long before any technical considerations. Examples might include: Saving costs, distributing services regionally for greater resilience, faster deployment of services or scalability.

Functional departments usually describe their needs in business terms in relation to Opex, Capex or business requirements. In any case, it is important to capture and document the requirements as accurately as possible. This is the only way to prove at a later date that the requirements have been delivered exactly as requested. If you follow the CAF recommendations, you will have everything you need for reference including questionnaires and sample results so that you can see exactly what you need to document at each phase of the project. There is even a business outcome template spreadsheet for documenting meetings. Microsoft also addresses widespread misconceptions such as “The cloud is always cheaper” and provides a detailed explanation of when the cloud makes sense in terms of cost.

Initial projects should be chosen carefully as they are likely to set a precedent. It is important to consider whether employees have the right expertise as early as possible in the planning phase. Depending on the organizational structure, different roles are necessary for planning, implementing and operating cloud services. New hires may be needed to complement the expertise of existing employees. External partners can also provide specialist expertise. It must be clarified at an early stage which expertise and roles are necessary, as training and recruitment take time. As such, the planning phase is about asset management and – most importantly – the cloud adoption plan, which maps the necessary steps and a timeline for this. There is even a plan generator that creates corresponding tasks in Azure DevOps. Although this is not the last step in the Plan phase, it is still closer towards the Ready phase which describes the actual implementation. Although planning may seem frustrating or an unnecessary investment of time, every minute spent on careful planning will pay off by a factor of ten when the project is implemented.

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