I often am asked by business owners and leadership about how they can get their organization started on the journey into cloud transformation. With a focus on the specific areas of Active Directory (Identity), Exchange (Email Calendaring Contacts), and SharePoint/OneDrive (File Sharing and Collaboration), this can be broken down into three different approaches to an IT Infrastructure: The classic “On-Premise” model, the Hybrid approach, and the Pure Cloud infrastructure.
The Three Approaches to the Cloud Transformation Journey
1. ON-PREMISE MODEL
The On-Premise approach is where the servers, applications and data live all within leased or owned hardware within the “4 walls” of a business or a business’ datacenter. While this has been the approach for 20+ years, it was mostly because cloud or shared infrastructures didn’t really exist thus creating the necessity for businesses to BUILD IT and MANAGE IT themselves. This also requires extensive resources to configure, manage, and support. For example, in the On-Premise model, an IT department must hire engineering talent to build or configure desired elements. Additionally, it has been shown that without proper management (which is almost always the case), data will accumulate requiring a business to “Throw disk” or “Add additional resources” to the on-premise infrastructure.
Assuming your business has on-premise instances of AD, Exchange, SharePoint/OneDrive (or File Servers) this almost certainly applies. I can probably guess without looking that you have multiple file servers or shares with no data retention or purge process in place. Also you likey have excessive mailbox sizes and servers that have crashed due to log files filling up the drives. To continue to keep things “as they have always been” it requires the additional costs and spend to BUILD IT, MANAGE IT, SUPPORT IT, and THROW DISK/RESOURCES at it. In my opinion, it is not wise to move forward in this manner.
2. THE HYBRID APPROACH
For those looking to start a slow migration to the cloud, a Hybrid approach is a good idea. The Hybrid approach is to use certain resources in the cloud to augment an on-premise infrastructure and relieve the burden of having to BUILD and THROW DISK/RESOURCES at these workloads. Specifically, with AD, Exchange, SharePoint/File Servers – and specific to Microsoft – there are cloud solutions that work well in a hybrid mode.
Azure Active Directory – Synchronize your Active Directory users, groups, and computer objects to the cloud version of AD. Once in the cloud those identities remain synchronized including password changes. Enabling this hybrid sync, the combined company can achieve Single Sign-On with Microsoft Cloud Apps (Office 365, Azure) and other 3rd party Cloud Apps (Salesforce, Workday, ServiceNow, Paylocity, Facebook, Twitter, etc…). This gives the organization the control over user identity and a single place to disable a user account when necessary.
Additional benefits include:
- Self-Service Password Reset from the Internet (Which synchronizes the password back to on-premise)
- Enable “Conditional Access” to email and/or files in the cloud – meaning the device used to connect to that data must be domain-joined or enrolled and compliant with company policy
Exchange Online – Exchange 2013 and 2016 can be setup to work in conjunction with Exchange Online (Part of Office 365). This basically creates an additional mailbox server in the cloud with high availability and additional capacity where some of the mailboxes can be placed in cloud and some mailboxes can be kept on-premise. The best value of putting mailboxes in the cloud is the unlimited storage capacity of the cloud (You don’t have to THROW DISK at it), and high availability – you don’t have to configure a mailbox cluster or manage log files – that is all done by Microsoft. All users would still exist in the same Exchange organization, so the functionality all remains including shared calendars, same global address list, same policies and rules.
SharePoint Online/OneDrive – If SharePoint is in use on-premise it can also be extended to the cloud for many of the same reasons as Exchange. However, the bigger win here is the ability to eliminate file servers as the main location for users to store their home directories and shared departmental data. It is almost always file data that consumes the most storage in a business with years and years of unmanaged data just being kept on multiple file server. By creating a hybrid environment with SharePoint Online/OneDrive, each user will get a personal OneDrive (aka Home Drive replacement) with 1TB of storage to put their files. Also, departments and groups within the organization can leverage the shared storage of SharePoint Sites or OneDrive Groups to store departmental files. The real benefit of this approach is that there is only one master copy of documents. No more creating multiple copies to email back and forth as revisions get made. All users work from the same master copy.
Office for PC/Mac/Mobile – Another benefit of subscription to Office 365 is the subscription model for Office for PC/Mac/Mobile. Instead of struggling to deploy Office to each PC and deal with multiple levels of versions and editions, all users will have the same version of Office – which updates automatically and includes new features as they are developed. It’s Office as a Service.
Microsoft Azure – It is possible also to create a hybrid environment for your server infrastructure that might be running line of business applications. As long as servers can be virtualized, they can be replicated to the Azure cloud as VMs and with the proper virtual networking in place, Azure becomes a virtual datacenter extension of your business. Most organizations use this approach first as a disaster recovery model – giving the ability to fail over the servers to the cloud and continue to deliver business continuity.
In my opinion, the hybrid approach is the best first step for a larger organization to look towards moving data to cloud. It allows for the organization to “ease” into the transition and still maintain *some* data and workloads on-premise while allowing for the more modern applications and features to be consumed in a controlled manner as it is rolled out through the organization.
3. THE PURE CLOUD INFRASTRUCTURE
Pure cloud is still not a 100% viable option for most large organizations. While I fully evangelize and support 100% cloud for small organizations (less than 200 users), it may be difficult for a larger organizations to fully embrace this approach as it may be too disruptive to the end users. But for those business owners of operational managers at a small business, this is for you.
Pure Cloud is the removal of all servers and data from on-premise and putting all the data and applications in the cloud. This is done using Cloud Apps like Office 365 and a Cloud Platform like Microsoft Azure which allows for Virtual Machines, Virtual Networking, and SaaS apps to all live in the cloud.
Even Active Directory now *could* potentially be 100% cloud as Windows 10 now contains the ability to join the “Azure AD” instead of joining a traditional on-premise Domain Controller.
THE CLOUD: USE THE MODERN CAPABILITIES AVAILABLE TO YOU
I often ask customers if they store their money in a safe in a locked room at their office. The answer is always no. And why? Because large banks can provide a much better infrastructure for storing their money and providing access to it from anywhere. Same thing now applies to Cloud. There's no need to build your own servers and infrastructure to store your data and applications when there are large cloud providers who can build a better and more secure and more available infrastructure for your data and applications.
If you'd like to further explore how to get your business started on the digital cloud transformation journey, please download and utilize our free guide Microsoft Cloud Solutions: Streamlining Employee Communications.