In 1999, I was an eager high school student with dreams of working in the video production industry. I was fortunate to have my own non-linear editing system, the Silicon Graphics 320 Visual Workstation, which glitched up every time I tried to digitize video straight to its internal hard drive. (Once I finally realized I needed an external storage array, I bought a massive one: 64 gigabytes.)
Ten years later, my production company became one of the first in the country to purchase an Avid ISIS 5000 server. The speed and scope were incredible. But when it came to backing up huge files or transferring data within our office, we had to rely on external hard drives; if colleagues outside the office needed them, we had to physically ship copies of those drives across the country, crossing our fingers in hope that they’d arrive on time and undamaged.
Over the following decade, the cloud skyrocketed into the mainstream world and began solving these problems, both for me and many others. According to numerous studies, 80-90% of businesses rely on the cloud today, typically for media storage, data backups, file transfers and remote offices. Widespread adoption has led to cost-savings, world-class security and work flexibility, easing the burden on IT teams and mitigating corporate risk. And unlike 10 years ago, bandwidth speeds are now fast enough to handle the load.
In other words, unlike in previous decades, the problem today is not one of technology. But there is still a problem, and it’s a problem of scale.
For many small and medium-sized businesses, migrating entire systems onto the cloud is prohibitively expensive, not to mention complicated and potentially dangerous if mishandled. As a result, few businesses have fully optimized their workflows on the cloud, relying instead on ad hoc solutions, solving problems only after they arise.
A revealing study found that most enterprises are only 20% of the way into their cloud journeys. The three major challenges preventing enterprises from taking the full leap are their unique workload needs, a perceived difficulty integrating multiple cloud vendors and a lack of technological knowledge to actually implement better solutions.
In short, we’re in a transitional period. Most leaders understand the value of cloud adoption but aren’t sure how to progress, especially when the status quo appears to be working.
Leaders who follow that logic, however, should note the trends. The cloud industry is booming, and SaaS products are leading the charge: Global revenues from SaaS products alone are ballooning from $85.7 billion in 2018 to a predicted $151.1 billion in 2022, according to a recent study from Gartner. Many of the biggest tech companies are marketing themselves as turnkey solutions to common workflow problems across any industry. Personally witnessing outdated workflows propped up in the production industry is what led me to start my SaaS company.
But adopting one-off SaaS products is not always good enough. All too often, I see leaders making the same mistakes and assumptions when migrating their businesses to the cloud.
If you want to see your business fully migrate onto the cloud in the next few years, it takes forward-looking leadership and knowledge of past mistakes.
Define your goals.
What do you hope to gain from a cloud migration? Determine where your pain points are, and identify what needs to be addressed. For example: Are you hoping to decrease the operational costs of a massive server room? Do you want to open up company access to new remote workers? Do you want to restructure your business over the next few years, to focus on agility? These are all important questions that lead to different strategies, but the important thing is to define your goals from the outset.
Create a road map, even beyond a year.
Companies don’t often migrate all their data at once. Years ago, when I overhauled my production company (which was heavily reliant on massive servers), the transition lasted over a year. There were multiple reasons for this: handling legal issues like lease agreements, communicating with team members, migrating sensitive data, establishing new systems — all of this takes time.
Decide what applications need to be migrated, versus what you can replace.
Your company may be too reliant on certain software to move away from it. That’s fine; you can likely upload it onto a cloud server without replacing it altogether. But in other cases, it might be time to say goodbye to that custom-built content management system your company has been propping up for the past 10 years. Create a master list of what can be salvaged versus what isn’t worth the effort. Migration will likely mean educating your employees on new cloud-based software and changing your workflow, so take additional training hours into account.
Move when the time is right.
Buying a physical server is like buying a car: Deprecation begins immediately. Generally speaking, servers have a three-year lifespan until tech teams begin requesting the latest hardware. At that point, you’re falling behind. You can preempt that inevitable cycle by easing into cloud migration today, where hardware upgrades are handled beyond your office walls, and planning to complete the process once your current hardware is officially obsolete.
The realities can’t be ignored. Cloud solutions in storage, data management and file transfers are becoming less expensive and more user-friendly, which also makes them more common. You likely already rely on some combination of cloud-based tools and physical servers. But with bandwidth concerns becoming a thing of the past and upcoming 5G speeds around the corner, it’s time to start preparing for lies ahead. After all, creating a solid plan now will save you from playing catch-up in the future.