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7 cloud migration best practices for your startup

In times of economic downturn, startups and SMBs are continuously finding ways to cut their spending and preserve their cash flow, while improving efficiency and streamlining operations. Cloud migration, the process of moving applications, data, and other IT resources from one cloud platform to another, is one solution to address these goals. Migrating from major cloud service providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud—to a more cost-effective and simple solution like DigitalOcean—can be an attractive option for startups with evolving infrastructure needs. Alternatively, migrating to the cloud for the first time can be similarly advantageous.

DigitalOcean’s 2022 Currents research report, which surveyed 554 founders, CEOs, and executives at startups and small businesses across industries, found that cloud migration is a strategy employed for reducing costs.

  • Half of respondents have migrated their cloud infrastructure in the past, with 37% saying the experience was somewhat difficult and 12% stating it was very difficult.
  • Cost savings is the top driver for cloud migration for both those who have migrated in the past (70%), and those who have not migrated (65%).
  • Other motivations for migrating cloud providers are additional products/features and solutions tailored to their business needs.

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Aside from cost savings, cloud migration can result in enhanced performance and greater flexibility for your startup. For companies migrating cloud-to-cloud, to a platform like DigitalOcean, businesses can take advantage of simplified pricing structure and a user-friendly interface, all while increasing your product’s agility and scalability. A 2022 Forrester Total Economic Impact report, assessing the cost savings and business benefits enabled by DigitalOcean, found that companies saved 2,548 engineering hours annually in their first year of using DigitalOcean.

But cloud migration is not without its challenges. Startups may face technical hurdles, data loss risks, and compatibility issues during the cloud migration process. Moreover, ensuring minimal downtime for customers and maintaining business continuity are crucial concerns that need to be closely considered. Given the complexity and potential risks involved, businesses should follow cloud migration best practices to ensure a seamless and successful transition. By adhering to these best practices, startups can maximize the benefits of cloud migration, overcome potential challenges, and ultimately create a more efficient and cost-effective cloud infrastructure.

1. Identify your business goals and objectives

As a business, your goals might include cost savings, improved scalability, or greater efficiency. By defining your goals, you can better understand the benefits that cloud migration can bring, and prioritize your efforts accordingly.

Increase cloud versatility

As businesses grow, their requirements and demands can change, necessitating a more flexible and scalable cloud infrastructure. By migrating from one cloud platform to another—or taking a multi-cloud or hybrid-cloud approach—startups can explore new features and services that better align with their evolving needs. This can help businesses stay agile, as they can quickly adapt to new opportunities or challenges that arise, while diversifying infrastructure and avoiding vendor lock-in.

Lower your cloud costs

When migrating from one cloud platform to another, such as from AWS or Azure to DigitalOcean, startups can take advantage of more cost-effective plans and services tailored to their needs. This can help your business save on operational expenses and free up resources for more important endeavors. By comparing the pricing structures of different cloud providers, your startup can identify the most cost-efficient option that provides the necessary features and resources for your applications.

Reduce hardware costs and scale more simply

For startups migrating to the cloud for the first time, businesses can reduce their capital expenditures on hardware and software, instead paying for cloud services on a pay-as-you-go basis. Cloud services also enable businesses to replace costly on-premise infrastructure with a more flexible, scalable, and cost-effective solution. With cloud services, businesses can quickly and easily scale their computing resources up or down as needed, without having to invest in new hardware or software.

Increase billing predictability

Some cloud providers, like DigitalOcean, offer simplified billing that makes it easier for startups to predict their monthly cloud expenses. This can be especially beneficial for startups operating on tight budgets, avoiding surprise charges and better managing finances. With a more predictable billing model, startups can allocate funds more effectively, ensuring that they have the resources needed to scale their operations and grow their businesses.

Improve security and performance

Cloud migration enhances security and performance by providing businesses with access to advanced security features and protocols, as well as high-speed computing resources and the latest technologies. Cloud providers typically have more resources and expertise to devote to security and performance than most businesses can afford on their own.

2. Choose the right cloud provider for your business

The right cloud provider for your startup or small-to-medium sized business will depend on your overall technical and business goals. However, consider the following factors when comparing cloud providers and choosing one to support and scale your company.

