I had an interesting conversation with a CIO the other day about cloud computing. He had a simple question: I have an relatively old application and I want to move it to the cloud. How do I do that? I suspect that we will see a flurry of activity over the coming year where this question will be asked a lot. And why not — the cloud is the rage and who wouldn’t want to demonstrate that with the cloud all problems are solved. So, what was my answer to this CIO? Basically, I told him that all workloads do not belong in the cloud. It is not because this technically can’t be done. It can. It is quite possible to encapsulate an existing application and place it into a cloud environment so that new resources can be self-provisioned, etc. But, in reality, you have to look at this issue from an efficiency and an economic perspective.
Cloud computing gains an economic edge over a traditional data center when it supports a relatively small simple workload for a huge number of customers. For example, a singular workload like email or a payment service can be fairly optimized at all levels — the operating system, middleware, and the hardware can all be customized and tuned to support the workload. The economics favor this type of workload that support large numbers of customers. The same cannot be said for the poor aging Cobol application that is used by 10 people within an organization. While there might be incremental management productivity benefits, the cost/benefit analysis simply doesn’t work.
So, the answer is pretty simple. You just can’t throw every workload into the cloud. It is not a panacea for all IT problems. Organizations that are trying to figure out what to do with these pesky old workloads need to look at three options:
1. Decide if that workload is still supporting business objectives in a cost effective manner. If it does the job, leave it alone.
2. That old workload might be better supported by traditional outsourcing. Let someone else keep the application alive while you move into more mission critical tasks.
3. Think about rebuilding that old workload — either by encapsulating key elements and placing them within a modular flexible environment. You might even discover that there are components that are actually useful across the organization. When you discover that sharing components across divisions/department is a productive and pragmatic approach, you might be ready to move those workloads into the cloud.