In our previous blog post in this series, Tackling Security Concerns in Application Modernization, we focused on security. In this post, we’re going to go a step further and examine the operations of modern applications as a whole.
Why are operations of modern applications so important?
The advantages of modernizing your systems are well known. Continuing to run legacy systems is a business risk due to them being difficult to change and maintain, and running on aging hardware. There are also many benefits to moving to the cloud, some of which we have highlighted throughout this series. These benefits include:
- Turning data into insights
- Accelerating innovation
- Delivering exceptional customer experiences
However, moving your applications to the cloud isn’t enough – you need to optimize each application to run in the cloud. Not doing so results in excessive operational costs (both in people and infrastructure), extended outages, and performance problems.
Operational inefficiencies can occur with legacy “lift and shift” migrations to the cloud because these applications were not designed to best leverage cloud services. If new, native-cloud applications are not designed properly (for example, including automation and reusable services), then they will be operationally inefficient as well.
With many companies now having private, hybrid and multi-cloud environments, each with their own platform services, environmental complexity is proving to be an operational burden. There is a need to better operationalize these cloud environments with operational design considerations, architecture consistency, and automation.
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What does operationalizing modern applications mean?
We should consider the robustness and observability of applications when transitioning them to operations. Operationalizing modern applications should include security, monitoring, resiliency, and disaster recovery (DR) requirements, as well as the means to design, implement, and measure the applications run-time characteristics.
Your design goal is to ensure your applications are secure, resilient, and efficient, while also optimizing operational costs. This can also mean things like ensuring you’re not overspending on cloud resources or wasting people’s time. The goal is to be as efficient as possible with both your people and cloud resource consumption while maximizing your application performance and availability within your budget constraints.
First you need to design applications to meet operational requirements. Cloud vendors publish reference architectures for common application types, such as web apps and microservices, to help with this. You should follow these design guidelines and make adjustments for your operational requirements when you’re designing your applications.
Your reference architectures should address operational requirements and result in a more consistent run-time environment across applications. What you don’t want is a bunch of “snowflake” applications, each one different with their own operational requirements. This, of course, leads to increased complexity.
Instead, by automating the build of your infrastructure and the deployment of your applications, you can be more agile, consistent, save people costs, and at the same time implement the operational controls you need to be more efficient.
To fully optimize your applications, you need to consider operations in the following areas:
You need to ensure that the application platform is designed to meet performance and availability requirements. You want to be sure that the applications continue to function despite component failures within a system. The loss of individual components or instances within a system shouldn’t impact the entire application but just a single feature.
To do this, you need to start with good designs, such as those based on a reference architecture. You should build the application with operational requirements in mind and include ongoing monitoring, testing, and optimization. A DevOps culture helps here, as developers and operations have a shared understanding of how software is designed and built and also its run-time behavior.
IT organizations see a significant shift in their security in the cloud, too. Traditionally, IT organizations deployed security controls along with the physical infrastructure in their data center. Conversely, you can, and should, automate native cloud virtual machines, containers, and application level security for modernized applications. Ideally, you want to automate vulnerability scanning and policy enforcement, too. IT organizations have an opportunity to improve security from what it was in legacy data centers, with consistency of architecture an added bonus.
Monitoring and logging
As modern applications are typically in the cloud or deployed on software-defined infrastructure, the way you monitor infrastructure changes dramatically. These newer systems are also typically highly distributed, bringing additional challenges. While you previously monitored a single monolithic application for capacity in legacy systems, modern systems often involve things like software-as-a-service applications and microservices in containers, each of which should have their own monitoring and logging capability.
Highly distributed systems are virtually impossible to monitor without the proper tooling and instrumentation. Tools and approaches like container orchestration and a service mesh can implement monitoring, logging and security in a consistent and automated way. For example, a service mesh can provide the software layer to control and monitor microservices and their interactions.
The DR concerns change dramatically in the cloud. The constraints of physical hardware and networks are gone, with inherent redundancy in the cloud ready to be leveraged. While legacy DR involved replicating data centers, the cloud allows you to have multiple instances of applications actively running and ready to take on the workloads of failed components.
In the cloud, you synchronize data in real-time across geographically dispersed application components. This approach puts the processing of transactions and data closer to the user, improving performance as a result. Modern application availability is not a question of DR but of designed resiliency in the cloud.
How does the required skillset change in a modern environment?
As the above requirements and processes show, everything changes when you modernize your applications. While the concepts are similar, things like the application designs, implementation, and tools are all different.
This is the greatest challenge facing IT – addressing the need to migrate legacy applications and the skills gaps that exist to do the work. Many businesses delay migrating because they don’t have the people to make the changes they need. This happens often despite these businesses having applications that are brittle and costly to maintain.
This is where a transformation roadmap is necessary to guide the process. You need a cloud staffing strategy. You need to optimize your applications for operations, else the complexities of the environment will make skills gaps overwhelming. And, you need to ensure your cloud teams are working together to adapt to new-technology challenges and that you are on a path to mature your people skills, alongside your processes and your technology. Then your business will benefit most from modern applications.
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