by July 1, 2011 0 comments

Peter Anderton, Product Solutions Director, Micro Focus

As cloud computing continues to gain momentum, organizations 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 organization’s intranet. Taking an incremental approach to cloud migration can enable organizations to cloud-enable IT assets in a manner that maximizes the value to the organization without interrupting the business. As cost-conscious IT departments continue to look at modernization strategies to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, incremental cloud migration is emerging as a natural outgrowth of application modernization. But where do you start and in what order to gain the fastest RoI?

Using third-party apps

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-enabled.

So what about 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 organization.” 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 organizations that have modernized, and now with the advent of cloud technologies, it is even easier and safer than it was.

The lowest cost, least risky 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 being any way better, or even different from them. That is why so many people are modernizing their existing enterprise systems. They are increasingly choosing to modernize by breaking the process into easy-to-digest pieces.

Incremental modernization enables them to get benefits 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 modernize 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.

User interface

It is obvious that the better an application looks, the higher the rates of user adoption and user satisfaction. Modernization 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 centralized 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 calls to your support team — first, because they’re easier to build, easier to debug and of 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 organization 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.

Web services

Enable your applications to access and be accessed by other applications via SOA and Internet (intranet) technologies — this interconnectivity allows different parts of your organization, and your extended organization or ecosystem, to work together efficiently and innovatively. The modernization 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 modernize next.

Core logic

Opening up your applications via new user interfaces and web services gives fast ROI, but your organization 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 require quick, safe, effective changes to your core system. Recent advances in Application Portfolio Management, Program Analysis, Integrated Development Environments (IDEs such as Eclipse), 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.

Data management

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.

Better platforms

Moving your applications to low 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 provide.

Moving your application and managing it yourself on a cluster of servers gives you centralized control, easier scalability, and some level of elasticity (the ability to scale instantaneously to meet the demands of the organization) by sharing servers amongst different applications. Disaster recovery, back up, roll out of updates all becomes 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 — modernization of the user interface, web services, new data models and new platforms — can be taken on their 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 benefits listed above, and also the ability to create new business models and innovative ways to charge and deliver your services.

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