Why most cloud journeys begin with application modernization

Security and compliance are always critical, but integrating across a hybrid cloud is a big hurdle for moving forward

Canadian organizations encounter three common hurdles as they transition to cloud-based platforms, says IBM’s lead for hybrid multi-cloud services and Red Hat offerings.

Speaking at a recent roundtable hosted by tech analyst IDC and sponsored by IBM, Braden Harrison said integration, security and culture need to be dealt with for an organization to get maximum value from their systems.

Integration alone is a big one. “It’s not only the integration of existing infrastructure but the integration of the network, and integration of existing applications,” he told a mixed group of public and private sector attendees.

As for security, he said numerous studies – such as ITWC’s CanadianCIO Census – show that for governments, finance, and regulated industries, security is of paramount concern. “How we continue to protect the digital crown jewels often represents a major concern.”

Jason Bremner, an IDC analyst, and the event co-host agreed. “Security is by far the most important feature among users.” He said this includes concerns over data residency and delivery of cloud services from within Canada, which has been amplified by the impact of Covid-19 and the current or geopolitics.

Identity management is becoming less of a hurdle, he said, as cloud providers have made this easier with their offerings and improved interoperability.

That interoperability includes being able to move workloads across clouds as needed, while also having a single point of contact for service, even in a multi-cloud environment. He said there is also peace of mind that comes with the evolution of service level commitments regarding uptime, liability, and performance.

But Harrison said it’s the culture of the organization that’s truly critical to the successful adoption of cloud computing paradigms.  “We’ve all spent a lot of time in an infrastructure-focused environment, but cloud can start to break through that paradigm.” A business’s or agency’s readiness to adopt an alternative, cloud-based model is a major key to success.

Getting started may be the biggest challenge

Many of the participants at the roundtable indicated they were just beginning their cloud journey. They generally agreed the future is hybrid, understanding that transition would mean a significant amount of integration with primary service providers but they would be able to continue to create in-house private cloud environments. Other attendees suggested they were being pushed to this new paradigm, not by choice, but because older systems are no longer being supported.

Those whose cloud journey was nascent said they didn’t have the budget to move forward or the status quo seemed to be working fine.

Applications and moving workloads as an entry point

While the cloud is often positioned as the best vehicle for moving applications and workloads, attendees said they were often perplexed by the endless release of tools and options.  They were simply interested in testing to see if the cloud version can provide the same performance of their on-premise application – while also meeting the needs of remote users who are now opting to work in areas with connectivity restraints.

As organizations get comfortable with the cloud, the opportunities to grow and transform become more visible, said Bremner. Application modernization is frequently an initial gateway. “Our research shows that it’s one of the most common trigger events that actually starts the cloud journey.”

With mixed reviews around the table on how “easy” it was to implement, Bremner was clear applications need to be prioritized based on the needs of these customers. And he said there needs to be education so workloads and data can be properly prepared for the migration.

Enter Industry cloud

One way IBM helps customers to tackle which applications to modernize while staying compliant is the evolution of an “industry cloud” approach, said Harrison. It recognizes the security and regulatory requirements of governments and industries such as financial services and healthcare when jointly building a reference architecture and an emerging “compliance as a service” model.

IBM’s Financial Services Cloud with Bank of America was the first, with reference architectures for running specific technologies such as VMware or building application in the cloud, he said. “We then knot security controls to each one of the policy requirements.”

The challenge is balancing these specific needs of customers while not letting them dictate how things are done otherwise it limits and diminishes the flexibility and agility benefits that an organization can take advantage of when they move to cloud, said Harrison. “This is where this idea of industry cloud comes in.”

 One thing leads to another

Integrating applications also means integrating identity access and figuring out how to provide the right access and permissions to the right people, as well as making sure they don’t lose information when they move to the cloud—the fear is they could break their business. For some roundtable participants, including a large municipality, it means distributing work across multiple clouds because they have multiple lines of business and different platforms.

In some cases, Bremner said the cloud can enable new user portals to access data on legacy, on-premise systems in conjunction with a rigorous procurement process to rationalize moving to the cloud, which is common for public service organizations. Others are moving and modernizing applications at the same time while managing a great deal of technology debt with a longer-term goal of decoupling the modern cloud version from legacy, on-premises systems altogether.

Bremner said IDC research shows that organizations are struggling as to where to start on their cloud journey because they have so many applications and workloads across different lines of business. Harrison added it’s important to differentiate between platform modernization and true application modernization that involves changing or refactoring it. There’s a lot of value in the platform modernization space because that’s where organizations can begin to leverage the economics, flexibility, and agility of the cloud. “That’s where most organizations are today.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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