Blog April 30, 2019

Selecting a Managed Service Provider for Your Cloud Journey

Even organizations that are pro-cloud are sometimes skeptical about the need for a Managed Services Provider (MSP) for their cloud journey. We’ve heard questions like “Why do we need a partner outside of the cloud service provider?” and “What can an MSP bring to the table that our internal IT department cannot?” and even “What is a cloud journey, anyway?”

The short answer: The number and complexity of cloud options have exploded over the past few years. Combine this with the growing IT skills gap, especially when it comes to cloud technology, as well as increasing pressure to be more efficient with time and budgets, and it soon becomes apparent how a trusted partner could bring value to the table.

The skepticism stems, then, from simply not knowing what’s typically involved in a cloud journey and how a reputable MSP can help.

What is a “Cloud Journey”?

“The cloud is not a destination, but a journey.”

It’s become a common phrase nowadays, but few providers bother to define what a cloud journey is, much less explain what can be expected along the way.

Just as migrating to the cloud itself means embracing new technologies, adopting a cloud-based strategy requires a major shift in your organization’s processes, culture, and overall approach to IT. For this reason, many organizations take a more gradual, flexible approach to cloud adoption.

Even after a majority of workloads have been migrated, there is still work that needs to be done to ensure compliance, monitor security, prepare for disaster recovery, and optimize workloads (possibly across multiple cloud platforms) to ensure efficiency and lower costs.

A cloud journey, then, is the entire arc of a transition to the cloud, from the initial experimentation to ongoing optimization and management.

Typical Phases of a Cloud Journey Transformation

Naturally, most cloud journeys start with a healthy dose of strategy and planning. A good strategy typically breaks the cloud journey into four more-or-less discrete stages, each with a greater commitment to cloud.

Stage 1: Experimentation

It is rare these days that an organization just lifts and shifts everything over to a cloud environment all at once. In fact, the bigger the organization, the more it will benefit from a slow, graded approach.

The first stage of a cloud journey transformation, then, is experimentation: A few key candidates are identified that could benefit most from transition to the cloud. A smaller team helps with the transition via pilot projects, and monitors the results. The initial experiments provide a “proof of concept” that the cloud is a viable option, and that there is a business case to be made for further cloud transformation.

The MSP’s Role: There is a steep learning curve at this stage, which means that a good MSP should provide extensive help and consulting services, as well as training for your team and help with documentation.

Stage 2: Migration and Replication

Once it has been proven that there is a strong business case for cloud transformation, an organization will begin planning to move more and more workloads to cloud. A common starting place is for IT to try to recreate much of their on-premise infrastructure in a cloud environment to improve (and quickly scale) processing and storage capacity.

When migrating, the best strategy is to assess current systems, data, and applications in terms of capacity needs, network requirements, operating system requirements, and degree to which they are critical for day-to-day operations. Dependencies should be traced out as well. Items that are less critical, and which are likely to have the fewest problems, should be migrated first.

The MSP’s Role: A good MSP should be able to help with both the planning and the actual migration. They should also offer monitoring so that your organization can accurately measure consumption levels, impact of cloud service access, and overall resources.

Stage 3: Optimization, Automation, and Transformation

As the organization learns more with each migration, it will want to capture what it has learned by automating recurring deployment activities. Infrastructure will also need to be tweaked for each application—for example, by reducing instance sizes whenever there is unused capacity detected.

At this stage, selected applications might also be identified as candidates for redesign as cloud-native applications. Implementing cloud-native solutions reduces risks and allows for easier scaling; but it is also a time-consuming process that requires a strong current understanding of both the cloud environment and the larger work ecosystem. This is why building cloud-native applications tends to be a later stage in the overall cloud journey.

The MSP’s Role: An MSP should be able to deliver the intelligence needed to prioritize migrations and extract efficiencies. And they should be able to do this across multiple clouds to find the best fit across the board. Finally, a good MSP can help with the conversion and support of existing applications,

Stage 4: Ongoing Management

Even if an organization migrates 100% of its data centers to the cloud, the work is not quite done. Ongoing cloud management will include things like ongoing performance monitoring, security and compliance processes, and cost optimization. These are collectively referred to as “managed services,” and they are frequently outsourced in order to free up IT resources for other important functions and projects.

