This is part 1 of a multi-part article, as we walk through the key phases for a successful cloud migration.

In our own journey to the cloud, as well as consulting for our clients, we encounter a series of challenges ranging from procedural to policy, some easy and some complex.

While it’s easy to talk about your own journey to the cloud, the reality is that its monumentally different when you are attempting to guide clients through their own spiderweb of challenges: policy, culture, technology, financial, and regulatory.

At VVL systems – we are 100% cloud-based: From office productivity tools, to lab/development environments, to our production systems (including this very website you are visiting). Therefore, drinking your own champagne is a motto we try to live by.

We hope through a series of posts to highlight some of the challenges, methods, and solutions we leverage in helping customers address some of the challenges above. While not all of them are a “one shoe fits all”, most should get you thinking about your own approach or engaging our team for a more in-depth conversation.

What are the Cloud Service Providers suggesting?

Recently Microsoft released the Cloud Adoption Framework and in it, includes variety of articles:

Amazon Web Services has similar Well-Architected Framework also highlights some key pinnacles as a blueprint of success:

  • Framework: This whitepaper introduces you to the AWS Well-Architected Framework, covering key concepts, design principles for architecting in the cloud, and the five pillars.
  • Operational Excellence: focuses on running and monitoring systems to deliver business value, and continually improving processes and procedures. 
  • Security: The security pillar focuses on protecting information & systems.
  • Reliability: The reliability pillar focuses on the ability to prevent, and quickly recover from failures to meet business and customer demand.
  • Performance Efficient: The performance efficiency pillar focuses on using IT and computing resources efficiently. 
  • Cost Optimization: Cost Optimization focuses on avoiding un-needed costs. 

The above articles are great at highlighting the methodology, tools, and processes needed to successfully migrate to the cloud. Most importantly, how to stay in the cloud for the long term. In our years of client experience tackling the daunting task of migration to the cloud, one of the first steps we always guide our clients through the thought process is “Knowing your Unknowns.”

The process of cloud transformation, however, poses numerous challenges. A lack of understanding of its phases and required tools can be a significant barrier to success, leading to schedule slips, budget overruns, compliance violations, and other disruptions. Further, IT teams often lose sight of the end goal: becoming more service aware to the lines of business, not just updating technology.

Know your Unknowns

What is “Know your Unknowns”? By definition, it is asking yourself a series of questions:

Do I know what makes up my “application” that I wish to move to the cloud?

Do I know how these components talk/communicate and depend on each other?

When was the last time an inventory was performed on my application and underlying infrastructure?

How much time and man hours do I spend in tracking application dependencies?

Am I confident in my organization’s change management process?

If your answers to the above includes “No” or “I don’t know” – you need to “Know your Unknowns”!

How do I Know my Unknowns?

Portfolio discovery and planning provides IT teams with the visibility and insight necessary to identify and migrate the right components, at the right time, in the right way. It builds the foundation for cloud transformation by informing every stage of the process, from the business plan to application mapping to migration, validation, operations, and beyond.

With the right discovery strategy, you can set up your cloud environment for success through every step of its lifecycle – pre, during, and post – of your transformation project. Gaining an in-depth understanding of your IT portfolio, the dependencies between applications, and based on this knowledge, the type of migration strategies that you will need to meet your business objectives, is a crucial step in solving your unknowns.

Large-scale migrations that meet or exceed expectations commonly follow a five-phase approach:

  • Phase 1: Migration Preparation and Business Planning
  • Phase 2: Portfolio Discovery and Planning
  • Phases 3 and 4: Designing, Migrating, and Validating Applications
  • Phase 5: Operate

For this blog, we will focus on Portfolio Discovery and Planning strategies.

Portfolio Discovery and Planning

The need for thorough discovery and dependency mapping is no surprise to IT teams tasked with the shift to cloud; you need to know what you have in order to move it effectively. A comprehensive discovery phase influences the process up and down the ladder and sets the tone for the migration.

It feeds back into the initial phase of the migration process, providing the information required to build a data-driven business case and migration plan, as well as feeding into the subsequent phases—informing the approach for how to migrate and operate your infrastructure most efficiently at the portfolio and application levels.

