Accelerate migration and go beyond virtualisation to cloud native

Speed up the gradual refactoring of legacy software and deliver demonstrable results in months rather than years

Sponsored Feature You've migrated most of your applications to the cloud and are reaping the benefits. But you still have one or two problem children.

These are the legacy applications that you couldn't easily move to a cloud infrastructure for technical, commercial, or political reasons. Instead, the best you could do was load them into virtual machines (VMs) and then run them on your own premises. There they sit, these icebergs of technical debt, inflexible, unchangeable, and strategically problematic.

It doesn't have to be this way, explains Paul Whiten, Cloud Services Advocate for Asia Pacific at Red Hat. The company's OpenShift product is more than a native container management platform; it's an application development, modernisation, and deployment platform that provides a path to manage legacy application VMs as containers.

"Organisations understand that they need to do things better than virtual machines, and containers look like the replacement for it," he says. "They are a means of loading or composing your applications so that they're more agile, more scalable, and more resilient."

The 'lift-and-shift' approach to virtualising legacy software in VMs minimises some technical risk by abstracting the hardware layer without affecting the software. However, it also eliminates many benefits, which is in itself a form of risk.

These benefits include the cloud's promise of agility and innovation, because VMs just move existing inflexibility and brittleness to the new environment. It's also difficult to innovate quickly and take advantage of new technologies and services from cloud infrastructure providers since the applications remain coupled to their original architectures. Managing virtual machines in the cloud eliminates some of the advantages of platforms like Kubernetes that are tailored for containers.

Whiten cites common feedback from large customers, such as those who attended a recent round table organised by Red Hat for finance institutions. "When we talked about virtualisation modernisation, they were saying that it's just a failure," he recalls. "Lifting and shifting is more expensive, potentially. And it really isn't bringing about the expectations they had for the cloud."

The technical and commercial advantages of containers

Containers can offer several advantages over virtual machines. Container architectures are better suited for microservices and distributed applications for example, since they can be deployed more quickly and scaled more easily. They're also designed to support modern development approaches like microservices and can take advantage of DevOps practices more seamlessly.

OpenShift layers extra services like its service mesh that make it easier to manage and observe distributed container-based workloads compared to VMs.

"You've also got governance in terms of when you can scale and turn off the containers effectively. So you don't have to over-provision hardware for the worst case," Whiten adds. "That use case meshes well with developers who just need a virtual machine environment for a couple of hours or weeks to test new ideas."

Modernising virtual machines in the cloud could help companies to explore the commercial advantages too.

"Many customers are tied into legacy vendors and contracts that may not be optimised," says Whiten, adding that transferring these from on-premises systems into the cloud lays the foundation for resolving some of those issues. "They have a sprawl of systems that are ripe for cost optimisation."

There is clearly strong support for container-based workloads. Last year, Red Hat found that transforming workloads to container architectures was the most popular way of modernising legacy apps, with 46 percent of people doing it - even though it has been one of the more challenging approaches. Just 14 percent opted for simply moving on-premises VMs to VMs on Kubernetes.

How OpenShift helps

OpenShift allows customers to transfer VMs into containers so that they can be managed alongside native container workloads via a single control plane.

"What we're offering is a cloud native, common management plane to manage your VMs and containers side by side. So what that means is, you no longer have two sets of tools and VM hypervisors," Whiten says.

Red Hat has spent several years working on building virtualisation support into OpenShift. It settled on the open-source project KubeVirt as the foundation to bring virtual machine support to its product in the form of an add-in called OpenShift Virtualisation.

The add-in allows admins to create and manage VMs directly in the cluster and connect to them via GUI tools or the command line. They can also manage network interface controllers and storage disks attached to VMs, and update applications within VMs.

OpenShift Virtualisation can also import existing VMs from platforms including VMware.

It abstracts away much of the underlying complexity so the VMs themselves are unaware they are inside of a container, while still gaining resiliency, scalability and other benefits from the platform, Whiten adds. This also provides efficiencies in licensing, training, and staffing.