Outsourcing ongoing cloud management has to be done carefully, however. Whichever MSP you choose must be knowledgeable and experienced, of course. They should also offer a single-pane, real-time monitoring platform that can continuously assess your cloud utilization, performance, and overall costs. (See below for more on why you should use an MSP, and how to select one.)

Once your cloud journey is underway, you’ll find that the pace of transformation will accelerate as your team gains experience migrating to and using the cloud. The benefits will become more obvious and clear as well!

Why Use an MSP for Your Organization’s Cloud Journey?

The further along an organization gets in the four stages of a cloud journey, the more they come to realize the benefits of having a partner to help with both the new technology and increasingly complex ecosystems.

Specifically, partnering with a trusted MSP can have the following advantages:

  • Specific technical expertise. IT departments are seeing a huge skills gap when it comes to cloud technology, and that gap is not going away soon. According to IDC FutureScape: Worldwide CIO Agenda 2019 Predictions, a full 30% of in-demand roles for emerging technologies will remain unfilled through 2022. Other surveys suggest that a majority of IT decision-makers feel their organization “is losing out on revenue because they lack specific cloud expertise.” It’s the job of an MSP to stay up on the latest technology and know how to deploy it best, meaning that they can fill those skills gaps for organizations.
  • Ongoing security and compliance. Both security and compliance are ongoing needs, and both require constant monitoring. While your internal IT department will have several competing demands for their time and attention, an MSP can efficiently perform these monitoring functions at scale, thereby securing the environment 24/7.
  • Reclaiming IT time and talent. Given the skills gap mentioned above, IT departments are being spread more and more thin. This only makes monitoring and optimization more difficult. Using an MSP frees up those internal resources for more business-focused and innovative projects.

6 Things to Look for in a Cloud MSP

Once the case for partnering with an MSP is made, who do you use? Granted, as an MSP, we ourselves are biased—we hope you will use us!

But we can point to the specific standards we hold ourselves to. We think these are the minimal standards you should look for in any MSP, no matter who you choose:

  1. Expertise. This one should be obvious. The candidate MSP should have experience and expertise with the specific platforms you need, and should have a proven track record helping other enterprise organizations with their cloud journey.
  2. Options. Some MSPs are little more than resellers or consultants who specialize in a single provider or platform. The best MSPs are platform agnostic, and so can help you choose the best options for your organization’s needs. They can even help with multi-cloud solutions.
  3. Strong partner relationships. Even if (especially if!) the MSP is platform agnostic, it should still have strong relationships with all the major providers (Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, etc.). This helps ensure expertise even as technology changes.
  4. End-to-end capabilities. A good MSP should be able to take you through each stage of your cloud journey from planning, experimentation, and migration on through optimization and management.
  5. Automation best practices. An MSP should have codified and documented best practices for automation, and be able to ease the organization into using these in order to scale cloud migration and management.
  6. Appropriate financial controls. There are industry standards in use to ensure that third-party providers, such as MSPs, have the proper controls in place to prevent the service provider from having a negative material impact on a client’s internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR). Connectria Data Centers, for example, have successfully completed SOC 1 Type II audits in compliance with the SSAE 18 auditing standards.

Starting Your Cloud Journey

Connectria is currently the MSP of choice for hundreds of organizations, at all stages of their cloud transformation journey. We’d love to help you, too, whether you are in the initial planning stages or simply looking for someone to take over managed services now that your migration is done. Just reach out to one of our representatives.

If you’re not ready to reach out yet, here is some further reading that might be useful:

Are Database Management Services Right for Your Organization?

Should You Migrate Mission-Critical Workloads to the Public Cloud?

The 10 Hardest IT Roles to Fill (Note: Cloud services, cloud integration, and security/risk management are all in the top 10.)

Case Study: Tensoft’s Cloud Journey

Our Managed Services Solutions Brief

 

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