Interview – Moving servers to Azure

Lots of businesses these days are moving or considering moving some or all of their on premise server workloads into the cloud. There are many reasons for this such as improved scalability, greater agility, and lower costs. But how easy is it to move Windows servers into the cloud, even to Microsoft’s own Azure public cloud?

To learn more about what can be involved in this, I recently interviewed Kelsey Epps who is a Partner Technical Strategist with BitTitan and a Microsoft Office Servers and Services MVP (previously Office 365 MVP). Kelsey is a thought leader in the technical cloud community and runs a highly successful blog that has helped millions of people with their Office 365 transition. Kelsey is also a regular contributor to Microsoft’s CANITPRO blog where he has had a number of the top posts on the site. Previous to working at BitTitan, Kelsey was a Technical Delivery Lead with HPE, helping build out their HPES for Office 365 offering. To learn more about Kelsey you can connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

MITCH: Kelsey, there seems to be a trend lately for businesses to want to move their servers into the cloud. What do you think is driving this trend?

Kelsey: I think there are a number of factors that make this business decision easy for leaders to make. Azure cloud is now coming into maturity and business leaders are seeing the benefits of deploying servers in Azure. Azure IaaS has the convenience of being open and flexible, capable of scalability, and a global footprint and SLA backed uptime – all while providing predictable costs. This is why the Fortune 500 companies are now starting to extend their data centers into Azure. The return on investment with Azure is HUGE. Previously, the timeline to identify, size, purchase, install and configure servers would take weeks, if not months. With Azure, you identify, size, deploy and configure it all with in a matter of hours. If your server needs a little more or less juice, you can resize it rather than re-order it. The headaches of typical data centers are gone; power, networking, rack space, cooling, etc… If the need for the server goes away, you can decommission it within hours, and you are not stuck with the physical server. This allows smaller shops to become bigger players in the game. They can now offer everything the big boys can and at a competitive cost.

Great third party tools, such as BitTitan HealthCheck for Azure, are reclaiming thousands of hours our partners would otherwise spend by sizing servers correctly. This, in turn, helps partners sell Azure by saving clients millions of dollars by deploying servers the correct size in Azure. The next few years will bring large scale adoption of Azure, generating the perfect storm for all of our BitTitan partners. More and more businesses are starting to accept and embrace the cloud forcing managed service providers (MSPs) to sell cloud first. At BitTitan we are trying to partner with those MSPs, and transform them into modern MSPs.

MITCH: You mentioned BitTitan HealthCheck for Azure in your response. What’s that and what does it do?

Kelsey: Our partners love this tool! BitTitan HealthCheck for Azure, is one of the most comprehensive tools on the market. It allows our partners to demonstrate ROI when moving workloads to Azure, which empowers them to also sell more of Microsoft’s IaaS platform. HealthCheck for Azure allows our partners to do an exhaustive readiness check, cost analysis and detailed plan with very little time and effort, and without additional technical expertise. With HealthCheck for Azure, partners can scan their customers’ physical and virtual servers, discover dependencies, and identify workloads compatible with the Azure environment and ready for migration. The discovery tool produces beautiful reports that can be used to showcase the value of migrating to Azure and kickoff the total cost of ownership (TCO) conversations with their customers.

During the readiness check, we take a performance snapshot of the key Azure cost drivers; CPU, memory, network throughput, storage and a few others. On the business side, this allows us to do an in-depth cost analysis and right size the server, per Azure SKU. Right sizing the servers from the outset allows our partners to bestow the millions of dollars of savings to their customers. On the technical side, the readiness assessment helps to prepare mappings and reports of all the dependencies between the nodes and applications. This allows the partners to choose the optimal settings for migrations and firewall rules.

MITCH: What other tools or services does BitTitan offers that can help enterprises move their on-premises server workloads into Azure?

Kelsey: HealthCheck for Azure is one of many of the tools and services integrated into BitTitan MSPComplete, our comprehensive MSP cloud services enablement platform. We also have our Azure Starter Kit, a collection of tools and services that allow our partners to immediately sell, onboard and service Azure. HealthCheck for Azure is part of this kit, along with MSPComplete features like Cloud Storage Migration, Database Migration and Concierge.

Cloud Storage Migration is backed by MigrationWiz, the leading cloud-based migration software, and makes it incredibly simple to move your data from common unstructured data sources to Azure BLOB storage. Database Migration allows you to migrate your SQL databases into cloud based services, like Azure SQL. To top all this off, we can help you manage your customers by offering Concierge, a 24/7 customizable, end-user IT help desk.

MITCH: Those sound like some terrific products. But let me ask you, why would enterprises need third-party tools like these for migrating Windows Server workloads into Microsoft Azure? After all, Microsoft created both the Windows Server platform and their Azure cloud service, so don’t they provide their own set of tools and procedures for moving Windows servers into Azure? Or are these lacking in some way?

Kelsey: The current set of tools provided by Microsoft don’t go into the detail that we provide within our tool. We install an agent on the local server and collect data points for two weeks. After the collection is completed, the data is then analyzed and presented in a way that is easy to consume. We can take the guess work out of the migration to Azure and identify road blocks (application dependencies, firewall ports and server interactions) before anything is moved. We also give partners the chance to right size the server for Azure, so you spend only what you need. Without this information, partners are left to best guess what server sizes are needed in Azure; as a result, servers are oversized and partners get stuck over-paying.

MITCH: From your own experience what are some of the biggest gotchas or challenges of moving a Windows Server workload from an on-premises system into a cloud environment like Microsoft Azure?

Kelsey: In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing partners looking to move workloads to Azure is where to begin. We know we have source and a destination, but where do we go from there? As a partner, how do I identify what I can safely move to Azure and what is going to cause me a lot of pain? How do I know that upon moving that server to Azure, I have all my bases covered? This task doesn’t seem too daunting with one or two servers, but when we are talking about hundreds of servers, it can be quite overwhelming. The planning of an Azure migration can take a tremendous amount of time – the more servers, the more time. Automation is the key to solving this issue. At BitTitan, we help win Azure business, enable successful migrations, and cut down on the time and guess work.

MITCH: Privacy seems to be one of the biggest concerns these days for businesses that use or are considering using cloud-based services like Azure IaaS. What’s your own take on these concerns? Are they valid or overblown?

Kelsey: Privacy is a valid subject and rarely overblown. I think a lot of concerns are generated from a lack of understanding around how cloud services work, combined with a general fear of change. With Azure and Office 365, Microsoft has done a fantastic job helping calm the cloud anxiety by being open and honest with all of their partners. Microsoft has done a great job providing partners and customers with the information they require, and everything published is easily accessible and referenceable via its online Trust Center.

My take on these concerns? Most of them are valid. In particular, data residency always makes the top of this list. Microsoft has responded by opening new data centers in key areas around the globe, including Canada, India, Australia and Japan. It has also been fighting in court to help protect users data and keep it out of the hands of governments that have should not have access to it. Regardless, security and privacy will always be heated discussions when cloud services are involved. I try to help partners best navigate these waters by being open and honest with their users.

MITCH: Good thoughts to ponder, thanks. To wrap things up, how about telling us a bit more about yourself? Like how did you get into IT as a profession and how you keep your skills current in a rapidly changing profession?

Kelsey: I’ve always had the itch to take things apart and see how they work. This started at an early age when I would disassemble my motorized toys, rip out the motor, and make new things. I clearly remember a day in grade one, when a technician came out to replace some component in the classroom’s Commodore 64. From that day forward, I have been interested in computers. During high school, I enrolled in a joint program that allowed me to work towards high school credits and my A+ certification. I worked at a few local computer shops, fixing hardware issues, but I ultimately aimed higher. I ended up going back to school and getting my MCSE on NT 4.0 with Exchange 5.5.

At this point, I was then able to get on with the local EDS office as the resident desktop technician. I worked deskside support, which led into server support and projects, and finally into a third level Microsoft support team within EDS. Joining this team allowed me to travel to Microsoft and take 300/400 level training right from the Microsoft product groups (Cluster and Exchange). I held this role for a few years before leaving HP (who acquired EDS in 2008) for a local company where I was introduced to BPOS and then Office 365. I did a number of Office 365 deployments and started to blog every scenario that I ran into. Microsoft took notice and awarded me MVP status for Office 365.

I returned to HP a few years later and became a Technical Delivery Lead for HPES Office 365. Recently, I joined BitTitan as the Canadian Partner Technical Strategist. In this role, I provide technical pre-sales and post sales technical account management to our partners. I still hold a number of current Microsoft certifications, in addition to being a Microsoft MVP in Office Servers and Services.

MITCH: Kelsey thank you very much for sharing some of your valuable time and expertise with us!

Kelsey: Thanks, Mitch. I really enjoy helping people navigate and solve their technology problems. Please check out my Office 365 Blog and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter. I would also love to talk about HealthCheck for Azure with anyone who might be interested. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] with any further questions.

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