Planning for the Hybrid Jump to the Cloud

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I’m working on my session for the SharePoint Conference taking place in Las Vegas the first week in March, and have been talking with some co-workers and friends in the community about their customer experiences in moving to the cloud in baby-steps through hybrid solutions. There are some definite themes that are popping up — and it should be a good session, if I don’t say so myself.

Why go through the headaches and overhead of hybrid? Well, first off, everyone wants to take advantage of the efficiencies of the cloud. With the drive to reduce costs and the increasing adoption of infrastructure-as-a-service offerings (using Windows Azure, Amazon Web Services, or private hosting like Rackspace), organizations are seeing the cloud as a viable, and attractive option. But a full jump to the cloud is daunting — and in some cases, just not possible, so stepping stones are necessary. A hybrid model that spreads data and services across on-premises and various private and public cloud platforms offers organizations a way to their systems into the new cloud paradigm.

I intentionally left Office365 as a separate line item. For most SharePoint shops, Office365 is an attractive alternative — but it requires serious consideration, because there is not yet parity between what is possible on prem and what is available online, and many organizations are unable or unwilling to reduce their requirements (i.e. customizations) to the point where Office365 can completely replace what is on prem. The hybrid model for SharePoint can be a strategy for getting an organization on that path — but requires an understanding of the costs and impacts.

The first step, of course, is to do some definition and planning around those workloads — figuring out which can be moved, which should be left alone (for now, anyway), and how you’ll manage all of these systems if you split up your workloads across different platforms, since how you manage each (including what can be automated) may be different. For example, not all of your reports look the same.

What is your process for defining what can be moved to the cloud? I’m beginning to outline the logical steps, but I’d love your feedback on other considerations. Some thoughts on how to move forward with your planning:

  • Identify the use cases for external collaboration, such as:
    • Sharing content with customers
    • Collaborating with field personnel
    • Collaborating with partners
    • Publishing content from a single location
  • Determine whether or not content needs to be synchronized between environments, or these use cases can be maintained separately
    • Define roles within each use case
    • Understand roles that span environments, use cases
  • Identify the governance, compliance, reporting, security constraints of each use case
    • Document constraints for each, look for commonalities between other workloads
    • Understand gaps between system capabilities and these constraints
    • Determine which/how much data is shared between these platforms within your use cases
  • Make some decisions based on this information — prioritize which use cases should move first, or which should stay on prem

Clearly, this is not a comprehensive list — just thoughts off the top of my head. In my mind I keep going back to a presentation that I gave with a fellow SharePoint MVP Nick Kellett (@NickKellett), CTO at StoneShare in Ottawa, on governance planning about a year ago — which is the diagram I shared at the top of this post. The model is fairly straight-forward, and applies to your cloud/hybrid planning activities: start by identifying your requirements (constraints), and then map those requirements to your cloud platform. Some things will fit, others will not. The next step is to make some decisions based on those findings, and move forward. And from there, iterate as the platform matures and as your business requirements change.

What is constraining the move to the cloud for most companies is not necessarily the technologies (although there are issues there, for sure) but in the inability to manage across these environments. Know the constraints. Recognize that hard decisions will have to be made. And then move forward.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.