Time to get my head out of the clouds …

We have now heard that the easy stuff has moved to the cloud but that leaves 70 percent of apps and data where they have always been. What does that mean for NonStop solutions?

I was sitting inside the house for the past couple of days, avoiding breathing in the outside air, as the sky has been a source of constant smoky haze. Living in Colorado, we often refer to the end of summer as the beginning of the bushfire season and it hasn’t disappointed us this year. It’s awful and for anyone with allergy problems it is a time to hit the antihistamines hard. On the other hand, our friends in California are facing an even more problematic circumstance – should we stay or should we go. To think that the governor is calling for Aussie firefighters telling all and sundry that they are the best in the world!

Put me in the category of agitators extolling the virtue of pulling out all the eucalyptus trees growing in California. Perhaps the Aussie firefighters are that good because they face horrific eucalyptus fires each and every year and know the value of ensuring the forest floors are kept free of debris. Oh well, with smoke in the air and the stench of burning timbers proving difficult to ignore, it’s hard to think about the sky and the clouds traversing the heavens above us. To be truthful, Margo and I haven’t seen any clouds for the past couple of days as the smoke haze hangs low.

However, for anyone who checks social media feeds, you must have seen the many references to clouds, cloud computing and hybrid IT. At a time when the discussions among IT professionals continue to address Digital Transformation (DX), it seems as though clouds and DX have become almost inseparable. Though essentially different topics the intersection of clouds and DX is a reminder that when it comes to our data centers and the solutions theses data centers support, any moves to pursue DX has a very visible line of clouds hovering overhead.

Like everyone else who attended this year’s HPE Discover Virtual Experience I was surprised to hear HPE CEO Antonio Neri reference recent data from Gartner:

Today public clouds are extending their platforms into the data center in what [market researcher] Gartner calls distributed cloud. The problem is these solutions were architected to be very centralized and rely on connectivity to their control plane. They still don’t address the over 70 percent of your apps and data.

This is not the first time I have referenced this remark of Neri, as reported by Steven Burke in a CRN update, but it is worth taking a second look. With as much discussion as there currently is about clouds, should we be surprised to hear that only 30 percent of our apps and data have made it to the clouds? Should we be a little concerned over the fact that it’s not going all that well for those enterprises banking on living in a cloud-dominated operational IT environment? Clearly, security always steps into the discussion but what is really hindering the move to clouds, distributed or otherwise?

A successful advertising campaign features a character called Captain Obvious. As I dug into this movement to clouds a little deeper I came across a posting to LinkedIn by HPE influencer and blogger, Keith Townsend. Otherwise known in social media circles as the CTO Advisor, he promoted a short video clip by podcaster and economist Corey Quinn. According to his LinkedIn profile, Quinn is “the Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group (where) Corey specializes in helping companies address horrifying AWS bills.” In his preface to the video, Townsend posted:

Cloud migration is hard. Every option to do it using Corey's language "Sucks." So, we end up with a hybrid infrastructure. Which is where we should have started by design.

The key words here aren’t so much “hard” or even “sucks,” but rather “start with design.” No enterprise looks forward to migrations. Neither does it look fondly on re-architecting existing solutions. In the 1990s, so many major corporations embarked on complete overhaul of their systems where timeframes were reported as being three to five years and yes, much longer than the typical duration of any CIO at these enterprises at the time. No surprises here to read that midway through the re-architecting and re-implementing, the enterprises’ IT strategy changed dramatically.

Furthermore, I haven’t heard of any system or platform migration where the financials were fully understood ahead of time. As we so often like to remind ourselves; if it seems too good to be true, it likely is! To date, very few enterprises have publicly acknowledged their cost projections as it’s still all being pursued on the basis of a “feel good” philosophy. Budgets, fully described and appropriately annotated, are a rarity and I would challenge any enterprise to fully disclose to agencies, like the SEC, the likely impact on shareholder value!  Ouch; we are paying for this?

