3 top tips for migrating legacy applications to the cloud

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Understandably, most people involved in IT are excited by the prospect of cloud computing, and the ROI and efficiencies that it will offer IT departments and business units. Amid this hype, however, little consideration appears yet to have been given to how the cloud will affect the core legacy applications which still run the vast majority of the world’s large organisations.

In many cases, these systems have become integral parts of the businesses they represent, having grown with them over the course of a number of decades and become uniquely adapted to their individual needs. The prospect of losing this unique business logic is not an attractive one, but in their current state these applications will not bring CIOs the benefits (such as a shift from capital to operational expenditure) which are promised by the cloud.

The solution which many organisations will look to over the coming years, therefore, is migrating these important applications to cloud platforms such as Amazon EC2 or Microsoft Azure. Thankfully, migrating to the cloud does not have to be difficult and this process can be executed without compromising application performance.

Here are three initial tips for CIOs and IT workers as they plan to migrate their legacy applications to the cloud.

1. Apps Everywhere: Where to begin?

Today’s IT professionals are managing increasingly complex environments, often containing several different applications running on all sorts of platforms. Before modernising legacy applications and moving them to the cloud, it is important to prioritise which ones urgently need to be modernised and which you would like to be updated.

In order to do this, all applications should be charted by the highest business value and highest cost, and then compared to which have the highest impact and best business cases. The applications that are of the utmost importance in terms of value and impact, but also carry a high cost are the ones that should migrate to the cloud first.

IT should leverage the CapEx to OpEx advantages of cloud – the “computing as a utility” data model. Interdepartmental charge-back of computing resources used in timesharing systems for decades is not unlike the cloud pay-as-you-go model. As this charting commences, it is important to remember that the IT department should work with the business to ensure that the technology and app roadmap are on a par with the business and product plans.

2. Leverage application portfolio management tools

Technically a legacy application is one that could have been written as recently as yesterday – anything from an order processing system through to a PowerPoint application. Most large organisations will be home to a vast number of applications, built up over a period of decades, to such an extent that understanding exactly which systems are continuing to add value to the business and which are redundant is far from straightforward.

Application Portfolio Management (APM) tools give CIOs an insight into all of their existing systems, showing cost, performance and other factors which can aid the decision-making process. Analysing the entire portfolio will show which applications are vital to the business, and should therefore be modernized, and which can either be delayed or, in some cases, retired altogether.

3. Bygone applications are not gone

Contrary to popular belief, 20-year-old business IT applications written in older languages such as COBOL are in fact perfectly-suited to running in the cloud. At the time these applications were written they supported thousands of users, and on mainframes of the day that were as powerful as today’s smart phones in terms of processing power and memory.

The critical success factor for these apps was making sure that they and their frameworks can easily support multi-tenant and multi-user capabilities. Scaling of users and transactions has simply multiplied a hundred fold in the time since they were written. That same notion of supporting large amounts of users on less powerful platforms translates to the cloud. The key is to get the platform to support all of those same APIs so applications can move seamlessly into the cloud.

With budgets still at a premium, IT departments can ill afford to spend on shiny new technology when they have fully functional applications already at their fingertips. In the current climate, modernising existing IT systems onto cloud platforms, where businesses can then take advantage of more efficient cost structures, makes perfect sense. As adoption increases in the coming years, migration will have an increasingly prominent role to play in taking business-critical applications to their new home in the cloud.

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Mark Haynie is the CTO of Application Modernisation at Micro Focus where he concentrates on core IT application and data reuse in today’s computing world. He has been a focal point in defining Micro Focus products and services to help IT organisations re-host IBM mainframe applications on Windows or Linux environments and the performance and availability requirements those systems must meet. He has architected products to meet customer demand to extend applications to the Web and Web service environments common in a Service Oriented Architecture. Mark has over 25 years experience in IT and has conducted seminars and published papers and books on design automation, database design and high performance transaction systems.