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AWS beats the enterprise application migration drum

AWS would have you believe thousands of enterprise application migrations are happening as you read this, but not all apps belong in the cloud, and the cost benefits aren't what you’d expect.

LAS VEGAS -- Do you hear that noise? That's the sound of enterprise applications migrating to Amazon Web Services, high-tailing it away from private clouds and the on-premises data center.

Or at least, that's what Amazon would like to have you believe, as it hosts its annual re:Invent conference here this week.

Early adoption of Amazon Web Services (AWS) by enterprises moved along predictable lines; a first wave of test and dev and net-new applications, said Andy Jassy, senior vice president of AWS during the keynote this week. Those were followed by second wave deployments concentrated on websites and "digital transformation," analytics and mobile. Now, a third wave focuses on migrating business critical apps, with some enterprises actually planning entire data center migrations to AWS, what the company dubs an "all-in" strategy.

To prove its point, AWS trotted out several customers during its keynote that said they were actively moving the bulk of their application portfolios to AWS.

"Organizations that had performed enterprise application migrations to the cloud sounded notes of caution."

Intuit, Inc., a financial software provider, already hosts 33 applications on AWS, including its popular Mint.com site, and plans to move over the rest of its applications in the next couple of years, said Tayloe Stansbury, Intuit senior vice president and CTO.

Intuit's migration has been long in the making, starting with a migration of its TurboTax AnswerXchange application, Stansbury said, which cut costs by six X, and set-ups in a fifth the time compared with a traditional build-out.

"That was our 'aha' moment," Stansbury said.

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, likewise, is "going all-in with a hybrid cloud strategy of on-premise cloud plus AWS with [Virtual Private Cloud]," said CTO Dan Zelem.

"Like any large global enterprise that has grown through acquisition, we have a heterogenous infrastructure across the globe," he explained – one that was highly physical, over-provisioned, and that had low financial transparency. It has already moved 120 apps to AWS – a number which it expects to triple, by "collapsing the infrastructure and automating as much as we can."

Migrating enterprise apps is hard

But at session after session, organizations that had performed enterprise application migrations to the cloud sounded notes of caution.

First of all, migrating to the cloud doesn't always save you money. In fact, a lot of times it's more expensive, said Kacy Clarke, vice president and principal cloud architect at Cloud Technology Partners, Inc., a systems integration firm in Boston.

The Mosaic Company, a fertilizer producer in Plymouth, Minn., is migrating parts of its SAP environment to AWS in part for cost reasons, but not the ones you might expect: to move to an OpEx model.

"Our goal is to reduce infrastructure and operations costs by creating a more predictable cost stream," said Leonard Simmons, Mosaic's manager for technical architecture and projects.

Indeed, thinking that migrating to the cloud will actually save you money is a rookie mistake, said Chris Wegmann, a managing director in Accenture's AWS practice.

"First timers come to us and say, we're doing this for cost savings," Wegmann said. "But it's not about cost, it's about agility. If you're doing it for any other reasons, you're probably doing it wrong."

Meanwhile, migrating enterprise applications from the data center to the public cloud isn't easy either.

American Commercial Lines, a marine transportation services company, recently moved its Oracle E-Business Suite to AWS.

"It's been stable, and highly performant and has met all our needs," said vice president of IT Mike McGrath. It also "did turn out to be effectively cheaper than our old hosting solution," he added.

But mapping an Oracle database application to AWS should be done with care, especially when architecting the underlying storage. Potential users should familiarize themselves with the properties of AWS's various storage offerings – Elastic Block Storage, Provisioned IOPS, SSD-based Instances, and the likes, to make sure that the underlying database is getting the performance it needs from the AWS environment, explained Thiru Sadagopan, vice president of cloud services at Apps Associates LLC, the systems integrator that performed the migration.

Indeed, there are countless things to think about when performing an application migration, said Tom Laszewski, a solution architect with AWS: Networking, security, governance, billing, cost management, and monitoring to name a few. You also have to consider how extensive of a migration you want to do.

At the low end of the spectrum, there are "lift and shift" migrations that require no modifications to code, "but that don't take advantage of the platform as well," he said. There are migrations with minor remediations – for example, adding auto-scaling, and on down the line to re-platforming activities – rewriting applications written for non-x86 platforms.

Generally speaking though, old platforms the least promising application migrations to tackle, Accenture's Wegmann said.

"Don't kid yourself you're not going to move it, don't waste your time," Wegman said. "Go rent a colo or look at migrating to .Net or a platform that will run in the cloud."

Legacy platforms are perhaps the one area of IT that AWS doesn't have any designs over. When it comes to applications that have a lot of legacy and dependency on-premises, "enterprises aren't not sure it's worth moving over, and I agree with them," said AWS' Jassy. Apps running on mainframes, "they are going to let die on-premise as they build around them."

 

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