Forklifting Apps to the Cloud – Realistic or Not?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ben Kepes

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A few weeks ago, the shock du jour was the (slightly tongue in cheek) resignation by Christian Reilly from his (very tongue in cheek) position of President of the Private Cloud.

There needs to be a little background to this – Christian is something of an anomaly in the industry, an executive within a firmly established enterprise company, juggling the real world issues an enterprise is facing, yet still a thought leader in the rarefied world that is the Clouderati.

Reilly has long been an advocate for the private cloud, from his industry perspective it is the only realistic way that enterprises, concerned about security, jurisdiction and all the issues traditional vendors always bring up to deny the validity of alternative approaches.

Private cloud nicely resolves these issues by allowing organizations to use the tools they’re used to, deploy them within their own four walls, but still leverage some of the benefits of the cloud.

The genesis for Reilly’s resignation then was a meeting between himself and another superstar, although one from the other side of the cloud chasm, Adrian Cockcroft – cloud superstar from Netflix – readers will recall that Netflix is an oft-lauded cloud adopter who have utilizes the cloud to scale their operation rapidly.

To illustrate just how far apart their two organizations are, Reilly quoted Cockcroft as saying;

We are almost 100% in the public cloud. We don’t really have IT ops people as the Devs run the platform. Everything we do is in Java

Reilly then told of his realization of just how far away his own organization is from that reality. You see Reilly works for an existing organization that has the added issue around legacy apps built to work in a very traditional enterprise environment.

The thought of forklifting these application onto a cloud (be it public, private or some yet unnamed alternative) was just too much for Reilly. As he said;

Today, in our environment, there has been very little work done in making material architectural changes to LoB applications, such that they can be deployed, at scale, on public cloud infrastructures. Unlike Netflix. I am not convinced that LoB owners can see any value in change. There is an air of “if it ain’t broke…” and when they own the $$, this is an area that is, and will continue to be a massive challenge for us and other organizations too.

I was reminded of Reilly’s word when talking with Randy Bias recently. Bias, and specifically his company, Cloudscaling, is bullish on the ability to build commodity clouds for enterprises and believes that it is realistic to expect enterprises, over time, to forklift existing applications off of there existing infrastructure and onto commodity clouds.

Indeed Bias talks of one financial services company that he has worked with who are still running some applications on COBOL, these applications however have been moved onto cloud infrastructure that has been configured to emulate traditional frameworks, but within the cloud.

Reilly went further to say that

Building the private cloud that is devoid of any plan or funding to make architectural changes to today’s enterprise applications does not provide us any tangible transitional advantage, nor does it position our organization to make a move to public cloud.

Or in other words, a “simple” forklifting of legacy applications onto some new form of infrastructure does not drive any real advantage to organizations and, as such, line of business budget owners will be unlikely to commit to a change.

There will always be aspects of this discussion that are little more than cloud elites arguing finer points.

Alongside that however are some pretty fundamental issues that affect the very message cloud evangelists use to justify the cloud to enterprises.

We need to have an open, honest and consistent story about what the cloud really means for an enterprise – something that is sadly lacking today.

Cross-posted from Diversity

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