Most organisations have legacy applications, running in a data centre, usually on mainframes or other servers. These so-called ‘Systems of Record’, such as payroll, banking transactions, inventory, insurance policy data, and so on, often use specific applications which were not written with flexibility in mind. They are frequently tied to specific pieces of hardware or specific platforms, and moving them to more modern platforms can be difficult.
This creates inefficiencies. If one of the servers is running at capacity, then you need to buy a bigger server to run that application, even if there is spare capacity elsewhere in the data centre.
This brings us to workload portability. Industry standard technologies such as OpenStack and Docker can help us to make our application workloads portable – in other words, we can take them off their fixed, legacy system and run them on any suitable machine in our data centre – typically a rack of commodity servers with OpenStack installed on them.
Congratulations! You’ve created a cloud environment, and your portable application workloads can be placed there. Now, if you run out of space, you can simply add more.
Even better, the same applies to other data centres. You can rent a cloud environment from an external provider, such as Amazon, SoftLayer or Rackspace, and deploy the same portable workloads there as well – so you can cover peak periods, or simply remove some of the fixed costs from your own data centre.
But what if your workloads are very predictable and unchanging? Innovation will change all that. A single app used by your customers to access order data, bank transactions, etc, can radically alter the workload profile of your critical applications. Moving to a more flexible and elastic environment can help to address that.
Of course, with great flexibility comes great responsibility. In the old world, your mission-critical application ran on ‘that box over there’. In the new world, you may not even know which country it’s running in. You therefore need to make sure you have good visibility and governance of your cloud environments. You need to understand what is running where, what the policies are for data and application placement, and who has agreed to any changes.
A cloud orchestration layer will provide this. It can make sure that, for example, you always have your critical applications spread across multiple, geographically separate data centres – in case there is a power failure or some other disaster at one of them. Or, if you’re a European company, that an application with Personally Identifiable Information is always placed within the European Union.
In summary, making your workloads portable and properly orchestrating them will help to create a flexible and elastic environment for your critical applications, move fixed costs out and convert them to variable, and provide a solid foundation for doing innovation.