Cost visibility and modeling are also critical, allowing alignment with the commercial model of public cloud providers like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud. In its latter role, sophisticated discovery data allows IT to make informed decisions about the most appropriate strategy for each application, such as:

  • Re-hosting (a.k.a. “lift-and-shift”)
  • Re-platforming (such as switching middleware),
  • Repurchasing (such as using PaaS or SaaS instead)
  • Refactoring, retaining on-premises, or;
  • Retiring.

With in-depth knowledge about IT assets across your infrastructure—from the data center to public, private, and hybrid clouds—you can better decide among your various migration options

Typical Challenges of Portfolio Discovery

Although portfolio discovery is a critical element of successful cloud transformation, this capability remains underdeveloped in many organizations. The resulting difficulties fall into three broad areas:

  • People: A shortage of cloud skill sets can have a major impact on migration success. Given the fast pace and competing demands of modern IT, it can be hard to pin down subject-matter experts to perform in-depth analysis of existing application deployments.
  • Processes: Migration goals are often not correctly documented, for example in terms of the scale of change, data quality, etc., making it difficult to guide, measure, and assess the success of the effort. The lack of an application portfolio can make it impossible to establish a coherent overarching strategy, whether for mass migration or for an application-by-application or defined application- batch approach.
  • Tools: Inventory tools generally fail to capture or accurately represent dependency information, especially when they rely only on observed communications, and are unable to reflect the business context of infrastructure components. Given the fast pace of change in modern IT environments, these tools are typically neither scalable enough nor fast enough to guarantee the accuracy of their data at the moment of migration.

For this multi-part blog, we will first focus on the “Tools” portion of this challenge.

Anatomy of an Enterprise-Grade Discovery Solution

The right tool can help you avoid these pitfalls and actively contribute to the success of your cloud transformation. What does that look like for phase 2 of your migration project: portfolio discovery and planning?

As the name of the phase suggests, this step in the process can actually be broken down into two parts: discovery and planning.

Discovery solutions play in the first half of the process. The most basic solutions begin and end by taking an inventory of your IT assets. More sophisticated tools continue by identifying dependencies and grouping components together via application maps to understand the various “buckets” within your infrastructure.

Planning, the second half of the process, requires an understanding how your applications perform and what they cost in order to provide a recommendation on what should be migrated and how. This is how this phase get’s complicated.

How to choose the right discovery tool for your cloud transformation

Let’s look at the required functionality for each of the three steps within the discovery portion of phase 2. In other words, what does your discovery tool need to do to successfully support your cloud transformation?

  • Step 1 – Inventory: The inventory aspect of discovery and dependency mapping is theoretically the “easy part”—except even at this stage, many tools lack the breadth and depth to provide the visibility you need. To achieve a comprehensive and accurate inventory of your IT infrastructure, your discovery solution must cover:
    • Servers: physical and virtual, hypervisor, OS, CPU, RAM, disk
    • Software: all software assets, including end of life, plus databases and websites
    • Network devices: switches, load balancers, etc.
    • Storage: devices and their logical partitioning
  • Step 2 – Dependency Mapping: To fuel your cloud transformation project, you need to understand not only what you have, but how it all works together. Key dependency data provided by your discovery solution should include:
    • Software dependencies—e.g. web, application, and database tiers, and clustered software configurations
    • Containers and micro-services
    • Server-to-storage relationships to understand how the data flows
    • Hybrid application deployments
    • Host-to-edge network relationships
    • Hardware and software load balancing
    • Disaster recovery setups
  • Step 3 – Grouping: Now that you know what you have and how it works together, you need to be able to visualize and consume that information. This is where application mapping comes in. Your discovery solution should be able to easily group components into application maps or models that articulate dependencies, so you can:
    • Ensure that business impact is duly assessed
    • Support business continuity objectives
    • Make more informed decisions continually as to what can and cannot be migrated
  • Steps 4, 5 and 6: While discovery solutions don’t explicitly address the second half of the Portfolio Discovery and Planning Phase (planning), they ideally feed data into steps 4-6 so that other solutions can more effectively deliver their analysis and recommendations.