"It's a path to modernise your applications, he says of OpenShift Virtualisation. "Yes, it's fundamentally a VM in a container, but it's the processes around it that are important."

These processes include monitoring and logging via OpenShift's service mesh. Because VMs in an OpenShift cluster run as containers in this configuration, admins can now track their status like any other component without having to use other management tools. The tool makes admins' jobs far easier by providing a visual map of all containers and microservices.

A path to future-proof your infrastructure

While these potential benefits are attractive for admins, they're the first step in what Whiten sees as a broader modernisation of those difficult legacy code bases over time. Inside their container interface, those legacy VMs are still large, cumbersome chunks of monolithic code. They'll often be laden with heavy technical debt and won't be as flexible as event-driven microservice-based applications.

Porting these VMs to OpenShift opens up access to tools that can help modernise them from the inside out. Through practices like GitOps and infrastructure as code, DevOps teams can rearchitect their monolithic legacy apps over time, eventually converting that functionality to a microservices based architecture - either partially or in full - at their own pace.

These tools include CI/CD capabilities, based on the Tekton open-source project, that enables developers to deploy changes to those legacy applications in a structured way, with the necessary gating, automated tests, and other controls that form part of the modern DevOps landscape.

The same CI/CD pipelines can be used to deploy both container-based VMs and native container workloads consistently, streamlining the development process. Developers also benefit from tools like self-service provisioning of test environments using container-based VMs through the CI/CD pipelines. This greatly accelerates their development cycles, Whiten says.

He also points to cloud-based development environments that make it easier for developers and admins to handle and adapt the VMs remotely.

"In terms of future-proofing your platform choice, OpenShift is a safe bet," he says, pointing out that the IBM-owned company has a long track record supporting Kubernetes at scale as a lead contributor to the project, and a secure future. "We've got both the vendor stability and the experience," he points out, adding that companies using OpenShift won't have to worry about moving their container-based VMs to someone else's platform in the future.

Customers in Malaysia for instance say they are seeing the benefits of increased agility, portability and scalability after investing in Red Hat Virtualization under the Openshift umbrella. This includes some of Malaysia's major telcos which have been able to take advantage of the 1 subscription now to support both the container and virtualization features.

It's a similar story in the country's financial services industry which is typically a forerunner of technology adoption. Estimations suggest that six out of ten financial institutions in Malaysia are now tapping into the next wave of their modernization by investing in a long term application strategy designed to delivers both the features they currently need alongside a container platform ready to meet future requirements.

Best practices for modernising legacy apps

Having made the decision to move a virtual machine to a container-based infrastructure, how can companies proceed?

The first thing to think about are the eventual outcomes you're shooting for by transferring your VM into a container-based infrastructure, Whiten says. Because this is a platform to kick-start modernisation, companies should be thinking about the ideal eventual state for the functionality currently locked inside the VM. Consider how that maps to business outcomes such as lower operating costs or improved software development agility.

"Then it's a matter of evaluating your application landscape using the tooling that we have, and that's probably the best practice differentiator that Red Hat offers," Whiten says. "We've got automated scanning tools that will go through and help you prioritise what to move, when, and how."

Companies should also think about how to measure those outcomes. OpenShift's tools will let companies measure their rearchitecting efforts against their own KPIs, and use that proof to justify further modernisation.

Red Hat's Migration Toolkit for Applications is key here. It helps to prioritise applications for replatforming and then manage the modernisation project.

Streamlining the modernisation process means that instead of looking at gradual refactoring over years, companies can begin cloud migrations for legacy software immediately and then deliver more results gradually over time, Whiten concludes. They can achieve demonstrable outcomes over months, rather than quarters or years. For companies striving to refine or ultimately eliminate legacy code in the pursuit of cost reduction and agility, that should prove to be a powerful proposition.

Interested to learn more about how Red Hat can help you navigate your lift and shift from a virtualization environment to container strategy? Get in touch to book a complimentary discovery session by visiting this page.

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