by Peter Bendor-Samuel

Out with the old, in with the new

Nov 02, 2015
Cloud ComputingData CenterVirtualization

What to do with your legacy environment.

In today’s IT infrastructure environment, most companies have three distinct types of environments operating:

  • Legacy environment with mainframes, servers and workloads that run on them
  • Private cloud environment, which is some combination of virtualization and/or containerization
  • Public cloud environment

There is a lot of interest in migrating applications and workloads from the legacy environment to the private cloud environment. As a CIO, I’m sure you’ve been inundated with pitches about the advantages of moving to the cloud. It’s more flexible and cheaper, and it makes it easier to align IT with business stakeholders’ needs. It also results in lower costs, which can relieve the tension of having to obtain a large amount of funding for high-risk legacy projects. 

Some companies will take the approach of out with the old and in with the new. They’ll move all their workloads out of the legacy environment into a software-defined, private cloud environment with the expectation that their operating cost will drop. 

But it’s hard to believe most companies will do this because the cost to migrate some of the hardware and apps in a legacy environment will be too great. Some technologies simply don’t want to virtualize; they don’t want to be moved. And they’re not worth the expense or risk to move. 

I think what happened to the print magazines, books, and newspaper industry sheds some helpful light on the consideration of whether to move your organization’s legacy environment to the cloud. 

In 2008 media headlines proclaimed that the future of print was dead. And the future looked to be that way for a while, thanks to the popularity of digital devices. It still seemed print was doomed in 2012, as evident in a CNN opinion article about people’s preferences for tablets. But two years later, the Association for Audited Media statistics revealed that digital replica magazines only accounted for 12 percent of magazine subscriptions. Notably, Samir Husni, who wrote “The Death of Print Magazines and Other Fairy Tales” (published by Writer’s Digest in 2008), disagreed that the future of print was dead. 

Husni was right. And the reality for the magazine industry is quite different in 2015. Although some magazines ceased publication, many publishers now offer both a print and digital edition of their magazine. And they use their online edition to sell and distribute the print edition. Both forms exist simultaneously to fulfill different needs, and the legacy print form didn’t go away. Publishers and authors now also provide both print and eBook versions of some books. We have the same situation with IT environments. Many companies still have mainframes and have yet to migrate their workloads off mainframes.

So we can expect that many companies will have a legacy environment for the indefinite future. They face an extended period in which some apps and workloads will not migrate from the legacy environment into the private or public environment. 

But if you decide not to take on the expense and risk of porting your organization’s legacy environment to the cloud, what can you do with it? How should you manage it so that you can maintain the environment in a resilient, stable manner while reducing the operating cost and minimizing ongoing investment? You need to manage it differently from the way you manage the data center of the future, the software-defined environment. 

The answer is: sweat your assets. Work hard to prolong their life as much as possible. Make judicious, simple, but not investment-intensive or risky moves to simplify the environment and run it as cost-effectively as possible. 

Also look for opportunities to make incremental improvements to your legacy environment. Examples: increase the level of virtualization and automation in your data center. Move your legacy apps out of dedicated hardware into virtualized hardware. Although this strategy moves your legacy work to a private cloud, it doesn’t have the advantage of a low-cost public cloud environment. However, this strategy makes it easier to run your legacy environment and will improve the efficiency and resiliency of your existing legacy environment without the huge cost and risk of reengineering it for a public cloud infrastructure.  

A final, and very important point about sweating the assets: Determine how to run the legacy environment with as few people as possible. The people issue is important because, like all legacy environments, over time it will be more difficult to attract talent that wants to work in legacy. Most IT talent wants to run away from it as fast as possible. As a CIO not taking the “out with the old” approach, your challenge is to find simple, cost-effective ways to reduce the number of people devoted to the legacy environment yet also maintain their skills.