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Application Modernization and the Cloud Connection

What appeals most to businesses about application modernization and cloud computing delivery models is the ability to help enterprises become more efficient by reducing costs and increasing the flexibility and productivity of their IT environment.

Businesses that want continued competitive advantage in the market often rely on the latest technologies to help them get there. Two key trends in the information technology space are requiring enterprises to re-think the best way to run their businesses today: cloud computing and application modernization.

What appeals most to businesses about application modernization and cloud computing delivery models is the ability to help enterprises become more efficient by reducing costs and increasing the flexibility and productivity of their IT environment.

But how do these two trends interconnect? Can companies with legacy applications take advantage of cloud computing? If so, how?

Advantages of Modernizing to the Cloud
Key drivers that are encouraging enterprises to modernize and run their applications in the cloud are increased efficiency (leading to cost savings), scalability (allowing IT to rapidly expand its ability to process business volume during peak business cycles) and lower capital expenditures (which are now replaced with a 'pay as you go' computing model). Applications operating in cloud-based systems also offer greater mobility and flexibility as opposed to localized, disparate legacy systems because they can be accessed anywhere, anytime, and can more easily integrate with other applications hosted in the cloud. They also are easier to manage and update since they're centrally hosted and strongly benefit by leveraging common suite of application and infrastructure management tools.

Many institutions are forced into often failed attempts at modernization due to old hardware losing vendor support or the retirement of the last knowledgeable programmer in a particular aging legacy software application. Modernizing without a plan delivered via a strong migration methodology can be expensive, time-consuming, laborious and challenging on many fronts -- a combination that may not give organizations the return on investment they're seeking. This often leads organizations to delay their modernization efforts -- adding even more risk and cost to the eventual 'doomsday event' which finally forces modernization. For such organizations, cloud models can offer quick, dependable and economic options for various modernization needs.

There are many options for running applications via the cloud. Businesses can move applications partially or fully by migrating them onto a virtualized cloud platform (Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS), hosting them on a cloud infrastructure and/or renting application software and databases (Software as a Service, SaaS), or developing applications using a provider's cloud platform as their architecture (Platform as a Service, PaaS).

SaaS can offer the most immediate and sophisticated cloud deployment option for enterprises seeking application modernization for commodity functionality. A good example of this is Salesforce.Com, a widely adopted solution for customer relationship management. Companies looking to lower deployment costs and add elasticity of demand can opt for IaaS. PaaS is the most recently developed cloud option, yet it has the potential to offer a powerful long-term opportunity for many legacy application workloads.

Organizations also need to assess the right cloud deployment model -- private, public or hybrid -- that best fits their needs during the various phases of their modernization course. For example, during the initial phase of application modernization, customers can leverage public cloud for development and testing and opt for a private model in production if the workload has regulatory and compliance components. A complete modernized portfolio can have some applications running on the public cloud and some on a private environment. Organizations can choose to take key advantages of each model to create an optimal, hybrid mix.

Moving Legacy Apps to the Cloud
Enterprises with legacy applications that want to gain cloud benefits face numerous challenges. Most applications designed for mainframes are not naturally suited for cloud environments that are built on distributed x86 platforms. Businesses also are concerned about security, compliance, and compatibility issues, especially when it involves migrating mission-critical applications.

However, enterprises can overcome these challenges by using several application modernization methods, specifically re-hosting and re-architecting. Both methods provide organizations with greater cloud advantages. Re-hosting and re-architecting also enable enterprises to take advantage of automated processes and new security standards which can dramatically streamline operations.

Re-hosting provides a relatively rapid way to re-platform mainframe and proprietary UNIX applications onto a more flexible cloud platform. Re-hosting involves migrating legacy applications off mainframe and other proprietary vendor systems such as AS/400 onto lower-cost x86 platforms while preserving valuable business logic and data investments.

Application re-hosting can give an enterprise more flexibility and functionality while preserving the best aspects of legacy systems. Post re-hosting, enterprises have greater software choices and don't need to worry about vendor lock-in. Re-hosting also helps enterprises consolidate all its applications, which eliminates silos of information that are often encountered with legacy systems. This can dramatically reduce Total Cost of Ownership too.

A worldwide payment processor was encumbered by its legacy mainframe application. Its rigidity didn't allow the enterprise to grow as quickly as the market demanded. The company decided to re-host all of its mainframe applications and proprietary UNIX applications to private cloud environments. Today, with newfound IT flexibility and agility, the company can move into different markets and acquire new customers more swiftly.

Re-architecting involves re-developing legacy applications onto modern platforms like Java and .NET, while retaining key business functionality. This makes re-architected workloads candidates for IaaS and PaaS solutions. Enterprises that re-architect applications can benefit from lower deployment costs, enhanced flexibility and easier integration with other cloud-based services or applications. Re-architected applications also eliminate information silos and can ensure more efficient application roll-outs and single-point updates.

A leading communication provider with a COBOL-based application was unable to update key functional requirements in its legacy application in a timely manner. As a result they were losing out to competition. They decided to re-architect their application by moving onto a cloud-based Java application. This modernization strategy helped the organization become more competitive in the marketplace.

A large-scale legacy modernization initiative can result in a variety of applications that are re-written, re-hosted and re-platformed along with a combination of on-premise, off-the-shelf solutions on varied cloud platforms. This is why it is critical that companies planning for modernization to also include a cloud integration suite into their modernization strategy. The integration capability ensures any combination of cloud models and platforms, both on and off premise, to connect seamlessly to make the most of modernization investments and enable systems to run successfully.

Create an Overarching Modernization Strategy
While modernizing applications help enterprises benefit from cloud-based systems in multiple ways, it's important for organizations to have an overarching IT modernization strategy first that holistically addresses applications, infrastructure, processes and operations. This will help create a roadmap that encapsulates the applications that need to be modernized, the best suited modernization plan for each workload, and the right cloud model and deployment option.

Enterprises are showing keen interest in these two technology trends, because, if implemented correctly, they both have the potential to help companies succeed in a competitive marketplace by managing their businesses more efficiently, while laying a solid foundation for future growth.

About the Author

Mark Bilger is Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Dell Services.

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