  1. Compute and storage options: Consider the compute and storage options provided by the cloud provider—that includes virtual machines, containers, serverless functions, object storage, and databases. Compare and evaluate the performance, scalability, and pricing of these options to ensure they meet your business needs. Look for different options like managed services—which can provide you with greater ease of use—or app platforms, which give you complete control over how you deploy to the cloud.
  2. Network connectivity: Evaluate the network connectivity options offered by cloud providers, including bandwidth and latency. Additionally, consider the availability of data centers, CDN pops, IP addresses, and regions related to where your services will be accessed. Check if they provide dedicated connectivity options like direct connections and VPNs to ensure secure connectivity.
  3. Security and compliance: Look for cloud providers that offer robust security features such as encryption, and threat detection and prevention. Evaluate their compliance with industry standards, like SOC 2 and ISO 27001, to ensure that your data is protected and your business meets regulatory requirements.
  4. Scalability: The cloud provider’s ability to scale resources as your business grows is essential for long term success. When your apps need more compute resources your cloud provider should be able to deliver them. In the future you might decide that a more managed solution like a PaaS (App Platform) is a better fit. This includes auto-scaling features, load balancing, and flexible resource allocation.
  5. Cost and pricing model: Compare the pricing models offered by the cloud providers, consider the cost of compute, storage, bandwidth, and other services to ensure that the cloud provider is cost-effective and fits within your budget. Look for predictable billing without surprise costs.
  6. Integration ecosystem: As your business expands you want a cloud that has enough options for your team and that doesn’t overwhelm with options. Review cloud providers against your existing technological stack. Are there parts of your stack that you can replace or forget about maintaining with managed services? One common tedious example are databases. Is it worth it for your team to maintain your database or would a Managed mongoDB free you to focus more on your customers. Look for cloud providers that offer APIs and enable integrations with your existing infrastructure for an easier migration. Make sure that the cloud you chose has managed services that can replace parts of your stack if needed.
  7. Performance, reliability and uptime: Check the performance and uptime guarantees provided by the cloud provider, including service level agreements (SLAs). Evaluate their track record for downtime, performance issues, and other service disruptions to ensure that your business can rely on their infrastructure for your applications.
  8. Support and documentation: Consider the level of support provided by the cloud provider, including documentation, tutorials, and community forums. Evaluate their response time and availability of support channels to ensure that you can quickly resolve issues and get the support you need.

3. Develop a migration plan

Developing a cloud migration plan will give your team a structured approach to the migration process, helping ensure that all technical aspects and dependencies are considered ahead of time. Taking the time to plot out your plan will also help you allocate resources, set realistic timelines, and mitigate potential risks—like business disruption and data loss—more effectively.

Understand your existing infrastructure

The first step in your migration plan should be taking a full inventory of your existing infrastructure including servers, storage, networking, applications, and data. Document the dependencies and relationships between these components by creating an architecture diagram using an online tool (e.g. Draw.io, Lucidchart, Visio, Gliffy, or Miro.)

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Also aim to understand the efficiency and performance of your existing infrastructure. For example, establish performance baselines, including CPU and memory usage, network latency, and I/O throughput. This will allow you to effectively assess the success of the migration and compare it with the new environment.

Before proceeding with migration, ensure that you can answer the following questions:

  • Where is our state?
  • What is sensitive to downtime?
  • What is sensitive to latency?
  • Can we wait to move services that aren’t sensitive to latency?
  • Is the state in the cache important?
  • Can services which don’t face customers deal with more downtime safely?
  • Is it worthwhile to increase the complexity of our infrastructure to reduce the complexity of our migration?

Define migration scope and timeline

Determine which applications and services should be migrated—and in what order—based on factors like business impact, complexity, and any existing dependencies. Consider taking a phased approach, starting with less critical or standalone components.

Then, establish a realistic timeline for migration. While the actual migration might only take up to 24 hours, factor in migration dry runs and communication into your timeline. Also allow sufficient time for testing, validation, and rollback plans.

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Determine cloud approach: In-house or outsourcing

When planning for a cloud migration, your startup needs to make a crucial decision: should you conduct the migration in-house or outsource it to a cloud partner? Each approach has its own unique set of advantages and challenges, and the right choice often depends on your company’s resources, expertise, and specific needs.

  • In-house cloud migration: This approach requires managing the migration process with your own team. This method requires a deep understanding of both the current and target cloud platforms, as well as the technical skills to ensure a seamless transition. For teams with a deep understanding of the company’s cloud infrastructure, this option can allow for greater control to address specific issues or requirements. However, for time-strapped teams, this method can be time-intensive, taking time away from revenue-generating activities.
  • Outsourced cloud migration: This method involves hiring a third-party cloud partner to handle the process for your startup. These partners typically have extensive experience with various cloud platforms and are well-versed in managing migration projects, saving your team time and resources. However, working with an external cloud migration expert will come with a higher upfront cost than conducting your migration in-house.

Assign key roles and responsibilities

Each component on your timeline should include a directly responsible individual (DRI) from your team. Ensure you know who on your team is responsible for the following tasks:

  • Who is responsible for overseeing the entire migration process, coordinating team efforts, and making critical decisions?
  • Who is responsible for reviewing the target infrastructure to ensure it meets the technical requirements and performance goals?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring the new infrastructure adheres to necessary security and compliance requirements?
  • Who is responsible for communicating the migration to internal and external stakeholders?

4. Establish a communications plan

Keep team members—and potentially customers—aware of your migration plans. This includes communicating your timeline and dependencies to internal stakeholders (e.g executives, engineering, support) and making customers aware of any potential downtime that might occur due your startup’s migration plans.

