In this Q&A, I had the chance to sit down with Cloud Academy’s Content Lead for AWS, Andrew Larkin. Andrew has created many of our AWS learning paths, courses, and hands-on labs, including some of our newest certification learning paths for AWS specialty certifications in networking and big data. Today, we’ll be talking about the realities of migrating to the cloud (private vs. hybrid, and multi-cloud), security in the cloud, and much more.
Q: How have the tools for cloud migration changed over the past few years?
A: For people just getting started in cloud computing, there are so many more tools for migration services. The AWS Data Migration Service, for example, allows you to migrate a database schema from a traditional enterprise database to a cloud-based one. It could be from Oracle or from a SQL server. You can not only port the schema, but you can also migrate the data using the Database Migration Service.
AWS has also released a couple of interesting features in the last couple of months. First off, support. Until now, we’ve been able to migrate relational database services from on-premise to Amazon RDS. Now, we can also support things like MongoDB transformed into DynamoDB, which I think is fantastic. It opens up a whole lot of new possible work streams for people looking at migrating off on-premise databases to AWS.
Often, one of the key first steps that people take when they are looking at adopting cloud is to start moving traditional workloads in small steps. In this scenario, moving databases is often one of the biggest challenges.
We also have some interesting features around the schema. As an example, we can now shift data straight out of Aurora to Amazon S3, which is a really simple but effective use case for people working with data warehouses. How we move data around is a common problem. Aurora can now export straight to Amazon S3 using the ‘Select Into Outfile S3’ SQL statement.
Q: Cloud providers, especially Amazon Web Services, release so many updates each year. How do you incorporate these into your Cloud Academy courses?
A: So I’m always very, very excited by the new product releases. AWS had around 500 new product releases in 2016. So 2017 is probably going to be around a 1,000 or more, which is an incredible cadence.
It can be very overwhelming if you just see all these new features coming out. At Cloud Academy, we give you the foundation for the core components you need around compute, storage, and networking, as well as some of the application services such as AWS Lambda.
We try and pick out the best updates and build those into courses and hands-on labs as quickly as possible so that you can get into those without getting too overwhelmed. The structure we have to help you is the learning path. The learning paths we put together are built out of courses. They start with the fundamentals, so if you know nothing, you can still get started. They use labs, which help you get hands-on with the product and give you a really good start into what you need to do in the console to use these fantastic services. And then we also use quizzes, which just help you sharpen your knowledge. If there are areas that you still think you need to cover, they give you the opportunity to go back and do more research and more courseware on any of those topics.
We like to try to help people be good at their jobs.
So we’re constantly keeping you up with the latest and greatest technologies.
We show you how to use them, and that’s one of the key things that we are focusing on. It’s not just about what it is and how it works, it’s about how you can use these tools in your day-to-day jobs to achieve great outcomes for your customers.
Q: We’ve seen more than a few high profile companies move to the Google Cloud (Evernote, Meetup.com, Spotify are just a few). What do you think about the recent trend of migrating to Google Cloud in particular?
A: I think it’s great that people have a choice. We’re definitely seeing Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure catch up to AWS in some areas of the infrastructure space. I think AWS holds the cards in that it’s more about the services so that you can combine things together in AWS (using DynamoDB with Lambda triggers for example) and AWS has CloudWatch, CloudFormation, CloudTrail, and so many fantastic tools and services that make it easier for us to build things and support them.
Now, we can consider using other cloud providers for storage and networking, and honestly, I think that the Google Cloud Platform tools are very exciting. I think they’re coming up with some very, very good services. They’ve been through a lot of iterations, which may put people off at times. But I’m seeing them get to that maturity point now, where I think it’s well worth considering a Google Cloud Platform solution.
Q: Let’s talk about private and hybrid cloud. How are companies using them?
A: Here is a common journey that I see out in the customer community. Most people start experimenting and move some workloads to AWS. Over time, they will go all-in on cloud technologies. We’ve seen this in companies like Suncorp and Netflix, for example. It’s quite exciting to see how large enterprises have moved to an all-in model over time.
The reality is, there’s always going to be some type of required connectivity back to either on-premise or a data center of some sort. That’s just the reality of how computers work today. It could be due to compliance requirements, it could be due to disaster recovery. That sort of backward connectivity is crucial.
