Migration to cloud: It is all about workloads

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Three years ago, when everybody started talking about cloud computing, every application and system seemed to be a good candidate to be migrated to the cloud. It was a time when few really understood the implications of migrating business applications and data to the cloud… or maybe the hype of cloud computing eclipsed any possible drawback.

At that time, IBM introduced the concept of workloads in cloud discussions. According to IBM, some workloads were ready for migration to cloud while other workloads were not good candidates for migration yet. It took a while before the majority of cloud providers started making this distinction too. After some years of migrating workloads to cloud computing environments, today a consensus seems to be that workloads “matter.”

The main characteristics that a workload must exhibit to be a good candidate for cloud computing are:

  • Fluctuating demand: When a workload has a stable and predictable demand, having dedicated and properly sized infrastructure for that workload is probably more efficient than paying hourly charges for VMs in a public cloud or building and using a private and automated cloud.
  • Standard: Efficiencies in cloud computing are achieved thanks to virtualization and automation. Automation is only cost-effective if there is a limited set of features (in SaaS solutions) or pieces of software (in IaaS in PaaS solutions) available in the catalog.
  • Independent: If a workload requires heavy communications with other systems, migration of that workload alone to a public cloud environment might affect performance negatively because of issues with latency and bandwidth between the data center and the public cloud environment. Although bandwidth can always be increased, latency is more difficult to reduce below a minimum threshold unless your 1’s and 0’s can travel faster than light (!).
  • Non-critical: Workloads with very high demanding requirements (for example, availability, response time, recovery time objective, recovery point objective and security) might not be ready to be hosted in public clouds yet. Service levels offered by public clouds do not usually meet the requirements of critical workloads.

Based on these criteria, some specific workloads seem to be better prepared to be migrated to cloud computing than others. Let’s review some of them:

  • Collaboration is usually regarded as having a big affinity with private and, specially, public clouds because demand is fluctuating (virtual collaboration spaces are created and terminated frequently as projects start and finish), standard (the same features are valid for every project or task force: groups, activities, web meetings, messaging, and others), independent (apart from integration with corporate directory, integration with other systems is not frequently required), and non-critical (virtual collaboration is not usually regarded as a critical workload). This is why many companies have offered collaboration cloud services from the beginning of the cloud era: Google Apps for Business, Microsoft Business Productivity Online, IBM LotusLive and others.
  • Development and Test environments are usually considered as good candidates for private and public cloud because demand is fluctuating (development and test environments are required by developers and testers often), standard (as long as the organization has standards in place for infrastructure and software), independent (these environments are usually isolated from production systems), and non-critical (for obvious reasons because these are not production environments).
  • Virtual desktops are regarded as good candidates for private and public clouds because demand is fluctuating (number of users can vary according to, for example, time shifts), standard (as longs as the organization has standard PC images), independent (communication between PCs and servers is usually light) and non-critical (even if PCs are critical, the levels of availability, security, or recoverability offered by a physical PC are much lower than a virtual desktop)

However, workloads that manage sensitive data, highly customized, regulation-sensitive, involving complex transactions, or where virtualization is not supported by third-party providers are not considered as good candidates. A good example could be a core banking application.

The following picture, extracted from IBM presentations on cloud computing, shows the affinity of various types of workloads to cloud computing. In fact, IBM performs consulting services to assist customers in choosing the right workloads to be migrated to cloud computing and preparing the business case: strategy and design services for a cloud infrastructure.

Do you see other workloads as very good candidates for migration to cloud computing? Have you found other workloads that are not ready for migration yet? Please add your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

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