Here’s what to consider when creating your communication plan:

  1. Identify stakeholders: Identify internal and external stakeholders, including your C-suite or executive leadership, project teams, customers, and any partners or vendors that rely on your platform.
  2. Determine communication channels: Decide on your preferred communication channels, considering options like Slack, internal email, and/or public-facing communication.
  3. Provide regular communication updates: Keep all stakeholders informed about your migration plans, providing updates and information on any timeline modifications or challenges.
  4. Determine post-migration support: Establish a process to address any potential post-migration issues and concerns, including any necessary resources or support.

5. Conduct a migration dry-run

To ensure a smooth transition to your startup’s new cloud environment, complete a migration dry-run ahead of your actual migration. During this trial run, your team will run through the entire migration process without disabling writes or changing DNS. This process will help you identify any configuration, compatibility, or performance issues and address them proactively beforehand.

Here are the steps for follow for your migration dry-run:

  1. Replicate your existing infrastructure: Clone your current infrastructure and data to the target cloud provider, keeping your original environment intact.
  2. Execute your migration strategy: Carry out your planned migration strategy (e.g. lift-and-shift) on the cloned infrastructure, retrying the migration until it works as expected.
  3. Conduct dry-run testing: Perform functional, performance, and security tests to confirm the level of success of your migration dry-run against the benchmarks you previously set.
  4. Analyze the results of the dry-run: Assess performance and identify any issues or bottlenecks, adapting your migration plan accordingly.
  5. Update your migration plan: Make changes to any existing documentation, procedures, and rollback plans based on lessons learned from the migration dry-run.

6. Complete your migration

To execute your cloud migration plan, follow a structured process for a smooth and successful transition to your new cloud environment. At DigitalOcean, we’ve advised and supported countless businesses on migrating their cloud environments.

While we suggest this particular framework, there are many ways to complete a migration. Ensure the process you follow aligns with your technical and business requirements.

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Verify

Before initiating the migration process, verify the readiness of the new cloud environment.

  1. Verify lower TTLs have propagated: Confirm that the lower Time-to-Live (TTL) values for your DNS records have propagated to reduce downtime during your cloud migration, ensuring faster switching between the old and new cloud environment.
  2. Verify code (stateless services) has been deployed on the new host: Ensure that the code for stateless services, such as web servers and application servers, has been deployed and configured correctly in the new environment.
  3. Verify stateful services are ready to receive state on the new host: Check that the stateful services, such as databases, have been set up correctly and are prepared to receive the state data from the old host.

Adjust

Update the connection strings and configuration to point to the new host.

  1. Change connection strings on ALL new services to point to the new host: Modify the connection strings for all services in the new environment to reference the new host and ensure proper communication between components.
  2. Change connection strings in codebase to point to new host: Update the connection strings in your application codebase to reference the new host, ensuring that future deployments will also use the updated settings.
  3. Verify stateful services are ready to receive state on new host: Confirm that stateful services are prepared to receive the state data from the old host.

Migrate

Migrate the state from the old host to the new environment.

  1. Disable writes on all stateful services: Temporarily disable write operations on all stateful services to ensure data consistency during the migration.
  2. Download current state from old host: Extract the current state data from the old host.
  3. Upload current state to stateful services on new host: Import the extracted state data to the corresponding stateful services in the new environment, ensuring that the data is accurately transferred and consistent with the original state.

Test and finalize

Perform final testing and switch the new cloud environment.

  1. Perform testing on the new host for final verification: Complete extensive testing (e.g. end-to-end testing, load testing, vulnerability scanning) of the migrated components in the new environment—verify functionality, performance, and security.
  2. Point public DNS to new host: Updated the public DNS records to point to the new host, directing all traffic to the migrated environment.
  3. Re-enable writes on new host: Finally, once the migration is complete and the new environment is verified, re-enable write operations on stateful services in the new host.

7. Find migration experts who can support your startup

You don’t need to approach cloud migration alone. DigitalOcean partners with migration experts that are well-versed in cloud migration to support your business’s transition—while minimizing downtime. Take the headache and hassle out of your migration plan by teaming-up with experts who can walk you through the migration process by providing valuable expertise, efficiency, and support.

  • Expertise: Cloud migration partners bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, ensuring a smoother and faster migration with minimal risk of data loss or downtime.
  • Efficiency: Cloud migration partners can often complete the migration more quickly, reducing the impact on your operations and enabling you to benefit from the new platform sooner.
  • Support: Most cloud migrations partners offer ongoing support post-migration, helping you troubleshoot issues and optimize the use of your new cloud environment.

DigitalOcean partners with cloud migration experts like CTO.ai, Slower.ai, Crafty Penguins, Stack, Webbar, and GlobalDots to support startups who are considering cloud migration. Get in touch to see how they can support your migration.

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Thousands of businesses have successfully migrated to DigitalOcean. Scale with confidence with our simple yet comprehensive solutions and predictable and affordable pricing. Learn more about migration and speak to a migration expert today.

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