Whether you call it Digital Transformation, Digital First, Application Modernization (App Modernization) or some other fancy name, the fact of the matter is, almost every single business is going through some form of transformation to become more competitive in this new digital era. According to a recent survey by VMware, 91% of executives agree their major app initiative in 2021 is to migrate and modernize legacy apps. While this transformation has been going on for some time, the COVID-19 global pandemic has certainly super charged its acceleration and is now a critical imperative for many organizations to be able to create and deliver new digital experiences for their end users.
As part of my role within the VMware Cloud team, I have been taking a closer look at how some of our customers are thinking about their App Modernization strategy and to better understand their overall plan and thought process. With some of the recent customer conversations that I have had, many organizations are just starting their App Modernization journey and one of the challenges that I have observed is simply where and how to get started. There are certainly many different factors that can affect or even slow down these initiatives including organizational structure, tension between lines of businesses, development, operations and IT teams. However, before an organization can decide what application/services they are interested in modernizing, they need to first have a complete understanding of their current application estate.
This understanding is critical before an organization can determine the appropriate modernization strategy (Retain, Rehost, Replatform, Refactor or Retire) for a given application.
For many organizations, the App Modernization efforts are usually driven from the lines of businesses (LOB) and their development teams. IT teams are often not included or even aware of these discussions, which is another big challenge. This usually boils down to the fact that the LOB/Dev teams is speaking a "different" language and terminology than the IT teams. As a result, IT is often seen as a roadblock rather than a partner when it comes to supporting App Modernization efforts within an organization.
More importantly, the LOBs/Dev teams are often the decision makers for selecting the platforms that will be used to support their App Modernization efforts but rarely do they have insights into all the dependencies and infrastructure that is required to run a given application. Without a clear understanding of your current application(s) and organizations being pushed to move at the speed of the business, this can be a recipe for disaster or at best, slow down the App Modernization efforts.
In fact, I recently came across this tweet from Fintan Ryan, a Gartner Analyst, which summarizes nicely on the importance of this application analysis before starting a modernization effort within your organization.
While reading further into this report from VMware, I noticed one of the key pillars for a successful digital transformation initiative was the people, which should not really come as a surprise to anyone. The third pillar of successful digital transformation initiatives is people. The survey results show organizations that don’t put the right people in the right places are hamstrung before the change gets underway.
It dawned upon me that IT Admins can actually play a key role in supporting and enabling an organization’s App Modernization efforts.
Infrastructure & Application Visibility
Although IT teams may not always be involved in the development or deployment of applications within an organization, I do believe they have the greatest visibility when it comes to holistically understanding all the different dependencies (application, network and infrastructure services) that is required to run a given set of application(s). This is certainly true for any vSphere-based infrastructure where IT Admins have a number of tools at their disposal, from basic VM inventory and configurations to resource utilization and trends to in-depth application dependency mappings and even software versioning.
One particular customer conversation that really stood out to me was when an IT Admin shared a report from the popular community utility RVTools with their development team. The developers had no idea about the number of VMs they were using nor the underlying resource utilization and configurations. You might argue that they should not need to know but, in this case, the development team found this information to be quite insightful and it gave them a better understanding of the infrastructure that was supporting their applications. Another example is identifying the static IP Address(s), DNS entries and other infrastructure values that may have been hardcoded within an application using tools like an internal Change Management Database (CMDB) to prevent issues in the future when migrating an application.
From my own personal experience, I can also relate to this, when I was supporting a large number of development teams, we also provided a custom report using the vSphere API which broke down all of this information for each LOB/Dev team. Providing this information in a transparent manner made discussing requirements for new and existing projects easier. Although this was a simple example, even sharing the most basic information can go a long way in building an open and informed relationship between the Development and IT Teams.
With that said, an application is more than just the VMs they are hosted on but also involve complex network and service dependencies. Luckily, IT Admins also have a unique advantage here and can leverage infrastructure tools such as vRealize Operations and vRealize Network Insight to help map out all the application dependencies which can also include physical and cloud resources and build out the complete application topology. IT Admins can take this one step further and even provide deeper application insights into the underlying processes, applications and even software versions using data from VMware Tools to provide a comprehensive picture for what makes up an application within your organization.
Call to Action
As you can see, IT Admins can play an instrumental role in helping an organization understand their overall application estate.
- To LOB/Dev teams - Start engaging with your IT Teams as early as possible and make them aware of your goals and timelines. See IT as a partner instead of a roadblock
- To IT Teams - Proactively reach out to the LOB/Dev teams and understand which groups have or is planning an App Modernization effort.
For more proactive organizations, a new task force or cross-functional team is usually formed to assist with this application discovery and analysis. This is most successful when the team is comprised of individuals from within an organization’s own IT and Development team and as a result, foster a collaborative discussion when engaging directly with the LOBs teams.
Another growing trend is the rise of a new Platform Operations (Platform Ops) Team that is becoming more strategic for organizations. This new Platform Ops Team is focused on consumption with a services delivery mentality and is responsible for building a set of technologies and delivering that as a service that directly empowers the individual LOB/Dev Teams. Kit Colbert recently did an interview where he shares some additional insights into this new team that is starting to form in many organizations.
This emerging "platform ops" team is critical to support DevOps processes required for building and operating modern apps. Very interesting to see more and more customers practicing it. https://t.co/2T0RBrJ7ME
— Kit Colbert (@kitcolbert) June 2, 2021
I could not agree more with Kit’s guidance at the end of the interview to IT Teams:
Be the team that drives cloud transformation in your organization.
I also believe that this new Platform Ops team can also be viewed as a career opportunity for IT Admins, to grow their skillset and advancing their career to the next level while driving new innovations within their organization.