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Legacy Apps

Don’t Let Legacy Apps Obscure Your Cloud Ambitions

Gordon Davey, Head of Cloud Architecture at Willis Towers Watson


Following our latest Cloud Insights research into enterprise cloud adoption, we spoke to Gordon Davey, Head of Cloud Architecture at Willis Towers Watson, to get his perspective on why there are so few “cloud masters,” and whether organisations are being slow to realize the benefits that the cloud can bring.

For well over a decade now, cloud has been the answer to most strategic IT issues for every business, from the biggest multinational enterprises down to start-ups with only a handful of employees. Given the undisputed benefits of cloud – the economies of scale, greater security, flexibility and so forth – it might seem surprising that among large organisations, fewer than 30 percent of applications are currently in the cloud.

Gordon Davey

Gordon Davey, Head of Cloud Architecture at Willis Towers Watson

The question for both users and cloud providers is why we haven’t seen more widespread migration of applications to the cloud. It’s not as though the benefits are subject to debate: as Oracle’s research found, “cloud-mature” companies – those with 70 percent or more of their apps in the cloud – enjoy all manner of advantages. These include greater ability to experiment with different data models, generating better insights from their data and better integration between applications. Why, then, aren’t we seeing much more widespread deployment of the cloud?

In my experience, there is no lack of ambition among end users. They understand the benefits as well as anyone, vendors included. The chief problem, however, is the drag that legacy applications place on their cloud migration plans.

It’s easy enough to move the low-hanging fruit into cloud environments – for example, those applications built in the last few years and which were designed with cloud in mind. But let’s remember that many applications are old, complex and were designed and developed for on-premises environments. As a result, there are several major challenges, including dependence on other applications and latency requirements, which makes separating them from their historic home a major challenge.

The fact is that businesses are not rushing headlong to place each and every application into the cloud – and that’s undoubtedly a good thing. It suggests that organisations are taking a carefully considered approach to their cloud strategy, rather than running to migrate huge swathes of their enterprise applications.

That leaves the question of the optimal level of cloud versus on-premises applications. Oracle’s research clearly shows the benefits of being cloud-mature, but it’s equally true that there is no one-size-fits all answer. Most organisations will be looking to place 50 percent or more of their applications in the cloud; after all, that’s when you start unlocking wider benefits, such as better integration and lower latency. Even so, given the amount of legacy applications in use today, it’s unrealistic to expect many enterprises to achieve significantly more than 70 percent.

Some vendors, it’s true, make a big play about businesses going all-in, or achieving cloud adoption in the high 90th percentile. While this is certainly a worthwhile ambition for many organisations, it’s largely impractical for businesses which still rely on traditional monolithic applications with a single code base. Cloud migration is not, as we know, a simple matter of drag-and-drop, like transferring a document to Dropbox. There are myriad complex questions, such as integrating and optimising apps for the cloud ecosystem, which will delay full cloud migration for some years to come.

There often is a great deal of pressure on businesses to migrate large portions of their IT estate, especially when their competitors are beginning to unlock the benefits of the cloud. While it’s obviously important to keep abreast of the competition, it’s also important that businesses approach migration in a strategic way, and that their application strategy is informed chiefly on the strategic benefits of the cloud.

Even so, a surprising number of organisations still haven’t developed a serious cloud strategy, and this is likely one of the reasons why the overall proportion of enterprise apps is still below 30 percent. Like a writer facing the terror of the blank page, the only answer for these enterprises is simply to get started – or risk falling behind as their competitors enjoy benefits such as faster time-to-market and greater agility that the cloud brings.

This is not to spread the message of fear, uncertainty and doubt that so often accompanies discussions about the cloud. Your business won’t go bust if you take some time to develop the optimal cloud migration strategy, or if you persist with keeping some legacy apps on-premises. Likewise, those that rush into the cloud and aim for that magic 70 percent – or higher – won’t necessarily achieve all the potential benefits if they take a hurried approach.

It’s difficult to escape the fact, however, that those who delay for too long will find themselves slower to respond to changes in their market or the wider economy, or to deploy their own digital transformation initiatives. My advice for any business is to be ambitious about the opportunities of putting a majority of your apps in the cloud – but always to have a strategic rationale for the level of cloud adoption that you intend to reach. Having a clearly thought-out strategy and building the right internal cloud-first culture is equally important to your organisation’s long-term success.