Every IT shop has a “tool chain” – all of the software other than the OS and the application that fills in the gaps and keeps everything running. This includes solutions for monitoring the application, data protection, software development, release management, provisioning and de-provisioning resources and more. These tools build up over time, often evolving from homemade solutions to commercially available software as the company grows.
The cloud presents another inflection point: a new way to manage systems and applications. When a company is considering moving applications to the cloud, IT and application development teams should take the opportunity to reevaluate their tool chain. Are their existing solutions still the right fit in this new cloud-based world, or are there better alternatives available? Here is a process for making that decision, and some important questions to consider when assessing whether a change is in an organization’s best interests.
Step One: Take Inventory of the Current Tool Chain
First, IT teams should perform a full inventory of their current stack to ensure they don’t overlook anything. This audit should include the following areas:
- Provisioning tools (like Ansible or Terraform).
- Identity and access management (IAM) solutions that allow IT to restrict access to servers, resources and software to only relevant users.
- Development tools including IDEs, continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), source control and more.
- Data protection, high availability, disaster recovery and backup software.
- Monitoring and auditing software (like Datadog).
Step Two: Assess How Well Each Tool is Meeting IT’s Needs
Next, consider how well each product is meeting IT’s needs now, and how those needs will change as workloads move to the cloud. The first and most important question: is the tool and/or version you’re on still supported by the vendor? Changes like this migration to the cloud are rare, so the likelihood that one or more products are no longer supported is higher than one might think. Second, consider the licensing terms of the software and whether they allow for its use in the cloud. For instance, some tools are licensed to a specific physical server and some vendors require their hardware to be owned by the same entity which holds the license. Neither of these scenarios work well in the cloud. Third, will the application be managed in the same way after the migration? The cloud typically removes constraints; it offers nearly unlimited compute and storage, dynamic workloads, new APIs and multiple regions around the world. IT teams may want to take advantage of these capabilities by moving to a cloud-based tool (replacing an on-premises application log reporting solution, for example), or they may want to keep management as consistent as possible to minimize the amount of retraining required for employees.
Don’t forget to consider non-technical arguments. Is the team happy and productive with the current solution, or do they feel forced to use it? Is it meeting the business needs of the organization? Will the change create more work in the short term? These reasons aren’t enough to keep a tool on their own, but they should be part of the discussion.
Step Three: Create a Map of Alternatives
Next, look at the potential alternatives to the tools that may need to be replaced. This can be a good opportunity to consolidate, so start by looking at what other teams in the organization are already using in the destination cloud. The most common decision IT must make here is whether to switch to a cloud-based tool (either one offered by their cloud vendor or a separate SaaS product). These typically offer pay-as-you-go licensing and are usually easier to scale up or down, move workloads around and to expand to other regions. Licensing for legacy vendors varies widely; some now offer consumption-based options to compete with the cloud, while some are sticking with perpetual licenses. These factors may make a cloud-based tool more or less attractive for specific companies based on their needs. Last, consider if making a change would allow the IT team to expand their skill set. For engineers that like learning new things, adding new products could actually increase satisfaction and retention because it gives them a chance to learn something new.
Step Four: Talk to Existing Tool Vendors
Even if a different option seems like the better choice, it always pays to check in with the current vendor and give them a chance to keep your business. It’s possible they may offer more flexible terms to keep you as a customer. The opposite is also possible; some vendors won’t budge on their licensing because they see the cloud as a threat. Even if a vendor conversation doesn’t change what they are willing to offer, it will usually reveal useful insight about how they approach their customers.
Step Five: Create a Plan for Each Tool
Based on the information gathered in the last four steps, it is time to decide what to do with each tool and make a plan for each transition. Where necessary, note products that will need to be replaced soon, ones where more research is required, and compile any other useful information learned during the process so that the larger IT team can access it. Also consider if teams will need training, if internal documentation or playbooks need to be updated, and how new tools will plug into existing authorization/authentication solutions. Each change will also need a migration plan of some kind that details how and when the organization will move from the old product to the new one, what scripts will need to be rewritten and what to do with historical data like log files from the old product.
Cloud-based tools won’t be a fit for everyone, but their flexibility, potential cost savings and ease of scalability shouldn’t be underestimated. While no one is eager to add more work to a cloud migration project, taking the time to go through this process could uncover useful new options that better fit the new cloud model that the business is moving toward.