Enterprises start to migrate critical legacy workloads to the cloud

After gaining cloud experience, they look to make the bigger moves

LAS VEGAS -- Now that major enterprises have gotten their feet wet with smaller cloud projects, they're beginning to focus on migrating large, critical legacy workloads.

That's the take from Stephen Orban, head of enterprise strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

In an interview with Computerworld at the annual AWS re:Invent conference here this week, Orban said the next wave of cloud computing could be focused strategically on legacy migration.

And while it's always tougher - and riskier -- to move big, mission-critical workloads and services, at least IT departments have gotten experience working with the cloud so they're not going in cold.

"The pace and the deliberate focus on how much they want to migrate has increased substantially across a lot more customers," Orban said. "Capital One has teams dedicated to... migrating existing workloads. We're seeing companies who increasingly have made AWS the new normal, but sometimes they're hamstrung by how much time they have to spend on their legacy systems.... They want to start migrating."

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said this point in the development of cloud computing reminds him of virtualization in the late 1990s. "The initial wave of adoption then was about companies trying new things, not mission-critical workloads," he said. "Once organizations trusted the technology, major apps migrated. Today, virtualization is a no brainer because it's a known technology with well-defined best practices. Cloud computing is going through the same trend today. "

It was smart for companies to start out experimenting with the cloud and trying new things with non-mission critical workloads. Now, it's time to move on bigger projects.

"Now that companies are starting to trust the cloud, expect to see faster, broader adoption," said Kerravala. "Eventually, we won't think Does this work in the cloud?' because we know it will."

He noted that early adopters are, naturally, jumping first in terms of moving legacy systems. Once other companies see how that goes, they'll likely follow.

"The problem with legacy workloads is they often need to be re-written," said Kerravala. "We might see some 'lift and shift' happening, where a workload is picked up and put in the cloud, but ultimately that app needs to be rewritten to be cloud native."

Focusing on a migration strategy is a natural progression and an interesting one for many companies that have been confused about how to jump into the cloud.

During the opening keynote earlier today, AWS CEO Andy Jass said he found many businesses thinking that the cloud was an all-or-nothing proposition. Jassy said AWS has worked to let customers know it's OK to run a hybrid shop with some workloads in the cloud and some on premise

"Any IT organization that's been running its own operation for some period of time is going to have hybrid as its journey," said Orban. "We're doing everything we can to provide help to them."

One of the biggest challenges of a major migration involves the people more than the tech, according to Orban. IT workers might be hesitant to learn new cloud technology and expand their skills.

That's one of the first issues IT executives need to tackle.

"For every IT professional in the world the cloud is the biggest opportunity for people to learn new skills that will benefit them for a long time," said Orban. "But people are afraid of what they don't know. Anxieties will cause a bit of a delay in how quickly an organization is able to move."

To get started, execs should put a training and certification program in place.

"There's building muscle memory, becoming cloud fluent, the ability to make better faster decisions about migration strategies," said Orban.

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