So, it’s always good to be able to frame any solution for a customer with that in mind. Some great tools are available, like Direct Net, which is basically a dedicated connection between you and AWS that is independent of the Internet. It’s a very effective way of creating the kind of reliable connectivity back to a data center. It does take some time to set up, so you can use a VPN connection for a first instance so that you have a reliable way of connecting back to a data center.
There will also be a number of considerations around how the business works. What I would always hope for, when we talk to customers, would be that they would go straight to the all-in model. Right? We’d all love that. Pick it all up and move it to AWS. Lift and shift. There’s a lot of benefit in that.
However, the real benefit of cloud technologies is not so much just in the lifting and shifting, there are other benefits such as cost and reliability.
The real benefits come when you start to decouple systems, start to build them, using the services in the most efficient way. Decoupling apps, i.e. removing dependence on state and starting to use more managed services in the design, can really start to make your solution more “cloudified.” That’s where you get the real benefit from a migration to a cloud provider.
This does take time because some re-engineering is often required. We have a lot of monolithic apps that generally don’t do so well when you just lift it and shift it. There are some great tools to help with that, such as VMware Import/Export tools or Direct Connect. There’s also the opportunity of running multiple versions or replicas of databases. That’s another area where a hybrid solution could provide a better solution for the business.
Q: How do we know which solution—private or hybrid—is better for a given environment?
A: As an AWS or cloud expert you need to be able to evaluate the customer’s requirements. Look at their appetite for change. If they want to go all-in straight away, fantastic. However, other parts of the business will have another agenda, which is something you need to be aware of. Going cloud means a lot of change, and as a cloud expert, you often need to lead that in the business.
In some of the courses we’re building today, we show how you can have those conversations.
Q: So, when companies migrate their business to the cloud, they need to consider several factors in choosing the correct cloud platform for their needs. Which factors are most important?
A: I think all of them are important. One of my favorite tools to use when you first have a project is the AWS Cloud Adoption Framework. It has six perspectives which help you frame the areas that you need to be thinking of. It’s the people perspective, and the platform. This helps you frame all of those conversations and identify which parts of the business you need to communicate with to make sure that all of those areas are covered. I think security is always number one and that is a key priority for the cloud platform providers. You need to make sure that it’s a key priority for you as well. You should always be looking at how you can make the environment more secure. It’s crucial to understand what areas could cause problems at some point, and solve those early.
Q: What should companies do to keep their cloud infrastructure as secure as possible?
A: The managed services really help. AWS Config is a fantastic way of keeping track of what changes have been made in your environment. CloudTrail gives us a really good way of seeing what API activities have occurred. CloudWatch provides a way for us to monitor environments and create alarms so that we have some self-healing and autonomy, and ultimately have eyes and ears into our environment. Those tools, used well together, can create a very secure environment.
The cloud environment is a little different from what we’re used to with traditional IT so it’s a very interesting journey. In my personal opinion, the security side of consulting is very, very underrepresented. Everyone’s going to need more security in future.
At a granular level, the tools available now, across the platforms, are fantastic.
Q: How do you see the agile environment?
A: When I’m talking to business managers who are looking at becoming more cloud-aware, the first thing I say to them is, “you need to start thinking about how the cloud will impact your teams and your business.” The minute you start using these tools, teams can do more with less. And they can do things faster. Ultimately, you can get more done.
If you’re not aware of how to use those processes and how to make the most of that, it can get bottle-necked at certain parts. It’s important to have a good understanding of agile processes, the use of the stand-up, the way that we use backlogs with cloud projects, etc. can be achieved if you have a good understanding of agile frameworks.
Q: Let’s talk about re:Invent 2017. What are you looking forward to this year?
A: 2017 is very exciting for us because we’ll be there as a sponsor. The event itself is huge. You do need to prepare mentally for an onslaught of information.
My advice is to go to as many of the practical sessions as you can, like the Chalk Talks, the workshops, and the sessions that won’t be published later on YouTube.
You can catch up on a lot of the keynotes and some of the sessions later, so I try to focus on everything that I can only see there.
There’s an extra day this year, which is exciting in itself, and the lesson events are also very, very exciting and well worth doing. The pub crawl and the chicken wings competition also look fun.
Listen to the full interview here: