5 Best Practices for CloudOps Success
by Scott Reece, on Nov 8, 2019 3:30:00 PM
Many organizations are transitioning away from a self-managed infrastructure to a cloud-based solution, which can introduce concerns over cost, security, and ease-of-migration. Without properly making the jump to a cloud infrastructure, your company risks downtime and security breaches, as well as high financial costs. To help you make the transition, we’ve assembled five best practices for CloudOps success.
What is CloudOps, and What Value Does It Bring?
Many organizations now choose the cloud as a default infrastructure platform without fully understanding its benefits or attributes. CloudOps (“Cloud Operations”) aims to maximize those benefits by formally documenting procedures for operating on a cloud-based system.
Instant scalability is often the chief reason cited for using cloud infrastructure. But this often fails to address some of the underlying challenges to that scalability. For example, scalability goes beyond just adding more servers to adjust to new load; it also must take into account the fact that to provide a low-latency experience for user’s servers will be distributed across the globe. And those dispersed servers must all be managed consistently.
Metered cost is another factor to consider for CloudOps. A huge benefit to organizations using the cloud is that costs are only incurred when servers are actually being used. However, to maximize this benefit, organizations must have a way to quickly add and reduce the amount of infrastructure running, depending on the load. An organization that plans and stands up servers for a maximum user-load occurring only 5 days a month still pays for that load the remaining 25 days of the month.
Having an automated and adaptive system to add or reduce the amount of infrastructure available saves an organization metered cost, without manual effort or poor performance. Here are five best practices to transition to CloudOps at your organization.
1. Create a Cloud Migration Strategy
Proper preparation before migration eliminates costly mistakes and oversights. Putting together a formal cloud migration strategy before making any changes gets you to think critically about what should be changed before you take action. Here are some tips practices to get you started:
- Create a cloud checklist – Your Operations team already knows the requirements and challenges specific to your organization, all of which need to be written down before a migration is considered. Not every challenge can be resolved, but every requirement should be completely understood and itemized so that any migration ensures business needs are continually met.
- Decide what solution is right for you: There are three types of cloud solutions: public, private, and hybrid. As public suggests, everything is controlled off-site and via the Internet. Public clouds can be the easiest solution to get started with, but they come with higher risks for security vulnerabilities. Private cloud solutions are an entirely private and self-controlled network. With private clouds, you can completely control the security of your systems. Hybrid clouds are a mix of public and private, striking a balance between ease of use/scaling and security.
- Communication and planning: Migrating to the cloud will affect your users, and for in-house applications, it’s likely these users will be non-technical. Communicating how the move will benefit them and providing any new training resources will minimize any user push-back and support tickets. Along with communicating, planning when and how to migrate should ensure minimum down-time and frustration from a user’s perspective. For example, migrating in the middle of a Tuesday and shutting down systems while the new software is populated with data (instead of late at night when traffic is low) will leave end users unhappy and disgruntled.
- Establish security: Migrating to the cloud provides many benefits, but no matter how it’s done it also increases opportunities for security failures. Any cloud provider chosen should have resources to ensure that your cloud architecture is in compliance with any needed regulations (like HIPPA, SOX, etc.). However, you must also consider secure storage and migration. Only those who need access to data should be granted access on an individual basis. This, along with data encryption, will reduce the number of access points to your data, which will minimize chances that a bad actor can get sensitive information.
- Resource management: The Operational resources needed for a cloud environment don’t translate 100% with self-managed infrastructure management. An obvious example is that physical servers, server rooms, electric requirements, battery back-ups, etc. don’t require maintenance from their original producer. This is often a significant savings. However, the skills needed to maintain physical servers may not translate into maintaining cloud servers. Staff will now need to work directly with cloud vendors to troubleshoot issues, to ensure compliance, and to maintain proper availability. New skills for the cloud will need to be learned or brought into the organization.
2. Completely Understand Your Own Networks and Infrastructure
Before any migration to the cloud, your organization needs to complete a full map of current infrastructure and networks. This full mapping will allow you to better understand how the different systems and data need to work to function and deliver value. Each cloud solution provider has unique attributes, and some may be a better fit for your needs than others.
You will certainly need to change some of the ways the infrastructure is defined and interacts with other parts but mapping out the entire system and parts allows for better understanding of why critical pieces interact how they do. With the system map, cloud solution providers will have a better understanding of your needs and be able to better assist you in the migration.
