Multi-cloud is emerging as a strategy for many organizations looking to innovate and build a competitive edge. However, just because “everyone is doing it” doesn’t mean they’re doing it right. Many enterprises are failing to prepare a cloud exit strategy as part of their cloud-migration planning. This risks disastrous results for their businesses, including prolonged downtime, decreased productivity — even data loss — should they need to change their cloud strategy or provider.
In this abridged version of a series of previously published articles, I will explore the concept of a cloud exit plan, including the challenges and strategic decisions you must make when first deploying an application to the public cloud and how one might make use of an exit plan, if one is ever required.
What is a cloud exit strategy?
What if your organization had to either reduce its cloud footprint or exit a public cloud provider altogether? Would you have a smooth transition to a new provider or datacenter? Or would your organization have to contend with all of the same (and/or additional) challenges they faced when you first ventured to the cloud?
For reasons of corporate governance or compliance, many organizations are now realizing they need a cloud exit strategy, even for applications that run in global providers, such as Microsoft Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud. Even if your organization never actually moves cloud workloads back on premises (a process known as cloud repatriation) an exit strategy can guide negotiations with providers and influence application design. Many organizations fear having to live with an inability to negotiate the best prices from a cloud provider, who is well aware that your applications have a significant dependency on their services.
The concept of “cloud exit” is simple. Some refer to it as a “reverse migration,” but simply put, a cloud exit strategy is exactly what it sounds like: a corporate plan developed to ensure that the cloud services that support business activities can be replaced or replicated efficiently, without significant disruption.
When might you need a cloud exit strategy?
There are several reasons why an organization might consider a cloud exit strategy. First, having such a plan already in place can help a business maintain a higher level of business continuity and reliability by protecting against recurring outages. While most public cloud providers deliver exceptional uptime on reliable services, even the big players in the market have experienced significant outages in recent years. If this continues to be the case moving forward, an organization would either have to consider changing vendors, building a disaster-recovery solution between public clouds, or leveraging multiple diverse cloud endpoints to achieve higher levels of availability.
The second reason organizations might consider developing a cloud exit strategy is driven by the need to access innovation that can help the business better respond to changing market opportunities. Multi-cloud is all about exploiting the unique capabilities of different clouds, rather than going all-in with a single cloud vendor. For example, an organization might want to leverage new cutting-edge technology being offered by a cloud provider they are not currently using. Alternatively, a cloud provider might sunset, or no longer support, a particular application or service, leaving the application team looking for a replacement solution.
Legal requirements and regulations can also be a key driver for a cloud exit strategy. For example, data residency requirements across Europe are increasing. The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets out rules on how personal identification information must be handled for EU residents. If your current provider is hosting this type of data in locations prohibited by GDPR, your organization will need a plan to move that data to another provider, because you are considered the owner of the data. That means that you — not the cloud provider — are responsible for meeting compliance mandates.
Finally, having a well-planned cloud exit strategy alleviates the pressures of vendor lock-in. Having a ready-to-go cloud exit strategy lets you take advantage of better pricing and more attractive discounts by giving you more leverage in financial negotiations.
A cloud exit plan shouldn’t be an afterthought
A business should form a clear cloud exit strategy during its initial cloud design and planning phases. It should be considered holistically and should cover the entire application portfolio that is targeted for migration. If your organization has not adopted this proactive approach, then, in most cases, each migration decision you’ve made will need to be revisited to ensure that a cloud exit plan exists and reflects the changing landscape of cloud services, as well as ever-evolving business requirements.
Stakeholder management is also key when constructing a cloud exit strategy. Different viewpoints — such as those from application owners, legal, and data governance — will provide additional considerations, such as where data is physically stored and how those choices impact compliance requirements might be a cause for concern.
The cloud exit plan should be comprehensive and anticipate multiple scenarios that might occur at the end of a business relationship with a cloud provider. The plan should consider the role of third parties, ISVs, and solution integrators and might also include scenarios such as data breaches or migration to a competitor’s public cloud. It should account for the cost and time required for sourcing new vendors. This process might include RFP phases, vendor relationship management, and expenses associated with retraining cloud operations and application development teams.