But moving to clouds is hard. And as Neri reminded his audience, what was mostly moved to the cloud had been the easy-to-move applications. In response to Townsend and Quinn, another cloud leader, Richard Bown, had this to say: 

I don't see much magic here. Cloud itself is not an end state. There is no end state. All we are doing is applying previous (project) learnings to a new array of diverse commodity products. Make yourself technically aware of the offerings and apply sound approaches to migrations. Any effort you spend in relearning or even rebuilding your systems will pay support and running cost dividends.

Unfortunately, as true as this might be, what might concern the NonStop community in particular is the reference to the pursuit of “relearning and even rebuilding!” Whenever something new floats up from the technology horizon, our first instincts is to contemplate a complete re-do. But as those massive technology undertakings of the 1990s reinforced, it’s always better to pursue baby steps than it is to attempt wholesale re-engineering. Big projects often fail not because of the lack of skills and availability of expertise but because something even newer comes along!

Call me a pragmatist and someone who is adverse to any rip-and-replace mindset. And yet, when thinking of any migration to a cloud environment, the pundits are now arguing strongly to simply migrate without changing a thing. It’s as though rip-and-replace has been superseded with lift-and-shift. Townsend’s posting on LinkedIn attracted another interesting comment that shone additional light on this mindset:

For existing applications lift and shift is where it starts but it must not end there. Having done several, I mean “several” big and small cloud migrations after 100+ datacenter audits, I can attest the fact with much confidence that lift and shift is where you should start when it comes to moving existing workloads to cloud.

Never try to do any type of transformation during the move and doing it prior to move is a moot point anyways. So workload transformation should occur only after migration to cloud … people make shortcuts and those shortcuts can cause performance issues as environments stay hybrid for quite a long time (perhaps forever) for most enterprises.

This is more or less consistent with my own observations through the decades. Firstly it was the big push in favor of distributed computing not forgetting our brief dabbling in time-sharing; whatever happened to service bureaus? Then followed client/server, not forgetting either the terrible turmoil that came first with the rush to move to an object-oriented world; anyone still relying on Object Request Brokers (ORBs)? All the while we were left to deal with database offerings that kept us on the back foot; anyone still running S2000 or Total or even IDMS? And now, it is cloud computing; are you preparing for what will inevitably follow?

Perhaps it’s one of the more recent comments to Townsend’s post that may be of greater interest to us all. Jason Benedicic who bills himself as a Cloud / DevOps / Automation Consultant suggested that there is an underlying reason why we still have 70 percent of our apps and data still running on-prem, on traditional systems: 

It really is harder than it looks, in so many ways. Once you get into the weeds of your own systems and start trying to break it down into manageable pieces to migrate or work on you almost certainly find something unexpected.

Building fresh in the cloud is relatively easy, and as was said lift and shift, while hated and expensive is relatively easy. Anything else is complicated and will either end up being far more costly than you anticipated or take years beyond what you’ve planned for in project timescales.

The NonStop community is widely read and stays abreast of change. In times where DX, Virtualization, Containers and even Hybrid IT have become talking points for many NonStop users, perhaps the key message here is to proceed with caution. Mission critical applications are called mission critical for a reason; the enterprise depends upon them to stay in business. For some NonStop users the opportunity to lift and shift some mission critical applications from traditional NonStop systems to virtual NonStop deployed within a private cloud may represent the first and indeed manageable next step to take.

Not for the purpose of saving money, but rather, for more intangible reasons like already having the hardware in place and the skillsets onboard to manage virtual machines. For these enterprises then the lift and shift philosophy makes sense. What would be tragic to read in the future is of those enterprises even with the presence of NonStop attempt wholesale rip-and-replace on a scale that simply isn’t manageable. For yes, it is a lot harder than it looks!

As I look to the distant horizon clouds may be hard to see as today smoke haze covers the sky. But perhaps what is worth considering is that clouds are transient at best and as plans are drawn up, NonStop users do need to be cognizant that, in time, these clouds moving into sight may indeed be fleeting as they too will pass. NonStop continues to demonstrate a resilience that oftentimes defies common knowledge but then again, for the NonStop community, this isn’t hard to come to terms with; not at all!


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