By understanding your current systems, you not only are able to better compare cloud solution providers, you also open the possibility of having a multiple-provider strategy. Using a single provider may be an easier option, but by implementing multiple cloud solutions, you can get more benefits of different systems and avoid future risk associated with leaving a specific cloud solution because of policy or price.
3. Build a “Minimum Viable” Cloud
When first migrating to the cloud or moving from one cloud solution provider to another, setting up a minimally viable cloud solution is often the best first step. It not only sets up a working proof-of-concept for Operations and users, but it also gives specific insight to the Operations team about individual cloud solution providers. Each provider is different and will have pluses and minuses for organizations. A minimum viable cloud should include the following:
- Central governing for security and compliance: The ability to have as-needed infrastructure across the globe isn’t a benefit if it can’t be managed from a single location. A centralized management location allows for rules, procedures, and logging required to ensure security and compliance. This location isn’t a physical location, but rather a singular interface that can control what is needed. The more services and dashboards to maintain increases vulnerabilities and the desire to cut corners.
- Ability to scale and manage complexity: A chief advantage of using the cloud is that it allows for quickly adding more resources as needed. In order to achieve this advantage, even complex set-ups should be quickly available—and just as quickly shut down. If a cloud solution does not provide this ease of use, you lose a significant advantage.
- Deliver reliable and resilient instances: Aside from being quickly available, cloud infrastructure should be stable for end-users and safe from malicious attacks. Infrastructure that is isn’t secure invites breaches and puts data at risk. And infrastructure that isn’t stable and reliable creates unease and a poor experience from users.
- Ability to integrate with necessary tools and services: Every application moved to a cloud instance will have its own set of requirements and supporting architecture. Any service or data being used to support that application must defined and workability ensured. A cloud migration that reduces functionality of an application isn’t a real solution.
- Ability to use Infrastructure as Code: The practice of storing configuration and other data as code enables scalability, reliability, and security. Once a server definition and configuration has been set and is known to be of good quality, it is quickly re-usable for other servers and can be checked to ensure that server configurations don’t drift from their expected definitions. If not implemented as part of a minimum viable cloud, Infrastructure as Code must be considered for growth before confirming the viability of that solution.
4. Close the Cloud Security and Governance Gap
Moving or taking full advantage of a cloud solution means taking a keen look at your security, compliance, and data governance needs. For some, these may be dictated by regulations; for others, while not required by law, best-practices still apply.
- Visibility: It’s essential that Operations knows which clouds are actually being used in an organization. The amount of services and platforms that are quickly and easily available can mean the organization is relying on systems that haven’t been fully vetted or are being used for legacy reasons, rather than because they remain the best solution.
- Data security and ownership: Every cloud solution provider has different terms, conditions, SLAs, and features, and some will even define industry jargon differently. Implementing a cloud solution does not guarantee security or data ownership, as it is often still on the consumer to ensure they are following best practices for security and availability.
- Compliance: For those in regulated industries, compliance rules are often dictated externally. Implementing regulations, whether for compliance or for robust security, comes down to establishing rules about who can access data, how data is kept/backed up, and recording events for auditing. Even for non-regulated industries, establishing these rules and regulations adds not only security but also continuity to an organization by making sure only those who can make changes make them and that all changes are logged for future needs.
- Threat Prevention: The accessible nature of the cloud is a double-edged sword. While it can be accessed and maintained from anywhere, it can be accessed from anywhere. Users can log in remotely, from non-compliant devices (like smart phones), and changes can be implemented with very little oversight. These challenges weren’t a consideration with self-managed servers, but they are essential to consider when migrating to any cloud solution and defining appropriate threat-prevention rules.
5. Automate Public Cloud Security
Security is often the first argument people will make against a cloud solution. However, there are many tools and practices that make cloud security maintainable, and many tools are automated to simplify the challenge of maintaining security.
Select the right tools for your environments that will help monitor, protect, and notify you of a security incident. There’s a host of tools you can use, but some specific categories to include are malicious code detection, network intrusion, vulnerability scanning, performance measuring, and configuration monitoring.
Also, make server remediation a built-in requirement. Easy server remediation allows any misconfigured infrastructure or infrastructure containing unauthorized changes to be fixed as soon as it is detected. A tool like Otter monitors configuration drift and sends notification when it detects drift. It can be configured to auto-remediate configurations, or the process can be manual. With server remediation as a requirement, you minimize the impact of problems caused by drift and reduce or eliminate downtime.
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