Migrating Servers and Virtual Machines to Azure – A Quickstart Guide

The scalability, flexibility, cost-efficiency, and improved performance that comes with moving to the cloud is becoming too attractive for companies to ignore them. Many organizations have started moving to the cloud as a cost-effective option to manage their IT portfolio and avoid expensive Capex for the purchase of new servers and remove the complexities in managing on-premises architecture.

Irrespective of a company’s size, migrating to the cloud is certainly quite an undertaking. Fortunately, Microsoft has created a unique platform with a range of tools to help make the migration fast and smooth, while minimizing the risk and impact to your business.

Microsoft Azure is one of the leading cloud computing service providers that allows businesses to use cloud resources on a pay per use model, therefore you can pay for only what you need and how long you need it. Azure provides multiple options right from Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to Platform as a Service (PaaS) to Software as a Service (SaaS), so you can choose from a simple lift and shift approach to a more complex application modernization approach.

The migration journey begins with an Assessment of your current setup. There are tools like Azure Migrate that Azure provides for this purpose and additionally you can leverage other assessment tools from Azure migration partner ecosystem. Azure Migrate provides a centralized hub to assess and migrate to Azure on-premise servers, infrastructures, applications, and data. With Azure, you can also assess how your workloads will perform, plan, and implement your migration strategy accordingly.

5 Azure Migration Strategies

Here are five strategies that are adopted widely for migrating an application to Azure cloud.

1. Rehosting

Commonly known as “lift and shift”, this is an approach to migrate applications from an on-premise environment to the cloud with no changes to the underlying applications. This is the most popular migration approach as it allows quick migration with little risk of disruption by employing real-time replication during the transition process.

2. Refactoring

This is also known as “repacking”. It involves making small changes to the code and configuration of the application to ensure they are more compatible with the cloud so you can connect them easily to Azure-native infrastructure. This can improve the scalability and maximize the operational cost-efficiency of the platform.

3. Rearchitecting

Also known as “redesigning”, this strategy involves modifying or extending the code base of an application to optimize it to run on Azure. Rearchitecting is a time-consuming migration approach, but still, it offers infinite scalability.

4. Rebuilding

This strategy involves discarding the old application and rebuilding an application or workload from the ground up using the Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS). In this migration strategy, you manage the applications and services you develop, while Azure manages the platform and infrastructure required to run it.

5. Replacing

Under this approach, all the underlying infrastructure, middleware, application software, and application data are in the cloud and managed by Azure in Microsoft datacenters. This is used for greater efficiency and scalability.

3-Step Migration Process

Once you decide on your migration approach, the actual migration to the cloud is a 3-step process (Assess – Migrate – Optimize). Now before you get started with the migration there are a few preliminary considerations to ensure your cloud environment is ready to receive your workloads. You need to ensure that your virtual data center in the cloud contains the elements that are comparable to your on-premises environment. Building the virtual data center in the cloud is a streamlined process and it includes the following

1. Identity

To ensure authenticated access to users between your on-premises environment and workloads that you have migrated to the cloud, you need to invest in a built-in identity management solution. For this purpose, you can use the Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) or other similar solutions.

2. Storage

Migrating to the cloud requires a storage platform that meets the performance needs of your migrated workloads. You can choose from different storage types and configure exact storage requirements based on workloads to ensure security and reliability. You just need to enter a few details to get the right storage for your migration project.

3. Networking

Networking is the backbone of the data center. When migrating to the cloud, you need to keep the applications in the same subnets and IP address ranges to ensure a seamless migration.  You can create a virtual network to maintain the same performance and stability you had in the on-premise data center.

4. Connectivity

During migration, you’ll transfer a large amount of data to the cloud. So it would be wise to opt for a dedicated connectivity option to help with smooth data transfer and have the best user experience. For this purpose, you can use Azure ExpressRoute as it helps in a faster, private connection to Azure and ensures performance and security.

Now it’s time to begin your migration journey to the cloud.

Migration Phase 1: Assessment

Now that you have a better understanding of Azure and how it fits into your migration strategy, it’s time to assess your existing infrastructure. Here are four steps to do that

1. Identification of application and server dependencies

Begin with inventory and assessment of on-premises IT resources to identify opportunities to optimize the IT environment and prioritize which applications and workloads are ideal for migration. Determining your priorities and objectives early can help you have a seamless migration process.

2. Assessment of on-premises applications and servers

Your organization may run hundreds or thousands of servers and virtual machines. You need consolidated planning and a perfect tool to shift them to the cloud. Microsoft offers Azure Migrate service to provide automation for the assessment of on-premises workloads. Ultimately, the goal of this assessment phase is to collect server and application information, including configuration and usage.

3. Configuration analysis

Configuration analysis will help you understand which of your workloads can be migrated with no modifications, which ones require a few modifications, and which workloads are incompatible with the current installation. Essentially this step helps you ensure the proper functioning of the workloads on the cloud.

4. Cost planning

The final step of the assessment phase is to collect resource usage such as CPU, memory, and storage to forecast costs and expenditures. This helps in ascertaining the actual usage of your workload and ensure that your choice meets both performance and economic targets.

Migration Phase 2: Execute Migration

After you’ve completed discovery and assessment, now it’s time to prepare for the next step – migration.  The lift-and-shift method most often employed for server or VM migration is real-time replication, due to its flexibility and capability in staged migration.

1. Real-time Replication

This involves creating a copy of the workload in the cloud and allowing asynchronous replication to keep the copy and the workload in sync. Replication also lets groups of virtual machines be connected to the cloud. Real-time replication also allows the old workload to remain online and accessible during the migration to ensure zero disruptions.

2. Testing

Once the replication is complete, start your application or workloads using an isolated environment that mimics the cloud production environment. It lets you test the application without impacting the on-premise as well as cloud production systems. When you’re fully satisfied, it’s time to perform the final migration.

Migration Phase 3: Optimize

Once the migration phase is complete, you need to ensure a seamless transition of operating workloads in the cloud. This is what the optimize phase is all about.

1. Secure cloud resources

Know the security controls and the capabilities of the new cloud-based application, to ensure that the security measures are working, and responding properly. You should become familiar with the capabilities of the Azure Security Center like centralized policy management, continuous security assessment, actionable recommendations, and more.

2. Protecting Data

Ensure that the workloads and data are having a proper backup, disaster recovery, encryption, and other measures to protect your business from risks. Azure offers multiple mechanisms like Azure disk encryption, Azure Backup, and Azure Site Recovery to protect your data.

3. Monitoring Cloud Health

Azure offers many monitoring services to ensure you have full visibility into your current system status and get unique insights into your applications and infrastructure. The basic monitoring services include Azure Monitor, Service Health, and Azure Advisor. A few of the premium monitoring services include Application Insights, Azure Log Analytics, and Network Watcher.

There are many options and reasons for migrating workloads to Azure.

With this straightforward guide, migration to Azure wouldn’t be a complex task anymore. By having a proper plan and mapping out the key objectives, you can ensure a successful Azure migration.

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