Maintaining IT infrastructure is crucial to innovation and business growth
In order to function efficiently, businesses need effective IT strategies. From supporting consumer facing applications to internal operations management, IT infrastructures must promote security, data mobility and business growth. However, due to the constantly evolving nature of technology, keeping IT systems up to date is easier said than done, especially in large organisations.
The IT infrastructures that are needed to optimise business functions today are wildly different to those of even a few years ago. Promoting connectivity and the smooth flow of data requires appropriate IT solutions – but these are themselves subject to the fast pace of change. So how can businesses maintain – and update – their systems without interrupting their operations? D/SRUPTION spoke to three software experts to find out.
Legacy systems, fragmented structures
According to Derek Thompson, VP EMEA of Dell Boomi, a cloud based integration platform, many businesses struggle to maintain their IT systems because they use fragmented structures. This is most often the case in large, legacy enterprises, where geographical and departmental silos are a hangover from the pre internet age.
“Large enterprises typically have fragmented structures and IT landscapes – with geographical, departmental and historical silos resulting in a lack of connectivity and cohesion,” he says. “The principle cause of this is age. Many organisations are saddled with legacy technologies that were invented and deployed eons before the Internet even existed.”
As Thompson notes, even as organisations attempt to make the switch to more nimble apps and services, many still retain core systems that are stuck in complex, rigid software stacks.
“Since these legacy technologies lack state of the art connectivity capabilities,” he says, “they can’t easily talk to each other. The result is technology silos that block access to the data we depend on to do our jobs. What’s more, because they were built with old school code, these siloed systems are more fragile than agile when it comes to making changes (which, these days, is all the time).”
Chris Livesey, Senior Vice President at Micro Focus, a software firm, agrees that the way IT systems have typically developed has a lot to answer for when it comes to now adapting them for the modern age.
“The main challenge faced with legacy modernisation is the highly situational nature of how those systems have evolved over many years, often under the direction of people who are no longer involved,” he says. “There is often a lot of highly customised and sophisticated software involved, much of which is typically running core business functions. As a result, analysing and understanding what can be modernised, when, and in what sequence is a critical phase of the work. Many businesses struggle with this as there’s no standard or sufficiently automated approach, and they are also very wary of the risks of unintentionally disrupting or damaging critical business processes.”
Software as a service
Along with unintentionally disrupting business processes comes the very real risk of introducing security flaws when IT systems are updated. This, when combined with the constantly evolving nature of technology, mandates a thoroughly modern approach to managing IT structures. As Paul Farrington, EMEA CTO at Veracode, an application security company, states – rather than attempting to actively replace their legacy systems, most businesses should now look to software as a service (SaaS) solutions.
“For most enterprises,” he says, “the need to scale according to their needs now and in the future is a foremost priority. That means shifting to a software as a service model is the most practical solution. One of the advantages of a SaaS model is there is no hardware to install or manage – users have the benefit of receiving continuous new features and improvements directly or automatically, if they choose.”
While providing businesses with flexible, scalable, and managed IT solutions, SaaS also helps companies to shield themselves from cyber threats. SaaS providers have the nous and capabilities to scan code and protect their clients to a level that companies would struggle to do themselves.
“For context,” says Farrington, “web and mobile applications are being delivered to market every day, requiring millions upon millions of lines of code to be scanned for security flaws. Companies require the flexibility and cost control provided by a SaaS solution over legacy hardware and on premises solutions to keep up with this rapid pace of the software delivery lifecycle.”
Looking to the cloud
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, software as a service is not the same as cloud computing. In fact, SaaS can be understood as a specific type of cloud computing – it sits in the cloud and is delivered to the end user from this location.
While both technologies reside externally from an organisation’s computers or servers, in SaaS, the service provider holds all the data. This makes SaaS ideal for smaller companies without the need or resources for large scale IT solutions, while larger organisations will probably want to look to the cloud.
The main advantage of switching to cloud computing, according to Derek Thompson of Dell Boomi, is that it can provide much needed connectivity to all areas of a business.
“Tapping into the cloud – rather than pursuing large-scale infrastructure deployments – can connect everything inside and outside of your business. That way you can ensure your older systems are still adding value, providing the agility you need to lead in the future.”
Slightly confusingly, whilst software as a service isn’t the same as cloud computing, the cloud can also be delivered ‘as a service’ in its own right. This takes responsibility for managing and maintaining cloud-based technology away from individual companies, and places it with their service provider.
“The other key point to add,” says Thompson, “is that cloud-based technology as a service will benefit from automatic and regular software updates, ensuring it remains in date, compliant and cutting edge.”
Time to make a change
In the pursuit of feasible IT solutions, the modernisation journey never ends. According to Chris Livesey of Micro Focus, this is leading companies to seek independence from infrastructure, service providers, development languages, and application interfaces – in short, anything that restricts them to a specific system or technology – so that they can be as open and agile as possible.
“Adoption of technologies like containers and microservices help create independence at the application level, and operational approaches such as highly automated DevSecOps and hybrid cloud management will build resilience and independence in terms of how business applications are maintained and deployed,” he says.
However, making the change from legacy systems can be difficult. As Paul Farrington of Veracode notes:
“Legacy migrations to newer cloud-native platforms are often fraught with complexity. It’s not an easy task for any IT team to undertake. To ensure effective and efficient migrations, businesses must ensure their plans are appropriately designed and hard tested, with back up plans built to assure business performance and avoid any unplanned downtime.”
“Having complete visibility and control over all software applications is critical during every stage of the legacy migration process, as IT teams cannot manage what they cannot see. Automation can also provide a significant improvement in a company’s ability to help protect applications at scale.”
Livesey agrees that the ability to implement new systems quickly and reliably is crucial for businesses as they compete in increasingly disrupted markets. However, he notes that the solution may not always lie in replacing existing systems.
“Particularly with legacy applications,” he says, “the required business capabilities can often be delivered by modernising what is already there. Modernising instead of rewriting or replacing is a well proven alternative that will deliver dramatic cost savings, productivity improvements and much faster delivery cycles.”
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