From the President & CEO of AppZero - The Inventor of the ESB

Greg O'Connor

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Agile Application Migration & Modernization By @AppZero_Inc | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

An Efficient Approach to Application Migration

Agile Application Migration & Modernization

The market transition from education and evaluation to remediation is marching along as the End of Support (EOS) nears for Windows Server 2003. The market has moved from being unaware of the challenge that EOS would pose for most IT organizations at the beginning of 2014 to POCs, trials, and evaluating how to get help with these projects by the end of 2014. You can get a sense of how the market has moved by reading the 2014 Windows Server 2003 End of Support Survey Results.

As a company that helps organizations migrate and modernize their application and support infrastructure, this transition resulted in significant growth for AppZero. Growth that included both a 750% increase in certified partners and > 500% increase in sales.  There is good reason to believe that many organizations have budgeted modernization projects and will begin ramping up efforts to move off of Windows Server 2003 this year.

In fact Spiceworks issued their annual IT budget survey which showed that customers were already allocating around 17% of their 2015 software budget to OS migration with Windows Server 2003 being the prime candidate.

Most people frame the process of application migration and modernization in the following four steps:

  1. Discover - Catalog the software and applications
  2. Assess - Categorize the applications
  3. Target - Identify destinations
  4. Migrate - Move the application from source to destination

This sequential process makes sense at 10,000 feet, has clear transitional steps and a well-defined end state.  As many organizations have adopted this migration process and moved from this high-level "white board" description into practice, detailed feedback has begun to emerge.  Many projects start with devoting lots of time to understanding the entire application portfolio. Then comes the interpretation of the inventory and an attempt to assess what to do with the portfolio. Next, the destination is scoped out and finally migration waves begin. The projects often resemble the old waterfall process of building and delivering software:

  1. Design the app
  2. Build the app
  3. Test the app
  4. Deploy the app

The premise of the waterfall process is that if you put enough time upfront into the requirements and design phases, then the downstream phases will be easier, faster and cheaper to execute. The time invested upfront is worth it to try and come up with the "Perfect Plan."  Experience shows that it would be nice to have a perfect set of requirements defined, but it takes so long that the business and market move on, making the requirements irrelevant. The process also does not incorporate important feedback and learnings surfaced towards the end of the process, which often materially changes the requirements and design. The outcome of the waterfall app creation process is an unsatisfied user and as a result, the slow waterfall process repeats itself again. This approach leads to long iteration cycles before feedback is incorporated into the resulting output (the app).

Windows Server 2003 Migration Waterfall
Instead of implementing the Windows Server 2003 migration process using a waterfall methodology where a lot of time is spent up front on the early phases in the process, organizations should adopt an agile migration approach.

An agile migration approach creates a cross functional team that takes a slice of the application portfolio and performs the migration process from beginning to end. Once a slice of the portfolio is completed the next slice is addressed while continuing to gather feedback and improve the migration lifecycle along the way.

Agile migration team skill set:
In most organizations, IT hardens and locks down the environment making migrating applications difficult and at odds with existing policies and security enforcement.  Migrations cut across the organization, involving many people across disciplines, which requires buy in and cooperation to smooth and expedite the process.  An agile migration team should consist of a cross disciplinary skill set that contains at least the following:

Skill/Background Title/Role
Build, Provision AD, Snapshot Server Administrator
Web / Middleware Application Server Developer
DB Server DBA
Migration AppZero architect

The agile migration team often has high-level goals such as:

  • Create best practices
  • Remove "whitespace" from process
  • Increase throughput
  • Reduce down time
  • Improve problem resolution
  • Lessen errors and side effects

Getting the first couple of migrations through the gauntlet with security acceptance and help from all stakeholders is often a big hurdle for large enterprises. An agile approach provides visibility to all the interested parties and surfaces sticking points that slow the process. Iterating migration waves or sprints, in agile terminology, will identify the bumps that can be removed, effectively increasing throughput.

Migration process implementation challenges
Certain challenges have emerged consistently covering a spectrum of concerns far beyond the migration process. These challenges can be sorted into the following categories:

  1. Size and scope of the problem:
    1. Number of applications and servers often are measured in thousands
    2. Complexity and coordination have many touch points
    3. Second order issues: support, down time, policy exceptions (most IT policies are designed to harden or freeze apps/data/configurations making them not movable)
    4. Costs grow quickly leading to more scrutiny and further delays
  1. Organizational:
    1. Lack of skills and knowledge about how to migrate applications
    2. Ownership of problem resolution delineation between IT and lines of business (app owners)
    3. Coordination and process touches many people across departments
    4. Application owner and knowledge is scarce or non-existent
    5. Change windows and application hand-off result in latency
    6. Maintenance driven change activities are difficult to get people excited about

Application centric categorization taxonomy
An application-centric approach would group like applications together by type of application, what the application built on, how the application is deployed and how critical the application is. Organizing the application portfolio this way will be helpful when determining waves or "sprint" for the migration team.

Grouping like applications reduces the upfront time required to assess applications in exhaustive detail.  .NET applications will have common characteristics from an assessment perspective including IIS, .NET version, message queues, and database connectivity. Use case creation can drastically accelerate migration planning and minimize time spent in the assessment phase.

Migrations can begin sooner in concert with ongoing assessment and planning activities. Performing simple migrations at the outset helps to shake out environmental challenges and UAT requirements in real-time to establish a much-needed baseline and predictive model. Applying the agile approach takes lessons learned and continues to apply them to evolve the migration strategy.

Summary
Many enterprises have significant numbers of applications running on Windows Server 2003 that need to be migrated to a supported Operating System (OS). Enterprises usually do not have an application modernization skillset in-house and have to grow this capability or seek help from a systems integrator.  An agile approach should be taken when tackling application life cycle and modernization projects.

AppZero can help your organization develop an agile migration process as well as modernize or up-level your applications onto the modern platform (OS) of your choice. We can connect you with SI's who will help if you don't have the in-house resources.  Contact us at info@appzero.com to get started.

More Stories By Greg O'Connor

Greg O'Connor is President & CEO of AppZero. Pioneering the Virtual Application Appliance approach to simplifying application-lifecycle management, he is responsible for translating Appzero's vision into strategic business objectives and financial results.

O'Connor has over 25 years of management and technical experience in the computer industry. He was founder and president of Sonic Software, acquired in 2005 by Progress Software (PRGS). There he grew the company from concept to over $40 million in revenue.

At Sonic, he evangelized and created the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) product category, which is generally accepted today as the foundation for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Follow him on Twitter @gregoryjoconnor.