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Your cloud strategy may be “all in, right now” or a slower, incremental approach. But whichever way you choose, modernization is a must.

Cloud without modernization, as a cloud security architect once told me, is just a move from one data center to another, dragging all the problems of legacy environments behind it. Forrester’s research shows that expectations of saving money by lifting and shifting workloads to the public cloud are misplaced. There are few benefits or other advantages that companies gain from shifting IT spending from capital expense to operational expense. The real business benefit gained from cloud is bringing speed and scale to an organization’s IT operations — and that requires widespread technical and organizational change.

Why Modernization Is Central to Cloud Today

Cloud is no longer synonymous with the offerings of hyperscale cloud vendors. Rather, it is a series of technologies and practices that adopt modern infrastructure and application development methodologies. They are either initiated or accelerated by cloud, yet they can also run on private cloud and hybrid environments. That’s a big shift from the early days of cloud, when vendors declared that enterprise data centers were just rusting iron ready for the scrap heap. Today, cloud vendors tout “cloud at customer” solutions that provide an API-consistent version of key public cloud services. Along with these hybrid options, enterprises increasingly adopt multi-cloud, often in regulated industries that encourage alternative vendors. The question facing organizations today is not only where to run workloads but how. That’s why modernization must be central to cloud today.

To Achieve Cloud Modernization, Consider These Five Paths

Maximizing the benefits of cloud — specifically, cloud-native technologies such as Kubernetes and serverless — is central to modernization. In our conversations with clients, we have seen five common approaches to modernization for technology leaders:

  • Replatform. This is a variety of lift-and-shift. It can be a good place to start, but it is a bad place to end. Moving 40-year-old technologies to cloud data centers may provide some benefits if data center costs are excessive or the cloud provider offers additional stability. If applications are inefficient and difficult to upgrade prior to replatforming, however, they will be inefficient and difficult to upgrade in the cloud, too. Five years ago, replatforming was often the only viable cloud strategy. It is now backward-looking and expensive. The longer those old-school, replatformed applications linger, the more difficult the overall modernization effort will become.
  • Modernize, then move. Large organizations that took a “go slow” approach to cloud are learning from the experience of early adopters. Rather than dragging and dropping their applications into the public cloud, they are addressing the challenge of modernization first. The key focus is developing and deploying new applications with containers, which package an application with all its dependencies, and containerizing existing applications where possible. Multi-cloud container platforms that can run on-premises can typically run on all the major public clouds. Those containerized applications can later be adapted to run on public cloud container platforms, too.
  • Move, then modernize. Some organizations have opted to move to the cloud first through replatforming, then using cloud services to modernize. That is sometimes a straightforward swap of a database with a managed database service. Increasingly, modernization is focused on tapping cloud-native capabilities to orchestrate containers at scale with Kubernetes and weaving serverless into applications. Such efforts are most successful when a select group of applications are modernized first to model success. Developers can get their hands on new tools, and operators see an opportunity to reorganize into platform teams. Those formative experiences are important for taking on applications that are more difficult to modernize.
  • Replace with SaaS. Software as a service has come to dominate entire categories of applications, such as HR. Big, core applications such as enterprise resource planning are also increasingly a focus for SaaS providers. Enterprise IT departments are getting more comfortable with SaaS for such applications, along with the opportunity to recover resources that were previously needed for complex and time-consuming updates. IT leaders should expect more SaaS to come into their purview, often at the initiative of business units that are enthusiastic about, say, a particular provider of customer relationship management via SaaS.
  • Rebuild with a bespoke application. Sometimes modernization of existing applications just isn’t worth the time and money, but a variety of tools are available to help users capture the business logic of their older apps and rebuild them as containerized apps running in cloud or hybrid environments. Core apps that were once difficult monoliths have been replaced with new cloud-native applications. Low-code applications are making an impact in this realm, too, thanks to platforms that put power into the hands of nonprofessional developers who know how to best address business needs. The rebuild scenario can consume resources up front but can also result in dramatically greater performance and experiences.

It’s important to note that these cloud modernization patterns are not mutually exclusive. Many organizations pursue most or all of them simultaneously, according to their needs in a particular business unit or with a public cloud provider. This is a reflection of a growing consensus that IT modernization is the objective — and that cloud is usually the best means to that end.

Tech leaders can learn more about how to innovate through cloud-native services and platforms at Forrester’s Technology & Innovation North America Forum, September 29–30.

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