Cloud computing has been a historical leap forward, especially when it comes to managing IT resources. On-demand access to IT infrastructure like computing power, storage, servers, and databases has redefined the meaning of agility and scalability in today’s businesses.
Cloud service providers give ready access to whatever services you need to bring your ideas to life, be it servers, databases, machine learning, analytics, data lakes, and more. The ability to scale your resource utilization up and down according to your business needs also results in significant cost saving across the board.
So, if you’re thinking something this good must come with a catch, you’re partially right. As such, there’s no catch with cloud computing itself. However, to take advantage of the cloud and all the good things that come with it, you must first move your existing on-premises IT assets, applications and data to the cloud; a process otherwise called cloud migration. Therein lies the catch, but before we go into the challenges, we first need to understand the process in depth.
What is cloud migration?
Cloud migration is the process of moving legacy applications, IT resources, digital assets and services to the cloud, either completely or partially. The term can also apply when migrating from one cloud to another or moving to a multicloud setup. According to McKinsey and Company*, most enterprises aim to redirect $8 out of every $10 for IT hosting towards the cloud, including private cloud, infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS). The ‘why’ is no longer a secret – cloud computing holds the key to continuous visibility, data virtualization, real-time analytics, streamlined performance and more.
Regardless of your industry, you will benefit from cloud migration, be it a simple lift-and-shift or a more comprehensive re-platform or re-factoring approach. While re-hosting your legacy application on the cloud is relatively easier to achieve, it has diminishing returns; you’re effectively changing the endpoint location. To take complete advantage of the cloud, you’ll have to either re-platform or re-factor your architecture completely. That is, you either lift and reshape your application while keeping the core architecture intact, or you break it down completely to make it cloud-native via use of microservices. The latter is an extremely complex process and requires the guidance of experienced cloud security architects to ensure successful outcomes.
*IT budget expenditure on cloud
Businesses of all sizes and scales require assistance when deciding how to move their application and services to the cloud. It’s essential you have a clear roadmap and understand what to expect from the get-go. For most organizations that have been around for decades, simply shifting to the cloud is not enough. To take full advantage of cloud computing, these organizations need to rebuild their legacy application(s) for optimal cloud performance. Without prior knowledge of the challenges in cloud migration, it’s extremely easy to drive up costs.
Cloud migration processes and framework
What are the challenges in cloud migration?
Cloud migration is still a relatively new concept, and as such, comes with its fair share of unique challenges. Going in blind can sabotage your entire digital transformation plan, causing unexpected delays and expenses. Let’s look at some of the impact areas.
“Cloud migration is still a relatively new concept, and as such, comes with its fair share of unique challenges”
Data Protection and Security
For on-premises software, the host organization shares the responsibility of data protection and cyber security with its vendors and partners. While the shared responsibility model is also relevant for the cloud, its implementation is different for individual use cases. As such, cloud migration security can pose unique challenges. For example, Amazon Web Services breaks down the shared responsibility model into two parts – Security of the Cloud, which is the cloud service provider’s responsibility, and Security in the Cloud, which is the customer’s responsibility.
To put it briefly, Amazon handles the physical security of the cloud infrastructure of the servers, storage, and facilities and the cybersecurity of the software, networks, and services. However, the customer is responsible for the security configuration and management of the relevant services. This includes data and endpoint security, guest operating systems, applications, utilities, and more. The specifics will vary depending on the individual services you subscribe to and, as such, require a comprehensive understanding of the shared responsibility model.
Application modernization is one of the main challenges of cloud migration. It requires comprehensive due diligence on data points, gaps, dependencies and risks before you can even begin to formulate a rollout strategy.
Modernized application architecture plays a key role in determining the cloud security infrastructure. In a multitenant cloud environment, you must isolate individual application components to ensure compliance and secure network communications and operational data. You can achieve this by using cloud-native building blocks like Cloud Foundry to isolate necessary containers while maintaining security compliance.
Once you have set up test parameters and acceptance criteria, then you can perform dry runs and failure simulations. If you’re satisfied with the results, then, and only then, you should migrate data from legacy applications to the re-platformed application via automation and scripts.
Governance in the cloud is the combination of rules and policies that ensure streamlined risk management, data security and business operations in the cloud. While most enterprises will already have governance policies in place, the existing rules must be retrofitted to match the speed of doing business in the cloud. Without proper governance on asset deployment, data security, asset integration and more, there’ll be a huge disconnect between your business goals and the resulting cloud migration.
