Navigating the Fog of….the Cloud

I woke up yesterday to some fog in my neighborhood here in Utah Valley (south of Salt Lake City), which is something I really miss about living in Washington State…and before that, the San Francisco Bay Area. Having lived in the Seattle area for just over 12 years (and In California for more than 30 years before that) with its very wet climate, it was not surprising to wake up on any given day to see a thick fog engulfing my neighborhood or the valley down below. For those who commute, it is not generally something you can avoid. Rather, it is something you want to navigate through thoughtfully. Whenever I drive through the fog, I am always carefully aware of my speed, the road conditions, and the presence of other drivers in front and behind me. These small pieces of information, most of which I capture and process instinctively, help me to navigate through what can be very adverse conditions.

Visibility is also the key to safe travels through an increasingly cloud-centered IT technology landscape. With the increase in cloud adoption, being able to quickly gather relevant data and identify risks and opportunities becomes imperative. Without visibility into how your solutions are performing, we could, in all intents and purposes, become lost or even crash.

The fundamental nature of how we collaborate has evolved. From enterprises to service providers, companies are trying to figure out their path forward in the cloud. Many of the expensive, transactional systems with which we shared data in the past — from the Value Added Networks (VANs) and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards, to the manual and paper-based processes that drove our businesses — these old technologies have been displaced by web-based, service-oriented architectures and platforms. The cost of running IT has moved from CAPEX to OPEX budgets, and the direction of technology has largely shifted to the front of the office, where business users select from an a la carte menu of online services, and manage almost every aspect of what they consume.

However, just because technology is changing rapidly does not necessarily mean that the transition is a clear, unobstructed road ahead. Because you no longer manage your servers directly, and the people who manage your collaboration platforms may be located somewhere else in the world, the need for visibility into how your data and intellectual property are being managed becomes even more business critical. How much visibility you need depends on the complexity of your solutions. Good governance is about having the right level of data and visibility, as well as the ability to manage and control the risks you identify.

Even if your plan is to reduce your enterprise collaboration requirements, simplifying what is to be moved to and managed within the cloud, there are number of factors you need to consider about each of the key workloads you are considering for the cloud:

Information Architecture

Depending on the workloads you are moving to the cloud, something to consider is maintaining visibility into your Information Architecture and the metadata across all environments. This is especially critical if migrating a platform such as SharePoint to a hybrid model or to the cloud — make sure your planning takes into account how you will manage metadata assignment, content types, site templates, web parts, and any other customizations you may have in place on premises, and that your workflow and other automated solutions (like search) may rely on.

Permissions

Develop a transition plan to open up permissions to the new cloud environment, and to remove same permissions from the former environment. Most security issues, and problems related to duplicate content being created or edited across multiple systems, can be managed through permissions governance. This is especially critical if managing permissions across both on-premises and online environments (hybrid), as all governance policies must consider updates to on prem only, cloud only, and across both environments.

Storage

Moving to a new platform presents an opportunity to get a good view at what is being stored — and to clean house. As you move to the cloud, however, it is more likely that data will be duplicated across systems. Keep track of storage usage across all content stores and site collections, taking advantage of any reporting tools that can provide visibility into, and comparisons between, your environments to minimize data loss, manage duplication, and to maintain capacity limitations.

Auditing and Compliance Requirements

Depending on your industry or regulatory requirements (or possibly customer service level agreements), you may have strict auditing and compliance needs. As you move to the cloud, pay close attention to the monitoring capability of your selected platforms. You may need to provide detailed reports that examine everything from document and user activity, .aspx hits, and audit log activity to see what is being accessed and by whom. Understand the difference in auditing and compliance capabilities between on prem and online, and how you will normalize that data across the two if managing hybrid solutions.

Collaboration and Communication Monitoring

As more and more organizations leverage collaboration and communication technologies as the glue to bind their geographically-dispersed teams, the need for stronger monitoring will only increase. While the secret to success in these tools is to not inhibit use through strict governance policies and other usage hurdles, it may be important for you to have visibility over who is commenting and how users are interacting, helping your organization to determine just how much teams are connecting and communicating, which groups or end users are more engaged, and therefore how well collaboration is achieved. Monitoring should be primarily about measuring the overall success of the platform rather than any single KPI, helping you to better understand the return on investment of these platforms.

Management Policies and Procedures

Finally, you’ll want to understand how your established governance policies and procedures span the various on prem, online, and hybrid systems, allowing your organizations to orchestrate and automate complex preventive and responsive actions — both during the transition to the cloud, and on an ongoing basis.

 

There is a lot to think about in the cloud. The cloud may move the physical infrastructure out of your back room, but how your various cloud-components interact, and whether these solutions perform well, remain. The key is to maintain some degree of visibility — understanding which data and workloads have moved, which remain on premises, and which sit in between both worlds as short or long-term hybrid workloads. My advice is to focus first on mature solutions,  minimizing risks by concentrating on those workloads which easily migrate to the cloud (such as email). As you build confidence, you can then investigate new capabilities and cloud solutions not already on premises, such as cloud-based CRM or communications platforms, thus minimizing the cost of trying these new solutions (pilot first, expand the service as it makes sense).

Once mature workloads have been moved, and new functionality is being piloting, you should then focus on your long-term strategies for moving more complex, difficult workloads to the cloud, or at least to hybrid cloud models. Realize that hybrid environments will be around for some time, and the move for many companies will be incremental. It’s all about risk management, and maintaining the right level of visibility and control over your move to the cloud.

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.