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Application rationalization: Assess your clients' cloud options

To determine which apps to migrate to cloud and which to maintain on premises, application rationalization projects analyze numerous aspects of your customers' businesses.

As confidence in cloud computing grows, customers embark on application rationalization projects that determine which applications they want hosted in the cloud and which to keep on premises. Channel partners, as a result, are finding themselves embroiled in complex discussions about an application migration engagement that promises to change the operations, efficiency and economics of their customers' businesses.

However, before moving forward on an application rationalization engagement, channel partners agree that there are many factors to consider when moving apps to the cloud.

The analysis of what app to move, reasons to move it, how to move it and whether to decommission and uninstall some apps often highlights the benefits and drawbacks of a company's culture, business practices and management processes. 

If nothing else, deciding whether to move applications that manage their  enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management or sales and marketing data to the cloud should remind decision makers of the complexities involved in migrating large quantities of data stored in applications that have interdependencies related to systems and workflow.

Key considerations for app migration to the cloud

Therefore, an application rationalization project should reveal how well applications in the data center serve a company's workforce. For many customers, the project presents a unique opportunity to evaluate the governance, processes and technologies currently used.

"One size does not fit all when it comes to determining whether applications are best handled in a public or private cloud," Irwin Teodoro, senior director of the data center transformation practice at Datalink Inc., a provider of data center technology and services, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., said.

As companies and their channel partners work through an application rationalization project, the best approach is to conduct a thoughtful, comprehensive application-by-application assessment, Teodoro said. This involves a partnership between business units and IT organizations designed to ensure service-level agreements (SLAs) are considered and achieved.

The top five considerations Teodoro has identified are:

  • SLAs and related technical requirements
    If an application has stringent SLAs that are very difficult to achieve by in-house teams and the current infrastructure, moving the application to a public cloud might be a viable option. However, other considerations, like compliance and security, might warrant the need to keep the application in-house and validate the need for a Capex investment.
  • Elasticity of workloads and related SLAs
    Applications prone to spiking workloads are good candidates for public clouds. Public clouds can easily absorb the peaks and alleviate the challenges associated with planning for and purchasing in-house infrastructure for limited workload bursts. Again, considerations like security and compliance might warrant the need to keep the application in-house.
  • Security and compliance requirements 
    When it comes to security and compliance requirements, some standards are best achieved via public cloud, while other standards are best achieved via private clouds.
  • Support of custom applications
    Some custom applications might not be able to be supported in the public cloud.  In these cases, a private cloud is the only option.
  • Application viability
    Business-critical applications are candidates for the public cloud, while other less critical applications, including those approaching the sunset phase, most often are best handled via private cloud.

More cloud application migration in the forecast

As the march toward cloud computing gathers momentum, the October release of the Global Cloud Index (GCI), from Cisco Systems Inc., suggests that channel partners will have to find effective ways to cope with the increasing number of clients moving their apps to the cloud. 

Highlights from the GCI report for 2014 through 2019 include the following projections:

  • Global data center traffic will grow nearly threefold. 
  • By 2019, global data center traffic will reach 10.4 zettabytes per year.
  • By 2019, 83% of all data center traffic will come from the cloud.
  • By 2019, four out of five data center workloads will be processed in the cloud.

Given these trends, channel partners' ability to understand and appreciate a customer's business model, their culture and their management structure could be an approach that differentiates them from their competitors.    

When you move to the cloud, you should have a strategy in place like a prenup. You need to know what you need to do to end your marriage before it even starts.
Stanley Louissaintpresident, Fluid Designs Inc.

Stanley Louissaint, president of Fluid Designs, Inc., a full service IT services provider in Union, N.J., said channel partners should develop a plan that evaluates where they can build greater efficiency and cost saving into their application rationalization projects.

"When you have to pay for something on a per-user basis, it becomes important to find out what is in use and what isn't. We've seen instances where clients had licenses and servers running certain applications that users never adopted," Louissaint said. "With the lack of user adoption, it made no sense to move these apps to the cloud.  We've also seen instances of cancelling cloud-based subscriptions, because users didn't adopt those applications."

Channel partners should also help customers sort through which apps they feel more comfortable uploading to the cloud first versus which apps to upload at a later date. 

"Email seems to be the easiest sell, and it gets more difficult from there," Louissaint said. "Control is a huge determinant on whether a cloud project is going to happen or not. If the business style is to have control over everything, there is no way you will be able to send data out to the cloud with ease." 

Cost is another important factor.  According to Louissaint, if a client is worried about the bottom line, then there is a higher probability that channel partners will be able to move them to the cloud if they can demonstrate the cost savings benefit for doing so. Loussaint cautions that channel partners should also prepare for the worst case scenario.

"When you move to the cloud, you should have a strategy in place like a prenup. You need to know what you need to do to end your marriage before it even starts," Louissaint said.

Optimized hosting and the uncloud option

Recognizing that cloud services are built on consumption-based models where the benefit is measured by usage and service units, Greg Cleveland, managing consultant at Alsbridge, a management consulting firm headquartered in Dallas, Texas, said channel partners should consider an effective assessment process to vet opportunities to consolidate up the stack, optimize to best practices and drive cost savings.  
"We have seen isolated situations where enterprises need assistance with assessing the best place to host and manage an application," Cleveland said.   

Sticking to a plan and effectively executing it is one way to ward off the decision to uncloud or decloud applications after the project is completed, Cleveland said. 

However, there are instances when declouding is inevitable. Teodoro said his company has worked with a variety of clients who have elected to remove some or all applications out of the public cloud. He said declouding decisions are most often driven by requirement changes surrounding SLAs and regulations and compliance. Some clients found that they didn't save as much as initially planned.

"Essentially, some customers are not realizing enough savings to keep the application(s) in the public cloud. Others experience cloud-related cultural biases following a merger or acquisition," Teodoro said. "We recently helped an international consumer goods manufacturer move all applications from a public cloud to an in-house, private cloud following its acquisition by another firm. The new management team was biased toward private clouds and full control."

Important questions to ask your customers

Cleveland said asking the right questions upfront can help customers successfully execute an application rationalization project.  In addition to finding out the impact and cost to transition the application to the cloud, the cost for cloud services and the terms of the contract, other questions such as what applications are required to meet regulatory compliance and what skills are needed to support the application stack are important to know.

Cleveland added other key questions which include: 

1. Readiness -- Is the application architected to run in a cloud environment, designed to scale out and resilient to infrastructure failures?

2. Risk -- Is the application critical or non-critical to business success?

3. Complexity -- Is the system highly complex, with many technology and service interdependencies?

4. Availability -- Does the application require high availability?

5. Performance -- Is the application performance sensitive? Does it require high-performance computing?

6. Security -- Does the application contain sensitive data both in transit and at-rest?

7. Service – Will the application align to cloud as a service frameworks?

Once the customer has decided to move applications to the cloud, Louissaint said there's always a time period where a customer's on-premises technology exists with its cloud counterpart.

"You have to migrate your data. Most of the time, the cloud provider has the tools to do that. You test, test and test some more," Louissaint said. "After your migration is complete, you notify your users of the new way to connect to the application and hope it's smooth sailing from there."

Next Steps

Read about the uncloud process when customers pursue reverse migrations.

Get tips on how performing cloud readiness assessments.

Stanley Louissaint: How to mitigate the risk of a cloud outage.

Dig Deeper on Managed cloud services