We are fast approaching a time when most companies will be either cloud-first or cloud-only. The results of a recent survey reveal the extent to which cloud is now a business essential, with 92% of organizations adopting public cloud, and 75% adopting private cloud.

In addition to benefits such as lower operating costs, improved time to market, and increased flexibility, the cloud’s capacity for elastic scalability offers a particular advantage for any organization with a regularly accessed database. When an application is migrated to the cloud, the relevant database that serves it should be migrated along with it. This ensures that the data resides in close proximity to the application, and allows the company to optimize its service performance, and scale the database up or down according to demand. It makes little technical or strategic sense, though, to migrate an application in isolation, without its associated database, and would therefore be best avoided.

Overcoming Challenges

Despite the cloud’s widely reported benefits, the actual process of lifting-and-shifting applications and their respective databases is not necessarily straightforward; most companies will tend to underestimate its challenges. These challenges can include compatibility issues, availability of specific database features, and security functionality, such as encryption, data masking, and removing personally identifiable information.

Such challenges can be overcome by only initially migrating those applications and databases which are not mission critical; those which will have only minimal impact on an organization’s business operations, revenue and customers, and which require lower levels of security. After all, if a customer-facing application fails to perform appropriately, it could have dire consequences on an organization’s reputation, and its bottom line.

A business should therefore move its routine back-office functions to the cloud, for example, long before its customer database. A strategic approach such as this will also help to mitigate the additional issue of downtime often required by the migration process; the first applications and databases to be moved should be those that can afford a few hours’ downtime.

To further minimize the risk of disruption that can arise due to the complexity of the environment, the entire database schema should not be migrated into the cloud at once, but should instead be applied in parts. Indeed, migration can be greatly aided by the schema, data tables, and primary keys created by database conversion tools offered by large cloud providers such as AWS and Azure.

It’s also worth deploying security assurance tools into the cloud to provide visibility into the effectiveness of the cloud provider’s security controls, and allow the entire environment to be monitored and protected.

Strategic Approach

Before an organization moves its databases to the cloud, it’s important to ensure that the move is part of an overarching cloud migration plan and directly linked to the organization’s application migration strategies. This can be achieved by adopting one of two approaches: refactoring or lift-and-shift.

Companies taking the first approach, and refactoring an application to run natively in the cloud, are likely to also update the database schema, and make the changes to the database engine necessary to optimize performance. This approach can often be very time-consuming, however, making lift-and-shift a more viable option.

Successfully lifting-and-shifting an application requires some groundwork to be undertaken before beginning the migration process. Organizations must understand the overall schema of their on-premises database, for example, and scope the size of existing databases, including the number of large tables and objects they contain. In addition, they should assess how compatible their on-premises databases are with their cloud provider’s, and optimize the performance of the database on-premises.

Regardless of which approach it takes, it’s also important for an organization to explore any updates that may be required if switching to a new engine, and ensure that they fully understand the details around their cloud provider’s networking, permissions, roles, and accounts. Only once all of this has been completed should the migration process begin.

Visibility and Assurance

Once the database has been migrated, the next priority is to assure the performance and security of the application.

To ensure the successful and secure performance of a database requires businesses to continuously monitor the load, latency and errors associated with queries and transactions between the application and the database. Complete visibility is required into the application, cloud infrastructure, including compute, network, database and storage, and all their respective interdependencies. This visibility should include shared services, such as DNS and LDAP (or Active Directory), without which applications may fail to operate or underperform.

Additionally it should encompass hybrid deployments, as applications could be spread across on-prem, as well as multiple clouds, and to assure the ‘entire’ application stack, visibility without borders will be required. Such visibility will enable an organization to ensure application performance and optimize its mean time to repair, allowing it to get ahead of any issue. Achieving this visibility requires smart data, derived from wire data that is collected, prepared and organized at the collection point and optimized for analytics at the highest quality and speed. Extracting key metrics and displaying them along with service interdependencies in dashboards, alerts and simple workflows, can provide businesses with the visibility they need to cut through the complexity of the cloud and gain deep insight into application performance and security to ensure a successful migration.

The cloud will often be the driving force behind an organization’s digital transformation, particularly given its ability to offer businesses of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy a range of benefits, from enhanced efficiency and agility, to greater scalability and flexibility. But, while migrating certain applications and their respective databases to the cloud can definitely be beneficial, it’s worth noting that an organization’s most precious assets, such as its confidential data, should always remain on-premises. 

Businesses must remember that successful cloud-based disruption is not just about delivering transformation, it’s about delivering it well. In an increasingly connected world, ensuring the quality of the enterprise service delivery infrastructure, the applications that utilize it, and all their respective interdependencies is now a mission-critical business activity.