This is the first post in a new series, our “Network Operations and Security Professionals’ Guide to Managing Public Cloud Journeys”, which we will release as a white paper after we complete the draft and have some time for public feedback. Special thanks to Gigamon for licensing. As always, the content is being developed completely independently using our Totally Transparent Research methodology.

Cloud computing is different, disruptive, and transformative. It has no patience for traditional practices or existing architectures. The cloud requires change, and there is a growing body of documentation on end states you should strive for, but a lack of guidance on how to get there. Cloud computing may be a journey, but it’s one with many paths to what is often an all-too-nebulous destination.

Although every individual enterprise has different goals, needs, and capabilities for their cloud transition, our experience and research has identified a series of fairly consistent patterns. You can think of moving to cloud as a mountain with a single peak, with everyone starting from the same trailhead. But this simplistic view, which all too often underlies conference presentations and tech articles, fails to capture the unique opportunities and challenges you will face. At the other extreme, we can think of the journey as involving a mountain range with innumerable peaks, starting points, and paths… and a distinct lack of accurate maps. This is the view that tends to end with hands thrown up in the air, expressions of impossibility, and analysis paralysis.

But our research and experience guide us between those extremes. Instead of a single constrained path which doesn’t reflect individual needs, or totally individualized paths which require you to build everything and learn every lesson from scratch, we see a smaller set of common options, with consistent characteristics and experiences. Think of it as starting from a few trailheads, landing on a few peaks, and only dealing with a handful of well-marked trails. These won’t cover every option, but can be a surprisingly useful way to help structure your journey, move up the hill more gracefully, and avoid falling off some REALLY sharp cliff edges.

Introducing Cloud Adoption Patterns

Cloud adoption patterns represent a consolidated set of cloud adoption journeys, compiled through discussions with hundreds of enterprises and dozens of hands-on projects. Less concrete than specific cloud controls, they are a more general way of predicting and understanding the problems facing organizations when moving to cloud, based on starting point and destination. These patterns have different implications across functional teams, and are especially useful for network operations and network security, because they tend to fairly accurately predict many architectural implications, which then map directly to management processes.

For example there are huge differences between a brand-new startup or cloud project without any existing resources, a major data center migration, and a smaller migration of key applications. Even a straight-up lift and shift migration is extremely different if it’s a one-off vs. a smaller project vs. wrapped up in a massive data center move with a hard cutoff deadline (often thanks to an hosting contract which is not being renewed). Each case migrates an existing application stack into the cloud, but the different scope and time constraints dramatically affect the actual migration process.

We’ll cover them in more detail in our next post, but the four patterns we have identified are:

  • Developer led: A development team starts building something in the cloud outside normal processes, and then pulls the rest of the organization behind them.
  • Data center transformation: An operations-led process defined by an organization planning a methodical migration out of existing data centers and into the cloud, sometimes over a decade or more.
  • Snap migration: An enterprise is forced out of some or all their data centers on a short timeline, due to contract renewals or other business drivers.
  • Native new build: The organization plans to build a new application or several completely in the cloud using native technologies.

You likely noticed we didn’t mention some common terms like “refactor” and “new to cloud”. Those are important concepts but we consider them options on the journey, not to define the journey. Our four patterns are about the drivers for your cloud migration and your desired end state.

Using Cloud Adoption Patterns

The adoption patterns offer a framework for thinking about your upcoming (or in-process) journey, and help identify both strategies for success and potential failure points. These aren’t proscriptive like the Cloud Security Maturity Model or the Cloud Controls Matrix; they won’t tell you exactly which controls to implement, but are more helpful when choosing a path, defining priorities, mapping architectures, and adjusting processes.

Going back to our mountain-climbing analogy, the cloud adoption patterns point you down the right path and help you decide which gear to take, but it’s still up to you to load your pack, know how to use the gear, plan your stops, and remember your sunscreen. These patterns represent a set of characteristics we consistently see based on how organizations move to cloud. Any individual organization might experience multiple patterns across different projects. For example a single project might behave more like a startup, even while you concurrently run a larger data center migration.

Our next post will detail the patterns with defining characteristics. You can use it to determine your overall organizational journey, as well as to plan out individual projects with their own characteristics. To help you better internalize these patterns, we will offer fictional examples based on real experiences and projects. Once you know which path you are on, our final sections will include top-line recommendations for network operations and security, and tie back to our examples to show how they play out in real life. We will also highlight the most common pitfalls and their potential consequences.

This research should help you better understand what approaches will work best for your project in your organization. We are focusing this first round on networking, but future work will build on this basis to cover additional operational areas.

Cloud migrations can be tough and confusing. Nothing lets you skip over the hard work, but learning the lessons of those who have already climbed the mountain can save costs, reduce frustration, and increase your odds for success.