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The challenge of keeping your critical applications running: how cloud and managed services can help

Legacy applications and older IT platforms can be a business continuity headache: Ian Masters offers some advice for those struggling with the issue.

For almost every company active today there are several applications that are essential for them to run and be successful. What applications these are may vary depending on the vertical market in which the company operates. For many businesses, these applications have been in place for years, as they are integral to how the company operates.

However, this very success can become a problem when it comes to business continuity planning. For companies that don’t want to sign up for the ‘latest and greatest’ version of an application, or that don’t want to move over to new approaches like cloud computing, hiring and retaining talent to manage these various applications can be a big challenge further down the road.

This is especially important where older IT platforms are concerned. Many companies still run their operations successfully on older machines that are no longer officially supported by their vendors. In many of these cases, the systems appear to work well and deliver value, despite their age, and the business often don’t see any direct benefit from moving to new systems.

This reticence of moving for moving’s sake is understandable as it requires substantial investment and a significant amount of work, but has the perception of delivering ‘more of the same’ in terms of results. Complicating matters, companies often don’t have a concrete change management process or effective continuity planning in place. Without these processes in place, the potential return on investment is reduced while the risk of failure is increased. These negative side effects reinforce IT’s perceptions that migrations are unnecessarily cumbersome.

However, time waits for no one, and the skills to keep these systems running successfully are beginning to leave the market. This presents its own problem.

What looked like a safer bet in the past now represents a different challenge. As the employees with the skills to support platforms like IBM POWER machines or AS400 systems retire or otherwise leave the labour market, there is a lack of skilled replacements that can maintain these legacy systems.

However, there are more options available today than before. Critical applications hosted on old systems need not be jettisoned with all the expense and risk that this represents. Instead, some of the newer models for delivering IT services like cloud computing can be used to make the most of old and new, inserting an approach that will make the most sense for the present and future.

There is a range of managed service providers out there that do have the skills to maintain older server hardware and operating systems. Moving over to a model that is similar to the current cloud computing service delivery approach can actually help minimise risk.

Let’s look at an example. Say you are running an old hardware platform, operating system and a specific application that is essential to your business, like an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. ERP is entwined within everything that a company does within its operations, so any downtime can represent a serious loss of revenue. Previously, protection for this kind of application would have required a second site and full set of hardware and software as a recovery target.

Today, the flexibility of the cloud model is something that can be applied to a more traditional mix of platforms and operating systems, too. Instead of running complete second site infrastructures and systems, companies can use a managed service provider to host the platform. There are two benefits to this:

1. The managed service provider can maintain the systems and ensure that they are operational. As the availability of skills goes down in the market, the MSP can step in and take care of some of the more basic tasks so that operations keep running well.

2. In the event of a disaster, the MSP can take over the operations for that critical application, while the company looks to solve the problems that have affected it.

This model is based on a ‘many to one’ approach, where infrastructure and operations can be consolidated, reducing the costs involved. Rather than each company supporting itself, they can all call on an MSP for support and continuity.

For companies struggling with justifying the investment in what can be seen as an ‘insurance policy’, this approach is much more appealing. Using MSPs can help with planned downtime and systems maintenance, reducing the amount of lost revenue associated with the management of systems. This provides much more value back to the organization that is buying the service, as well as providing protection against disasters.

The reason for this is not just about cost. Rather, it has the potential to help the business continue making the most of its critical applications and IT investments. The availability of skills is a long-term concern that does need to be addressed, but looking at cloud and managed service providers for support can help to extend the life of existing systems into the future.

Nothing lasts forever. By using the best cloud computing models, outsourcing can help ensure that IT systems continue to provide value for as long as they are needed.

The author
Ian Masters is vice president of Cloud and Alliances, Vision Solutions.

•Date: 15th April 2015 • World •Type: Article • Topic: ICT continuity

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