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Cloud Migration at a Crossroads

Updated on August 31, 2018
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Steven is focused on paradigm shifting thinking around application transformation and the process of app migration.

Cloud Migration Programs Continue to Struggle

Application and database rehosting is now an inexpensive de-facto offering from all cloud vendors. Amazon Web Services Server Migration Service (AWS SMS) and Database Migration Service (DMS) are low-cost, self-service solutions to move workloads and data, respectively. Soon, AWS will offer a service to seamlessly deploy and manage VMware workloads across on-premises and AWS environments.

That’s fantastic, but what about applications that need refactoring – the apps that are still crucial to the business but need to be rewritten for a variety reasons? During refactoring, an app will likely be rearchitected to a better technology stack and possibly a more modern language. Also, an app will have its requirements updated to accommodate the current needs of the business.

Without technology, cloud partners have no tools other than applying best practices and familiar strategies when dealing with application refactoring at enterprise scale. Their involvement is very labor and time intensive, translating into high costs.

To compound the situation for cloud migration programs, rehosted apps to one cloud vendor can in turn be rehosted to another cloud vendor. This lack of stickiness makes a rehosted app less valuable to a cloud vendor, as compared to rewritten app. From a client’s perspective, rehosted apps do not take advantage of cloud-native services and APIs. With a rewritten app, the idea is to apply cloud-native functions where appropriate to gain the benefit of key services that are optimized for the cloud vendor’s environment. Cloud-native app refactoring is extremely valuable to a cloud vendor who covets the thought of an application being dependent on its platform. The likelihood of such an app being moved to another cloud vendor is very low.

Delivery Partners Have Little Incentive

The major cloud vendors have an endless list of System Integrator (SI) partners with expertise to help an enterprise on their cloud journey. Factory migration is about speed, lower TCO, self-sufficiency and improved time to delivery, none of which are exactly in the best interest of a System Integrator. Instead, in my experience, I have observed the following.

SI tactics have very little to do with accelerating migration

  • Application Assessment –enterprise portfolio apps are placed into one of five categories:
    • Rehost – often referred to as “lift-and-shift”
    • Replatform – like rehost with a few configuration and security mods and tweaks
    • Repurchase – upgrade or switch to a different product altogether
    • Retire – get rid of immediately or phase out
    • Refactor (rewrite) – re-envision the architecture and design
    • Retain – do nothing or revisit later
  • Transformational Frameworks – process, presentations, case studies, etc.
  • Reference Architectures – provides a high-level view
  • Workload Movement – lift-and-shift server-based agents for ready-to-move apps and data
  • No IP to refactor apps
  • 1-for-1 app-centric view of rewriting
  • Reuse for innovation is normally not an upfront goal
  • Counter to the intent of AWS Migration Acceleration Program (MAP)

SIs see migration as another multi-year T&M opportunity

  • No IP to refactor apps
  • 1-for-1 app-centric view of rewriting
  • Reuse for innovation is normally not an upfront goal
  • Counter to the intent of AWS Migration Acceleration Program (MAP)

Refactoring Momentum - Think Functions, Not Apps

We need to rethink what we are trying to accomplish with respect to factory-like migration of application refactoring. It’s an immense undertaking and as with any large object, the only way to move it is to create momentum.

One method of creating – and maintaining – momentum is to instead of thinking about rewriting entire applications, think of rewriting functionality. Since an application is a composite of functionality, if we can break it down into more manageable tasks, then repurpose some of the functionality, we will in fact be initiating the rewriting of the application. Choose to design each function as reusable, stateless, secure, and highly available. This can be accomplished using serverless functions (AWS Lambda for instance) or creating RESTful APIs. Fortunately, there are tools that help repurpose the core capabilities of most apps to be rewritten.

In Conclusion

It is obvious then a cloud vendor has a dilemma. When it comes to enterprise application migration, the elephant in the room is still application refactors (rewrites) which often trample an otherwise decent story. Without technology to help bridge the gap between what an application is to what an application needs to be, the only solution will continue to be labor-intensive T&M heavy engagements: apps are either rehosted (minimal stickiness and service consumption), remain untouched (no value to vendor), or approached as a multi-year effort (unattractive to client).

But with the right technology to lower risk, TCO, and time, clients are given a new incentive to allow apps to be refactored. Luckily, technology exists to offer solutions to help refactor an app’s core functionality.

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