PaaS and SaaS complexity
It is noteworthy to highlight here that avoiding vendor lock-in can be addressed through well-architected solutions and designing applications to be more cloud-agnostic, making them and their data more portable. Nevertheless, applications leveraging a cloud provider’s PaaS offering will need a cloud exit plan that assesses the effort required to rebuild those services, either within a different cloud-provider environment or on premises. In many cases, moving these apps will require significant levels of development work.
SaaS solutions, when compared to IaaS and PaaS, provide little to no visibility into the underlying platform. This lack of visibility creates additional challenges when it comes to the development of a cloud exit strategy. For instance, SaaS data management and the question of where it resides is a huge issue for many organizations. Stakeholders will need to define the datasets the business might need to extract or transfer and how that might be converted and/or ported into a new SaaS or on-premises application. The relevant stakeholders will also need to understand what the SaaS vendor’s specific responsibilities are related to destroying data and erasing all metadata from their services.
A hybrid multi-cloud makes exit (and entry) strategies easier
Multi-cloud is a strategy (or, in some cases, a philosophy) wherein an organization deliberately exploits the unique capabilities of different clouds, rather than going all-in with a single cloud provider. Multi-cloud is about being able to secure and operate the best mix of cloud services, ranging from IaaS to SaaS, to meet your specific business needs. For instance, Google Cloud might be used for data analytics and Microsoft Azure for data warehousing, whereas an on-premises private cloud might be used to host traditional line-of-business applications and databases, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Fig. 1 Multi-cloud solution example
Hybrid cloud refers to a single consistent solution that spans two or more different cloud environments, often where the on-premises private cloud is connected to one or more public clouds. However, the key to the hybrid cloud model is application and data portability, which is one of the most challenging issues when it comes to pairing private and public cloud solutions. For this reason, the first step in any hybrid cloud strategy should be the deployment of a model that will support this critical functionality. By its very nature, the ability to seamlessly migrate workloads and their respective applications across public and private clouds is a key step that will support any cloud exit strategy.
VMware’s approach to hybrid multi-cloud
Let’s look at a common VMware hybrid cloud deployment model with a VMware Cloud Foundation-based private cloud and a software-defined datacenter (SDDC) as a service using VMware Cloud on AWS, as illustrated in Figure 2. In this scenario, an application can be deployed to either the public cloud provider (VMware Cloud on AWS) or to an on-premises datacenter. Either way, this application can be migrated with zero downtime, while maintaining consistent operational support.
Figure 2: Hybrid cloud approach with VMware Cloud on AWS
In this scenario, given that the necessary portability functionality is provided between clouds, the operators have complete control across a single ubiquitous platform, as shown in Figure 2.
This architectural model represents the ultimate cloud exit strategy. Its ability to host applications that are ready to run on VMware Cloud Foundation on any major public cloud — whether it is Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, Oracle Cloud, IBM Cloud, AliCloud, or one of the 4,000 VMware cloud provider partners across the globe — means that this model supports a rich set of exit strategies. This architecture allows data and applications to be truly portable, allowing the organization to leverage a common administrative skillset and operational toolset across all the cloud environments involved.
In this multi-cloud world, each public cloud provider remains unique and proprietary above the IaaS layer. At the IaaS layer, VMWare’s “Any Cloud, One Platform” solution provides a consistent VMware SDDC platform that can run across all of the major public cloud providers. This scenario illustrates the foundation of a tested and validated cloud exit strategy in a well-architected and well-deployed hybrid multi-cloud model.
Leveraging a consistent hybrid multi-cloud environment can provide a great vehicle for supporting workload portability and, consequently, a well-tested, validated cloud exit strategy straight out of the box. Businesses also gain other benefits from this approach, including increased capabilities for high availability, business continuity, disaster recovery, and a reduction in risk associated with potential vendor lock-in. While every cloud vendor references its ability to migrate workloads into its platform (as you would expect), there are very few references to the viability of cloud exit strategies. Also, because many IT teams are stretched thin maintaining existing systems, a cloud exit strategy is often omitted from their cloud-migration planning processes. VMware’s unique approach to multi-cloud architecture helps reduce the burden related to cloud exit strategies by providing a cloud entry strategy that also provides an out-of-the-box cloud exit strategy.