The Stark Reality of App Modernization

(Some of my hintervision thoughts are posted elsewhere. Here is an article from our Cloud Engagement Hub publication on Medium)

Part of my work in the Cloud Engagement Hub is to help clients modernize their applications. I’ve spent years focused on public and private cloud environments, and I show, through technical expertise, how clients can modernize their applications through containerizing workloads and running them across public and private clouds. I get quite deep into the technology, use cases, and value of modernizing applications onto a modern cloud-native platform like Kubernetes.

But I have to come clean: To the 100s of clients I’ve presented to, demoed to, had deep-dive analysis with, I have one thing to say:

I apologize.

I apologize, on behalf of our entire industry, for making app modernization appear simplistic…

…for implying that your “Enterprise App” could be treated like an iPhone app…like a cute little rounded square that you could lift, transform, and with a single tap run in a shiny, fancy new cloud environment with all the benefits of cloud, DevOps, security, and infinite scalability.

I know, most of the time we are forced to simplify our conversations to fit within 40 minute technical sessions at conferences, or short client visits, but we both know there’s so much more we should be discussing.

I apologize on behalf of our industry. We are so competitive that we smooth the modernization reality down to a shiny, polished, wooden goblet that only the finest bourbon-barrel stout pours out of, instead of what it is: a heavy, splintered, thorn-laden pile of reclaimed wood that, once you grab as much as you think you can move, scream at uncovering a hornets nest of issues…hidden for years, just waiting to attack any who dare clear away 20 years of undergrowth.

Finally, I apologize for calling these enterprise applications “apps”, instead of what they are: Time-tested enterprise solutions that fueled your company into the enterprise it is today but now suffer from that same span of time where countless enhancements, add-ons, alterations, and “next-gen transformation” projects through the years have resulted in a solution that should be in the “Smithsonian museum of historical app technology”.

The stark reality is that these enterprise applications can no longer sustain the demands of this modern, cloud-centric environment we all live in, and more importantly, meet our customers’ demands. As my new friend Stephanie said, “your enterprise applications have been architected with time; let us modernize them so you can architect them with intent”.

Modernization has to happen, it’s just a matter of how. And while it’s tempting to keep it simple to show our awesomeness, I, and my colleagues, are here to show the full reality of modernization, how we can help you, and yes…to show our awesomeness through actions, not talk.

From here on out, I make the following vow:

I will, through technical evidence, show a realistic modernization journey that your enterprise applications could take. We will have hard conversations about what it means to modernize, migrate, retain, retire, and replace your applications, along with all the middleware, data, security, and storage that goes along with it. We will talk about your cloud landing zones: the pros and cons of each technology; the fact that you will need to spend MORE money to modernize before you see benefits, but that through continuous modernization of your applications, you will see great value on the other side. We will celebrate your modernization success, and then discuss “what happens next”; how your DevOps processes, your culture, your multicloud capabilities, have all changed and will continue to evolve…and that this is just the beginning of your amazing acceleration to awesomeness.

To do that we will look at our Modernization journey map (Figure 1), and we will take your knowledge, add our assessment, plan our attack, and depending on the complexity of your enterprise application, take multiple parallel modernization journeys. Once ready, we will deploy them into the landing zone of your choice so that your business can accelerate.

Figure 1: Cloud Engagement Hub Modernization Journey Map

For example, I know that even the most basic enterprise app (I know, I’m already calling your thorn-laden hornets’ nest of a solution a cute app) will consist of multiple components: a JavaEE runtime and a database, running on either dated VMs or physical servers. I also know that most of your applications are more complex with multiple components ranging from multiple JavaEE runtimes (WebSphere, WebLogic, JBoss, Tomcat), databases, middleware, “helper add-ons” coded in C, C++, and many have core components coded in COBOL running in a mainframe.

Further, I know that due to the increasing speed of development demands outpacing the speed of VM delivery from IT resulted in your VMs becoming “dirty”; filled with extra tools and helper-apps that sometimes are not even related to a single solution. I know that because I did it too. I needed space to run a tool, and since it would take too long to request a new VM, I just picked one that had low utilization. Repeat this over 10 years and you get this gut-punching “very-bad-day” when you realize that even if you modernize the JavaEE app into a containerized workload and run it in Kubernetes, you still can’t decommission the VM because of all the riff-raff still running in that VM.

When we get to work, we will show how modernizing the “basic” enterprise app into a cloud landing zone will require multiple journeys: containerizing the JavaEE component, migrating the database VM, and at least initially, migrating the VM the Java workload was on to keep the helper apps running.

We will talk about deployment patterns the whole app requires, and the characteristics the app components demand (proximity to each other for performance, latency requirements, data requirements, etc ). This will create consistency in how the apps are deployed onto the target cloud, how they are connected, what security policies and isolation policies are used, what quality and type of storage is used, and on and on.

We will talk about how development practices and operations practices all need to modernize along with your apps. It will be hard, filled with fear (and sometimes failure), but changing culture is probably harder than changing technologies (I know, I’ve done it many times). We will start with small successes…MVPs that you find value in…that help in not only starting your app on its modernization journey, but also your developers, operations teams, and how they will merge into a true DevOps culture.

Further, we will discuss that even the term “deploying into the cloud” is simplistic. We know you want to keep your options open, that cost, location (public, private, multiple vendors) cloud region, capabilities, provided services, network and security capabilities, all matter. We will discuss that some of your apps may thrive on one cloud and others may thrive on another. As a result, multi cloud management is a reality. I know that, and you know it, so we might as well talk it through and make it work like you want.

At the end of the day, my goal is to help your business succeed…to thrive so your clients are delighted (I know…not a technical statement, but true none-the-less). If I can help a fellow human succeed, I feel better, and your trust in me grows. I hope you come to realize, at least for me, I’m not here to sell you our products, I’m here to sell you…

Technical Accuracy

…and a relationship you can depend on throughout your modernization journey.

Sound good? Apology accepted?

Great! Now, let’s get to work!

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