A proper roadmap enables business to capture all the benefits of the cloud and overcome challenges in cloud migration. According to a survey conducted in 2020, only 35% of enterprises could claim the achievement of expected results across cost, speed, business enablement, and service levels. In other words, without proper planning and awareness of the challenges and security considerations, you’re more likely to overspend.
Security considerations for cloud migration
Imagine the cloud migration journey as an adventure, complete with dangerous security challenges lurking around the corner. The reward for successfully navigating these challenges is unrestricted access to cloud computing resources. Let’s discuss the more common security challenges enterprises face when migrating to the cloud.
Regulatory and Compliance Requirements
During the cloud migration journey, enterprises must reassess their regulatory and compliance posture with respect to the cloud service provider’s policies. Independently verify data security, compliance, and privacy controls to check if relevant standards are still in place. Regular audits can also confirm all security certifications are valid, during and after migration.
Depending on your industry, there are certain contracts you must agree to by default as a cost of doing business. Without the right regulatory and compliance controls in place, you risk voiding these contracts.
Cloud migration involves moving massive amounts of data from your on-premise system to the cloud. Ensure you have the right controls in place and the data is encrypted, both during transit and at rest. Your data and files might also get corrupted by forces outside of your control. As such, configure your controls accordingly and back up your files.
However, that’s only half of the task accomplished. Once your application is up and running, you’ll have to manage application security to prevent data breaches. You can use third-party penetration testing tools to automate risk management for your cloud infrastructure to a large extent. With automated scanning of web applications in real-time, you can proactively identify and remedy any vulnerabilities in your application infrastructure.
Identity and Access Management
Identity and access management (IAM) policies and permissions govern who can access your data and how. IAM is not a one-size-fits-all framework, and the authentication model will depend on your application’s target audience.
While it’s easier to implement strict IAM policies in legacy systems, defining least-privilege controls and policies in the cloud or multi-cloud environments is much more of a challenge. Poorly defined IAM controls can result in the wrong people getting access to confidential information, leading to data breaches.
To set up proper IAM controls, you can authenticate identity from a cloud directory, social identity provider, cloud-hosted identity provider, or enterprise-hosted identity provider. You can use any one or a combination of these identity providers to authenticate user identity at the application level.
Control Plane Management
Cloud platforms are very complex environments and can be extremely chaotic if you’re not prepared for the challenge beforehand. One misconfigured access control can quickly snowball into multiple exposed endpoints, resulting in a catastrophic security breach. To avoid such scenarios, you can configure a cloud control plane.
It’s a set of controls and settings to manage and orchestrate configuration baselines across your application. It must be in continuous sync with your data plane to receive and process configuration updates in real-time.
While APIs are a fundamental part of cloud migration, they pose a significant threat to cloud migration security. Unpatched and unsecured APIs can expose your infrastructure to various vulnerabilities. Without the proper tools and services, API management can quickly become a significant challenge to cloud migration. A specialist in API creation and management, like Torry Harris Integration Solutions (THIS) can help automate security and control configuration throughout the cloud migration process.
API management through gateway
Hardening Virtual Machines (VMs)
Virtualization technology has paid enormous dividends by streamlining resource utilization and flexibility. However, since a single system can host multiple virtual machines, their addition creates one more angle of approach for any internal and external vulnerabilities. No virtual machine is invulnerable to attack and, therefore, must be adequately ‘hardened’ to resist attacks.
Some general best practices for hardening VMs are:
- Remove unnecessary physical devices and disable unused services and copy and paste operations
- Capture a hardened operating system template that can implement a baseline level of hardened security.
- Implement controls to prevent compromised VMs from reallocating resources from the host system.
- Prevent compromised VMs from affecting other VMs by isolating their network interfaces.
- Minimize usage of the VI console to interact with the VMs.
“No virtual machine is invulnerable to attack and, therefore, must be adequately 'hardened' to resist attacks.”
Cloud migration may be a difficult and arduous process, but it offers tremendous benefits, both from a business and logistical perspective. At the very least, your service will run faster and with less downtime, and at best, it will unlock access to machine learning, in-depth analytics, agility, and scalability for your operations.
But just like with most good things, the road is long and full of challenges. Technology must be the bulwark if you want to maintain competitive integrity in today’s fast-paced business environment. However, digital transformation is expensive and time-consuming, so it’s recommended you partner with someone who has the experience necessary to ensure successful business outcomes.