The move to cloud computing in enterprises has until recently largely been confined to new greenfield applications, test and development solutions or software-as-a-service solutions from companies such as Salesforce.
The one factor that these applications share is that they are not on the whole critical to the business. But having dipped their toes in the water and gained confidence, it is now time for companies to start moving their legacy applications to the cloud too.
These mission-critical applications are like the family jewels of the business. Many have been running for what seems like generations, and moving these revenue-generating applications is a big decision.
The majority of these applications are running in the data centre on dedicated equipment – mainly because software licences dictate that they need to work that way. They operate on networks with known profiles and performance and are linked to the rest of the organisation by robust, high-speed connections.
If anything goes wrong, then the IT department can easily investigate and narrow down the search for where the fault lies. A move to the cloud might seem like madness to many IT managers, entailing a complete loss of control.
Unfortunately, IT managers can protest as much as they like but there are forces at work that mean they need to make the move.
A recent Telstra survey asked IT managers what were the drivers influencing their move to the cloud and the top five answers were:
- Improving security (71 per cent)
- Improving efficiency (68 per cent)
- Reducing costs (57 per cent)
- Optimising data and information (51 per cent)
- Managing risk and compliance (47 per cent)
Moving legacy applications to the cloud would satisfy all those needs, particularly the need to reduce costs. So what are the challenges to be overcome in achieving the move?
Network connectivity is one of the major barriers. Just how do you know which part of the web is causing a problem? How do you test and manage response times and latencies, especially if your audience now includes users on mobile devices?
A lack of skills and expertise is another obstacle. Where do you find teams of qualified and experienced engineers who can provision and maintain your cloud solutions on today's limited IT budgets?
And lastly – and most importantly – how do you know that the solution you have chosen is the right one? Is Azure, Amazon or one of the hundreds of different cloud providers offering the right platform for your particular application?
Martin Bishop, head of network, applications and services at Telstra Global Enterprise and Services, explains why connectivity can be one reason why certain applications are never transferred to the cloud.
“Applications can be very sensitive to latency issues. For example financial firms will have written their own trading software which requires very low latency so they are reluctant to give up control of it,” he says.
“The risk of not being able to guarantee latencies is just too great. That is a good reason not to move it to the public cloud where it is exposed to the vagaries of the internet.”
One answer to the problems of moving legacy applications is not to go for a full-blown cloud-only version and instead opt for a hybrid solution. The application remains in-house and runs on a private cloud, but if required “bursts” to the public cloud.
“With hybrid cloud businesses can achieve some of the benefits of cloud while retaining control. You have a dedicated cloud which has a known infrastructure and network connectivity, but with a degree of flexibility built into it that allows movement into a public cloud environment,” says Bishop.
But while much has been written about hybrid, it still requires experience. “To burst into the cloud sounds like a great vision but how do you actually do it? How do you implement it? How do you set it up to be flexible? You need clever bits of software and people who can manage that software,” says Bishop
Large enterprises may have many mission-critical legacy applications, but for most companies it is unrealistic to employ experts to sit around just in case an application fails. Most businesses need to adopt a cautious approach and allow third parties to deliver and support the hybrid solution.
Telstra advocates a five-step process for moving to to the hybrid cloud.
- Conduct a full audit of application workloads – and then assess where each would fit within a hybrid cloud model in terms of processing, storage and security requirements.
- Gain a deep understanding of peaks and troughs in demand and how workloads vary at different times.
- Look for solutions that complement your existing technology and make sure you know how it will connect before selecting a solution.
- Ask service providers how easy their systems are to control and manage to minimise stress on your IT team.
- Consider the network: seek technologies and service providers that take the network into account and offer a smooth transition to the hybrid model.
Sounds easy? Maybe not, but if you plan your transition to a hybrid cloud setup correctly you will retain control over your IT. You get to choose how you customise your environment for your workloads. ®