Post Migration

Finally, consider your post-migration needs when selecting a discovery solution. Discovery tools not only provide valuable insight before and during a move to the cloud, they also play a key role in iteratively optimizing and improving your ongoing operations.

Thorough, ongoing discovery and dependency mapping can be used as a source of information to validate efforts and results across IT, such as:

  • Developing security models – network access, component versions, subnets, etc.
  • Creating performance and availability models – load-balancing, elasticity, resilience, monitoring
  • Ongoing management – configuration management, continuous delivery, etc.

For security, with automated discovery and dependency mapping, you can formulate and execute a plan to resolve known vulnerabilities with the least amount of risk. According to WhiteHat Security, 80% of attacks go after a known vulnerability. Discovery solutions not only ensure that you’re aware of all risks, but that you’re armed with the information you need to address them.

Partner solutions for supporting cloud transformation at scale

At VVL Systems, we are continuously evaluating industry, both established and start-ups, to aide our solutioning and advisement for customers. For us, Time to Value is not only a term, but core to our approach. We focus on technologies and solutions which allows customers to sudo-instantly see the value of a technology, but also measure the total operating cost (TCO) of their investments.

In our Cloud Migration engagements, we lead with BMC Software’s BMC Helix Discovery to facilitate and automate the aforementioned Portfolio Discovery activity when advising clients on their Cloud Migration strategies. Together with a solid Cloud Governance plan, BMC Helix Discovery allows us to perform short window discovery activities to help a client “Know the Unknowns”.

What makes BMC Helix Discovery different?

Amongst many things, the Software-as-a-Service with On-Premises deployment support differentiates itself against competition by 5 points:

  • Start anywhere application mapping: Unlike other discovery solutions, which dictate a specific starting point for application maps that often leads to gaps and misrepresentations, BMC Helix Discovery discovers assets from every angle: top down, bottom up, and/or middle out. It then visualizes those results with application maps created from any starting point, regardless if your environment is heavily clustered, highly segmented, has shared DB, web, and middleware software, or applications spanning multiple cloud regions.
  • Continuous content updates: BMC Helix Discovery has provided the broadest data center and cloud coverage, currently detecting 4,000+ types of assets and 1,000+ types of relationships. It does this through Technology Knowledge Update (TKU) content is updated monthly, providing extensive documentation of every supported technology including mainframe, servers, storage systems, network devices, software, hardware, and new technologies like containers and multi-cloud services.
  • Cloud-native service offering: BMC Helix Discovery is now available as a cloud-native service, making it easy to size and stand up large appliances, configure clusters, upgrade, apply TKUs, and backup and maintain your data store. This is key to the TCO calculation and Time to Value discussed previously.
  • Open and secure: As a critical part of your overall infrastructure, BMC Helix Discovery offers Swagger-enabled RESTful APIs that enable other systems to take advantage of its rich data. It also enhances security by integrating with enterprise credential vaults like CyberArk. And its Discovery-as-Code framework lets you plug Helix Discovery right into your CI/CD pipelines.
  • User Friendly: as additional validation, take a look at TechValidate case study portal on this solution.

In Summary

We hope this article provided insights into ours and industry’s thought leadership, when considering your cloud migration initiatives. Whether small or large, we are happy to discuss and assist in the planning and execution, including demo and free trials of BMC Helix Discovery.

Portions of the article are referenced from their respective authors. All copyrights and trademarks are from their respective owners (BMC Software and Microsoft Corporation).

About the author:

Vinnie Lima

Vinnie Lima is the Managing Director for VVL Systems & Consulting, a small business focusing on IT Optimization for Cloud, Infrastructure, and End Users. Based out of Baltimore, Maryland, Vinnie Lima has over 21 years in IT Automation, Orchestration, and Cloud. Mr. Lima’s career has been focusing on helping customers drive value from their IT investments through the use of leading edge technologies and approaches, driving innovation in a wide spectrum of industries such as DoD, Federal, Health Care, and Financial.

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