Problem statement

Our firm was being challenged by a number of factors as it pertained to our IT infrastructure.  The investment management landscape has been rapidly changing as it pertained to new investment strategies, compliance and regulations, investment and data modeling, evaluating sales opportunities, engaging our existing customers and overall speed to market.  Many software vendors have moved to a cloud development model, allowing them to do rapid deployment for their clients.  Given our IT infrastructure environment we often had to perform time-consuming and expensive updates in our environment in order to take advantage of these vendors enhanced capabilities.  This consistently impacted our ability to deliver timely solutions to the market.   

Solution

We used these challenges as an opportunity to evaluate what we wanted our future state IT infrastructure to look like and determined our best way forward was to fully embrace a migration to a cloud-based IT infrastructure.

Moving our infrastructure to the cloud reduces our physical footprint, supports simplification and rapid innovation and scale, facilitates software and hardware currency and reduces key person risk.  Another advantage is that infrastructure costs transition from capital cost (Capex) to operational cost (Opex), based on overall consumption.  There are human capital implications as transformation reduces the need for heritage server, network and desk top personnel.  However, new roles to manage cloud services and the underlying vendor relationships are part of the end state operating model.

We decided to implement our cloud transformation through a series of migrations of existing capabilities.  We took this approach in order to minimize implementation risk and to manage costs during the transition.  We carefully coordinated the depreciation of large swaths of our hardware in order to minimize large financial write-offs.  Our approach was a multi-year implementation consisting of the following steps:

  • Foundational upgrades – Windows 10, Server Virtualization, Network upgrades, etc.
  • Movement of disaster recovery facility to a third-party provider
  • Migration to Office 365
  • Migration of disaster recovery to Microsoft Azure (IAAS)
  • Migration of primary datacenter to Azure (IAAS)

Microsoft was chosen as our cloud platform for a number of reasons, including the depth of existing relationship, ease of use, integrated PAAS and IAAS components, .NET compatibility and leadership in the Gartner magic quadrant.  Depending on the existing application mix, other providers could be a viable alternative.

During the time of the infrastructure migrations, we also transitioned as many in-house applications to vendor supported applications as possible.  These transitions allowed us to focus application resources on proprietary systems which could provide a competitive advantage.  There are many other benefits, including leveraging vendor/user base experience, ease of upgrades and reduction of key person dependence.  Vendor system implementations advanced our cloud usage via use of managed services, Software As A Service (SAAS), Platform As A Service (PAAS) and Infrastructure As A Service (IAAS) offerings, which lowered the in-house footprint.  The in-house applications that remain are being converted to Microsoft Platform As A Service structures via our application architecture, which was modified to enable cloud migrations.

Cloud Models

For start-up operations, you may be able to implement a completely outsourced environment via a public cloud offering.  Most companies will have some amount of legacy applications and specialized requirements, which will result in a hybrid model with a mixture of in-house, private and public cloud offerings.  The hybrid model was utilized in the implementation which is documented in this analysis.

Proof of Concept

Prior to our decision to implement cloud platforms, we built a proof of concept (POC) to model our end state environment.  POCs are also helpful prior to migrations.  Models can’t anticipate all possible issues but they will give you more knowledge about the challenges you may face as follows:

  • Cloud provider support
  • Performance comparisons with existing applications and possible latency impacts
  • Network challenges
  • Security model requirements
  • Application migration challenges
  • Human capital skill requirements

Benefits of Cloud Migration

Cloud platforms are constantly being improved with new offerings coming out every day.  Therefore, cloud optimization will be an on-going effort, particularly around security and integration. However, we realized the following benefits as we completed phases of the cloud migration.

  • Stable operational costs, while increasing the effectiveness of IT processes
  • Scalable, on demand infrastructure resources to handle increased and uneven volume requirements
  • Rapid application development and deployment
  • Enhanced remote access capabilities
  • Enhanced disaster recovery capabilities without duplicating infrastructure resources and costs
  • Reduced complexity and cost for infrastructure upgrades
  • Increased transparency and allocation capabilities for infrastructure costs
  • Capex to Opex transition, with usage based, predictable cost models

Risks of Cloud Migrations

No solution is perfect for every situation and cloud platforms are not a panacea.  You need to consider potential risks or drawbacks of cloud platforms and migrations as follows:

  • Infrastructure transitions can be complex, time consuming and costly.  There is an investment needed to realize the benefits listed above.
  • Compliance, legal and regulatory requirements must be carefully considered as you determine what information can be stored in the cloud and in what form and location
  • Some applications may experience additional time latency when accessed on a cloud platform
  • Applications and application architectures require some amount of modification to enable cloud platform support.  This modification can be complex and time consuming.
  • There is less control when debugging performance issues
  • Cloud platforms can complicate the security model due to multiple access paths
  • Human capital has to be carefully managed during the transformation journey