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An Incremental Approach
As cloud computing
continues to gain momentum, organisations can be easily overwhelmed with the
thought of a complete shift in IT strategy, architecture and culture. While
the cloud offers promises of lower costs and new business models, even the
most detail-oriented CIO may wonder where to start.
The cloud now has come to mean centrally or remotely managed systems that
are connected to using internet technologies such as web services and
browsers. There are public clouds such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud
(EC2) and there are private clouds – think of an intranet-based cloud –
using all technology of a public cloud but within the security of an
Taking an incremental approach to cloud migration can enable organisations
to cloud-enable IT assets in a manner that maximises the value to the
organisation without interrupting the business. As cost-conscious IT
departments continue to look at modernisation strategies to reduce costs and
improve efficiencies, incremental cloud migration is emerging as a natural
outgrowth of application modernisation. But where do you start and in what
order to gain the fastest ROI?
Using Third-party Applications on the Cloud
The easiest, and most obvious step toward migrating to the cloud, is to
outsource the management and supply of your third-party solutions. ISVs are
using cloud technologies to offer their existing solutions as Software as a
Service (SaaS), using browser-based clients accessing their solutions that
are managed by the ISV or by a third party Enterprise Cloud Services
provider that takes the headache of running the core system away from the
ISV and, in turn, away from the corporation using the solution.
Software as a Service solutions can be a valuable part of the solution, they
are quick to implement and can be a powerful tactical solution to a
company’s pain. The ISVs benefit, in that they increase their income as they
get a bigger part of (the now smaller) IT spend. They also get to offer
their applications to new customers, the cost of starting a new client is
small, there is no software to install or maintain at the clients’ premises
and their solution becomes mobile, as more and more handsets become web
So what of the applications that you have built for yourself? Those large,
core systems that run the business. These systems contain the competitive
edge, the differentiation, the intellectual property – in many ways "they
are the organisation.” Changing these systems has often been compared to
changing a jet engine – mid flight, or even as performing a heart transplant
– mid marathon. The elements to consider here are risk vs. return and the
ability to stay in business today vs. investing for and being viable in the
future. There are hundreds of examples of organisations that have modernised,
and now with the advent of cloud technologies, it is even easier and safer
than it was.
The lowest cost, lowest risk way of being agile and innovative enough to
succeed today, while remaining in the ideal position to repeat the trick
tomorrow and the day after, is through re-use.
The cost of rebuilding what you already have is wasted effort and exposure
to risk without any increased return. Moving to a packaged solution for your
core businesses means that you become as good as your weakest competitors –
without any way of being better, or any way of being even different from
them. That is why so many people are modernising their existing enterprise
systems. They are increasingly choosing to modernise by breaking the process
into easy-to-digest pieces.
Incremental modernisation enables them to get benefit at every stage, as
they leverage the cloud to gain benefits such as Web-based services, new
user interfaces, new data types, and when all these are combined they can
modernise their business models to offer new services, to new customers and
enter new markets. These benefits include the ability to capture existing
processes, data and business logic on a more agile and cost-effective
platform – while increasing functionality and usability.
It is obvious that the better an application looks, the higher the rates of
user adoption and user satisfaction. Modernisation of the user interface
enables you to use web browsers, using Web 2.0 technologies such as Ajax to
have radio buttons and pull down menus. And the application looks like it is
loaded and running on the users machine (PC, laptop or mobile device), but
it is running centrally giving you the economies of scale and the savings of
centralised IT management. New browsers that use media-rich interfaces such
as Microsoft’s Silverlight bring a real zing to the user’s experience.
Modern interfaces bring higher user satisfaction, reduced training needs and
higher productivity. And they even reduce the calls on your support
department – first, because they’re easier to build, easier to debug and
better quality than the interface they replace, and, second, because your
users are more likely to trust a contemporary-looking interface and check
their own actions before logging a support call. The immediate benefit to
the organisation moving to these new interfaces is that the solution can be
rolled out to every desk, every lap, and every mobile worker – globally at
the same time.
Enable your applications to access and be accessed by other applications via
SOA and Internet (intranet) technologies – this interconnectivity allows
different parts of your organisation, and your extended organisation or
ecosystem, to work together efficiently and innovatively. The modernisation
of core systems to the use of web services is a tried-and-tested change and
is another incremental step that leaves you well positioned for whatever you
wish to modernise next.
Opening up your applications via new user interfaces and web services (and
the related security systems) gives fast ROI, but your organisation still
relies on the core logic, and keeping up with the competition, conforming
with new regulations, entering new markets or taking a lead in the markets
you are in require quick, safe, effective changes to your core system.
Recent advances in Application Portfolio Management, Program Analysis,
Integrated Development Environments (IDEs such as Eclipse and Visual
Studio), testing and software quality systems – mean that even the most
complex systems can be agile, even those systems that you inherited when you
took the role.
Modern data management systems offer powerful new capabilities for
reporting, data manipulation, investigation and reporting. While not as fast
as the best legacy systems, the functionality they provide often outweighs
this cost. You can open up your legacy system’s data to business
intelligence systems and dashboards and reports, or transfer the data to
RDBMS systems while keeping the core logic unchanged. This can be done
without changing a single line of your code, thereby adding increased power
and functionality with minimal risk.
Moving your applications to lower cost, more powerful platforms has long
been established as a reliable way of controlling budget pressure. In many
ways the cloud is seen as just another platform – and the usual provisos
apply: ensure your solutions remain portable, be agnostic and avoid lock in,
check the viability of your supplier and the support and security they can
Moving your application and managing it yourself on a cluster of servers
gives you centralised control, easier scalability, and some level of
elasticity (the ability to scale instantaneously to meet the demands of the
organisation) by sharing the servers between different applications.
Disaster recovery, back up, roll out of updates all become easier, quicker
safer and cheaper – and it is all within your own firewalls.
To get all this, and another step change in savings you can use an
Enterprise Cloud Services provider that provides you the compute platform as
an enterprise class service, with security, high availability, and support –
letting you get on with what you are best at and leaving someone else to
take care of these details.
Each of these steps – modernisation of the user interface, web services, new
data models and new platforms – can be taken on its own, and to a large
extent can be taken in any order. Each has compelling and fast ROI with low
levels of risk. When combined they provide a powerful strategy for cloud
migration that brings your enterprise systems all the benefits listed above,
but also the ability to create new business models and innovative ways to
charge and deliver your services.
- Peter Anderton is the Product Solutions Director at Micro Focus.