Running legacy systems in the cloud: 3 strategies for success

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Much of the excitement surrounding the cloud seems to focus on applications and services specifically designed for modern infrastructure and capabilities.

Think of cloud-native applications that are built on a microservices architecture to run – often in a highly automated way – in containers, for example. This is an understandable bias: applications designed or modified to take full advantage of the hyperscale platforms’ outrageous capabilities should spark excitement.

Most enterprises cannot simply ditch their existing application portfolio and start over in the cloud. Nor should they: larger, established companies have significant financial and technical investments in their so-called “legacy” systems. They have built up years and sometimes decades of internal knowledge and skills around these applications. In reality, ‘legacy’ in the enterprise is often synonymous with ‘critical’ – these are the tier-one/tier-two systems these companies literally run on, such as ERP platforms, HR systems and other critical software.

However, most CIOs and other IT leaders will sit on the sidelines and watch their competitors harness the benefits of the cloud, from advanced data analytics to cost savings to security enhancements and more. They need to modernize their environments while protecting their legacy assets – posing three key challenges common to many different organizations.

First, companies must decide: Which cloud?

Answering this question can be considerably more complicated than it may appear at first glance, due to the potentially long list of variables IT leaders need to consider: which application(s) are you migrating and how? Is there a better industry or company that would suit one platform over another? Which cloud capabilities will best meet the unique requirements of my legacy applications? Cloud is not a one-size-fits-all, and IT leaders must weigh the capabilities of different clouds against their decision criteria, especially when planning to move a legacy system there.

Second, organizations lack the necessary internal skills and expertise

Teams are able to learn, but may not be familiar with the cloud at the start of the project. This will impact not only the initial migration, but also day 2 and beyond operations, especially given the speed of change and new features that the hyperscale platforms – namely Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure – are continuously rolling out. . Without the necessary knowledge and experience, teams struggle to optimize their legacy system for cloud infrastructure and resources – and then fail to achieve the full capabilities of these platforms.

Companies must rely on partners to develop a training and onboarding program as part of their engagement. Consulting firms have developed this for their own internal resources and should be able to display materials to their clients to help them take off quickly.

Third, when a company moves legacy systems to a cloud, it naturally brings with it a data center mindset

This means they keep their old culture and approach to infrastructure, even though that infrastructure has fundamentally changed. Resources such as compute, networking and storage are now abstracted away and often managed as code, which could represent an evolutionary change for traditional infrastructure operations teams. This can lead to significant problems, such as unexpected cloud bills and unwanted security vulnerabilities, as costs and security both change at a much faster rate than in a traditional data center.

Fortunately, these are solvable problems: you can modernize your environment and applications while protecting your existing IT assets. We see three connecting approaches to successful migrations of legacy systems – and optimal operations once there.

1. Focus on capabilities and business effects.

Some organizations focus on finance when choosing their preferred cloud platform, and that’s understandable to some extent: executives don’t last long if they ignore their budget. But financials don’t usually vary greatly, and IT leaders are better served by taking a deeper dive into the capabilities of a particular cloud, especially if they apply to their specific application.

What can you do once you get there? What new doors does this or that cloud open for your company?

Nobody has a competitive advantage these days by worrying about infrastructure; they win with a laser focus on transforming their applications and their business. That’s a big part of the cloud’s appeal — it allows businesses to do just that, as it effectively takes traditional infrastructure concerns off their plates.

Then you can shift your focus to the business impact of the new technologies at your disposal, such as the ability to extract data from a massive system like SAP and integrate it with the best data analytics tools for new insights.

That is the kind of capital that leads to meaningful effects, such as process improvement, higher margins, new product or service possibilities and new revenue streams.

2. Choose the right cloud partner.

The skills gap is real and will persist for a long time to come. Plus, even as the job market is catching up, most organizations can’t suddenly hire and onboard a brand new cloud engineering team.

However, they can leverage a cloud partner — at a fraction of the cost compared to adding a significant internal workforce — that can help ensure the smooth migration of their legacy systems and optimize cloud operations for long-term success.

This is a maturing ecosystem with many options, each with its own different specialties and skills. Finding the right cloud is like choosing the right cloud: focus on capabilities and ask sharp questions, especially about how they will handle your specific applications.

For example, if a provider wants to show you Powerpoint slides about their capabilities, dig deeper. Ask for examples of how a traditional application would work in a modern, digitized cloud environment.

3. Prioritize people, processes and culture when migrating from legacy systems.

Some companies focus too much on the technical aspects of migrating from a traditional system to the cloud, and too little on process and culture. The technological components are of course crucial, but so are the people involved.

We regularly find that companies that prioritize people, processes, and culture are more likely to succeed in migrating legacy apps to the cloud — and thrive once they’re there. Leaders need to take their people on a journey – you can’t just drop people into the ocean and expect them to learn to swim.

This requires meaningful investments in people and culture, without which you will almost certainly struggle, not just during migration, but in the long run. This will likely reduce or completely eliminate the business value you want to deliver.

With that in mind, I’ll give you some useful tactics for investing in the people on the team:

Give people a buy-in. People should be part of the whole solution, not left in the dark until it’s time to migrate. Bring infrastructure operations and other functions into the conversation and give them the opportunity to provide input and be part of the process. Enable robust training on the new platform. Give relevant teams significant training opportunities on the new platform. Too many companies shorten this process. There are plenty of ways to go about this – the platforms themselves provide educational resources; there are many cloud and platform specific professional certifications; there are third-party training and education platforms; and the right partner can help here too,Create career opportunities. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked strategies in fostering a change in mindset and culture: showing how that change can benefit them. They may have the opportunity to learn DevOps processes and tools that make them more marketable, or move into new cloud roles with meaningful on-the-job learning opportunities. Whatever the details, people are more likely to embrace change if they see the personal benefit, not just how it benefits the business.

You can modernize and preserve your critical legacy investments. Make sure you have a plan of attack for the challenges.

Vince Lubsey is the CTO of Lemongrass.

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