Many organizations move infrastructure, applications, and resources to the cloud, which brings a lot of benefits to their business. Surprisingly, far less organizations have an exit strategy in place, for their cloud engagements.
There are three main reasons for having an exit strategy, namely those relating to your cloud vendor, changes in your organization, or external changes, which results in your current cloud set-up no longer suits or supports your business in a good way. Changes with your cloud vendor, can be expiring contracts, poor service or support, security concerns, or increasing prices or changes of the pricing structure. Changes in your organization can be mergers, acquisitions, or other organizational shifts, which means your cloud structure no longer meets your business needs. External factors can be new rules or legislation, or new technologies or innovative solutions that become available.
Some industries, such as healthcare and financial services, requires them to have an exit strategy as part of their overall risk management and compliance strategy. Regardless of if there is risk involved, a Cloud Exit Strategy can help your organization negotiate better terms and pricing with your current cloud vendor, as it demonstrates that you have a plan in place and is prepared to switch vendors, if necessary.
A vital part in the exit strategy is also to have an exit plan, which must be made for each critical or important application. Often different applications need different plans. This is also important as you need to be able to move one specific application, while the other applications stay and keep on running.
Timing and cost are key considerations
A Cloud Exit Strategy should be considered early in the cloud journey, ideally during the planning phase, and developed in parallel with the cloud strategy. One of the most important aspects of the Cloud Exit Strategy is the timeframe. Not having this discussion or not deciding on it might jeopardize your future business. The time it takes from an exit decision to the finalization of the exit is vital. An appropriate timeframe could range from a few weeks to several months. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that you have enough time to plan and execute a successful transition, while minimizing risks and disruptions to your business. For companies that have not considered the exit strategy from the start, could end up with an exit that takes several years due to for example vendor lock-in or implemented complexity.
It is no secret that the cost of an exit can vary widely depending on the complexity of the organization's data and applications, the availability of alternative solutions, and the contractual terms with your current cloud provider. It is important to carefully evaluate the costs when planning for an exit as it is important to balance the costs of staying with the cloud provider against the risks associated with vendor lock-in and other unwanted problems with the current set-up.
Elements of the strategy and plan
To help guide you in crafting a successful Cloud Exit Strategy, I have listed the vital elements below, and the vital elements of a Cloud Exit Plan, which always should support a Cloud Exit Strategy.
A Cloud Exit Strategy should contain:
- Baselines for the strategy. What does the exit strategy cover? Which major vendors or platforms is it made for? Scope of the strategy and general requirements?
- Determine acceptable exit timeline. It is important to determine the maximum timeline for executing an exit from a vendor.
- Contract and vendor relationship. Review the selected cloud vendor contract and assess the relationship with the vendor, including service level agreements, costs, and support during an exit.
- Triggers. Identification of the triggers that would require an exit from the current cloud vendor and determine which actions and steps you will take when a trigger event comes.
- Decision process and governance model. Describe the process for the decision of an Exit.
- Alternatives. Identification of the target infrastructure the organization will transition to.
- Risk management. Identify potential risks associated with the exit.
- Data and Application Inventory. An inventory of all data and applications currently hosted with the cloud vendor and covered by the Exit Strategy.
- Controls. It is important to regularly review the Exit strategy as well as supporting assets, processes, and resources, minimum yearly or if major changes happen.
A Cloud Exit Plan should contain:
- Scenarios. Identification of alternative solutions and options for each application and the migrating of data, as the solutions you use in the cloud might not exist anywhere else. .
- Migration plan. A detailed plan for migrating data and application from the current cloud.
- Staffing Plan. Where to find resources internally or by relevant consultant services providers.
- Risk Management Plan. Identifying and mitigating potential risks associated with the exit.
- Testing plan. Which ensures that the target solution meets the requirements for performance, security, and compliance.
- Communication plan. On how to notify stakeholders of the transition.
- Training plan. How to ensure staff can handle the new solution without disruptions to business operations.
- Legal considerations. To ensure which implications an early exit of a contract can have.
- Governance. A Cloud Exit Strategy should include governance just like any cloud migration.
- Costs. A detailed analysis of the costs associated with exiting the cloud vendor.
Even if you might never use it, an exit strategy is vital and makes the organization much more prepared to handle change and less vulnerable to unforeseen changes.
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