Interview: Microsoft’s Paul Collinge on Cloud Migration Trends

The workplace has changed significantly over the years. We’ve gone from companies having concerns about moving to the Cloud to a significant majority now seeing the benefits of making the transition. According to our recent survey conducted with Hyperfish, Nintex and ShareGate, cloud-based SharePoint usage is at an all-time high, with adoption having jumped from 31% to 50% since last year. This is progress, but there are still companies that resist migrating to SharePoint and Office 365 because of security concerns.

At the European SharePoint Conference, we spoke to Microsoft’s Paul Collinge, Senior Program Manager-CXP Office 365 Network Performance & Connectivity, to make sense of the Cloud migration trends. Check out our full interview below.

From your perspective, what are the common challenges companies face when adopting Office 365?

The main challenge is that the landscape completely changes as we move to the Cloud, so the network needs to transform to facilitate that. Data/Applications/Services used to live within the walled garden of the corporate network, with network infrastructure therefore built to connect users to those elements, and a security stack protecting the business from the outside world of unknown and untrusted endpoints. With the cloud, Data/Applications/Services no longer live in that walled garden and if we persist with the existing network infrastructure designed for the old world, then we’re very likely to run into performance issues with the service or load issues on the egress.

My job entails spending a great deal of time understanding our customers’ network infrastructure and helping them transform to this new model in the most effective way, and I see some pretty common challenges. A lot of the work I do is to help transform network models away from the standard hub and spoke security stack model, to where the world is going, which is the local breakout model facilitated by SDWAN devices and connected by local internet circuits. This has the benefit of often being cheaper than the old MPLS backhaul model, whilst also providing higher performance for users at those sites, so a win for everyone! I was recently working with a customer who’s network traffic had flipped from 70% internal & 30% external to 70% external and 30% internal in the course of just two years, and the local breakout model using SDWAN they implemented has meant user experience of this shift has been excellent whilst also cutting network costs significantly.

From an Office 365 perspective, we’re constantly driving the edge of the service closer to users wherever they are in the world and the local breakout model helps customers take advantage of this model as well as any other cloud services they may use.

It’s may seem a bit odd that someone from Office 365 is telling a customer how to transform their network, but Office 365 tends to be the first step into the Cloud world for many, and often it is Exchange Online which is the first service to onboard, so we’ve got a great, experienced team which helps our customers understand how to transform the network space for the Cloud-first world, not just for Office but for the modern way of working.

We have a set of connectivity principles that set out some high level areas to strive for to make that transformation. We’ve also made a lot of technical changes in the background to help customers make a smooth transition to the Cloud such as consolidating IP addresses and URLs and a new Web Service to help automate change in this space.

How do businesses view the Cloud and has the perception changed overtime?

I think perception has changed significantly, trust and confidence in the Cloud and the delivery model has grown over time, as you’d expect. People grow in confidence as they use it more and more and also begin to reap the benefits it offers. However, perception is key to success in engaging your users in the new services, and if we have poor performance when trying to connect through the old model then the user experience is going to be poor, so it knocks the confidence back a bit. It’s therefore critical that the network is configured to make the most of Cloud services from day one so as to drive success and allow other projects further down the line to reap the confidence built with those first steps.

I regularly see though my work that, with the right network strategy, the network becomes an enabler for the business to be agile and reap the benefits of a Cloud-first world rather than be a blocker for the rapid change required in today’s world. That new service which needs rolling out ASAP is no longer blocked by 6 months lead time and costs required to build new on premises proxy infrastructure to facilitate it.

Are you finding that certain sectors are migrating to the Cloud more slowly?

As you’d expect, certain sectors such as financial institutions have been a little more cautious. But what we’re finding is slower adoption sectors are now moving rapidly into the Cloud now because they’re realizing they are getting left behind. By implementing the Cloud model, they are more adaptable to the modern world. That old world with everything on premises doesn’t scale well and doesn’t make the business agile enough. you can clearly see the effects of being free of the old model with the newer modernized financial companies, but with Cloud services and the right network model, the more traditional companies can stay competitive and offer innovative things to their customers. I’ve seen many of these types of customers do amazing things in the past few years as they transform using the Cloud.

If you think about it from a cost-savings perspective, and how it makes a business more agile, the benefits of migrating to the Cloud become clear pretty quickly and most industries are starting to rapidly reap the benefits of this.

At LiveTiles, we’re interested in the user experience. Is there a common end goal for companies migrating to the Cloud?

For most customers, the goal is to move away from that static infrastructure to have the tools to do their jobs better.

If you give the user a box to do their work that doesn’t change, they tend to work within that box. If you give them flexibility to work with new tools, new sharing models and new teamwork models, they become more agile and productive, which drives innovation and change within the business.

Where do you see the future of Cloud technology going?

Businesses that aren’t looking at AI already will be left behind, AI has enormous potential to give companies insights into what they’re doing, where the gaps are, what their customers want, and businesses embracing AI are already outpacing those who aren’t. AI is going to be essential for a business to be effective. The wealth of Cloud services being used also provides an enormous amount of data for the business, and AI enables the business to use that data to help their business grow and flourish.

Do you think customers are prepared for AI?

From a Microsoft perspective, we’re helping drive content around AI to help our customers make the most of this opportunity. One of the best documents I’ve read to set the scene as to how businesses take advantage of AI is “Maximising the AI opportunity” from Microsoft UK.  It’s not just a buzz word, AI is here, and I see many of our customers already doing amazing things to evolve their business in real-time to meet their changing needs, However, there is a learning curve needed to navigate first to figure out what AI can do for them, and importantly how to use AI ethically.

How will AI benefit the workplace?

It’s all about using mountains of data that a business creates to not do the same thing day in day out, and respond rapidly to a world which is moving quicker by the day. That’s the way I look at it. That data enables you to see where you need to go and how you can do things better, that’s the key. It also has the great side benefit of making it easier for employees to do their jobs. If you can remove a lot of manual, mundane tasks by having AI do it, employees are free to work on more important projects which then help drive business value.

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