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Data a crucial consideration in cloud migration

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The astonishing explosion in data volumes is quickly becoming one of the highest-priority issues for both technology pros and corporate directors alike. Driven by the increasing digitisation of businesses, the rise of the Internet of Things, and the immediacy of cloud-based tools like Dropbox or Google Drive, conversations about data are amplifying at rapid pace, writes AJ Hartenberg, portfolio manager: data centre services for T-Systems, South Africa.
Consulting group Africa Analysis predicts that by 2019 we’ll be generating 500 zettabytes of data – which is 270% more than we did in 2014 of 135 zettabytes*. Two thirds of that data will live, or pass through, a cloud environment at some stage.
And as we live more and more of our lives in a digital realm, data privacy and security becomes an ever-greater concern. For many of us, ‘cyber-crimes’ like data breaches and identity theft are already more of a concern than physical theft. In reality there are two types of organisations that exist; those that know they’ve been breached and are continuously taking remedial actions; and those that don’t know they’ve been breached and believe they’ve taken all necessary precautions.
As these two trends merge, organisations are faced with the unenviable task of managing vast amounts of data, and keeping it all tightly secure. It’s no wonder that, as we consider how to migrate our IT estate to the cloud, data issues should be front-and-centre in our thinking.
But the reality is that data is often shockingly overlooked when we embark on our cloud migration journey. Often there is far too little thought invested in how data will be captured, stored, secured, accessed, shared, archived, backed-up, and ultimately destroyed.

Designing the house
Restructuring your data and developing a plan for how you’ll use it in the future is a little like building a home. Imagine a young family as they design the foundations, scope out the number of bedrooms, and start the process of construction. Fast forward a couple of years, and suddenly they’re expecting triplets.
Building more bedrooms to accommodate the rapidly-expanding family now becomes impossible. The foundations can’t be shifted. The only way to increase the house is perhaps to build an annex – a less than ideal compromise.
Let’s visualise this as we consider the way we approach our data. Yes, we can’t foresee the future – just like the family could never have predicted triplets – but we can make provision for every eventuality. When it comes to understanding how best to use our data, the reality is we’re still only just getting started. Of the masses of information, we’re collecting today, we don’t necessarily know which of it will be useful in the future, and in what ways.
That being said, it’s important to design a plan for our data as best we can. This might start by rationalising your data landscape, working out which data sets can be pulled into a common repository – a database of information that is shared throughout the organisation, and consumed by applications like ERP and CRM systems for example.
Based on your needs analysis and predictions, you can start deciding how big these databases will need to be, by what degree they may need to scale, which information they will house, whether they should be relational or object-oriented, and so forth.

Perfect timing
The next set of questions are those relating to ‘responsibilities’. Will IT be responsible for every aspect of the data migration strategy? How will lines of business be involved? How will the organisation ensure there are no overlaps and duplications of data?
In a mature-state IT team, the CIO will actually take the lead in building enterprise-wide data sets, acting as the catalyst and the connector between different business units, as she helps line of business leaders to find value in each other’s data and create new synergies.
Migrating to the cloud is the perfect time to clean up your data, to shift it into the most logical environments, deduplicate, and implement policies to prevent ‘multiple versions of the truth’ from developing in future. The value of database logical design has been overlooked for expediency, rather efficiency which affects overall business practice of cost reduction, revenue generation and customer experience.
In fact, at the very beginning of your migration journey, data considerations should be a central part of your cloud readiness assessments. It’s only by confronting the data issue head-on that you can rationalise your data landscape, reduce the footprint where possible, and create a suitable ‘home’ for your future data needs.
You’ll also be doing the best you can to shore up your data’s home from the threat of cyber-attackers. Well-structured data sets, that are governed by clear data policies, and protected by best-in-class security standards, will go a long way to reducing the likelihood of data breaches or detecting breaches sooner.