Your new legacy system: The public cloud

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Legacy systems have a checkered rep, and for very good reasons. In some cases, they remain vital to a business – supporting key data and critical processes, and are subject to regular updates and improvements by innovative vendors. But other legacy systems would make terrific boat anchors if they didn’t contain ancient applications and data that remain important to a company’s day to day functioning.

You know the type I’m talking about—usually archaic RISC or mainframe systems chugging away a corner that admins regard with the same quiet horror they would a co-worker sporting a hockey mask and a machete seven months before Halloween.

Such scenarios are bad enough but there’s an old saying that anything employed by IT automatically becomes a legacy system. There’s some truth in that but what if the system isn’t onsite? What if its home is a distant or even not so distant data center owned by someone else? What if it resides in a public cloud facility so the systems supporting the data and services your organization depends on are hazy, at best?

Buying in without buying the farm

That may seem attractive to some folks (and it’s a prime selling point for public cloud proponents) but that doesn’t mean you’ve escaped responsibility entirely. If laws are broken or regulatory/compliance lines are crossed, blaming the cloud provider is akin to claiming your dog ate your homework, only with a better chance for a perp walk.

Instead, I’d suggest that the public cloud is little more than a new legacy system that you have little, if any, actual control over. It may not be cluttering up your data center but it still casts a long shadow. So it’s worth considering the following before you jump into the cloud:

  • Poll your experts: That includes the executives, managers and staff who participate in any major IT decision, but also consider adding the internal developers and work groups that already use public cloud services. These folks are often a major headache for IT but they often have more practical insight into the players and the competitive landscape than anyone else. Use them.
  • Understand your options: Public clouds are anything but “one size fits all” propositions and neither are clients’ needs. Do you require basic managed services, more complex IaaS, dedicated bare metal systems and/or support for developing next gen applications? Be certain the providers you’re considering can truly deliver what you want.
  • Shop 'til you drop: Public clouds are in such a constant state of change that thinking one or another service has won the race is, quite frankly, nuts. Instead, the market is still in its infancy and providers are pushing hard to gain and retain customers. This is a buyer’s market – use it to your advantage.
  • Read the fine print: Some cloud companies resort to complex offerings and wordy contracts seemingly designed to hoodwink customers. That isn’t always the case but before you sign on the dotted line, be sure you understand what you’re getting into.
  • Chart an exit strategy: Nothing last forever, especially in youthful, dynamic markets. So calculate the time, complexity and monetary costs of breaking up with your cloud provider. Be especially careful of attractively priced proprietary platforms and technologies that support the cloud equivalent of vendor lock-in.
  • Consider worse case scenarios: Service Level Agreements (SLAs) cover most  major issues and disasters and how affected customers are compensated after the fact. So be sure to consider what you and your organization will do if or when your public cloud suffers an outage. Virtually all of them have, some more regularly than others.
  • Think the unthinkable: Anything can and does happen in IT, like the failure of once successful vendors, including public cloud providers. If you doubt that, ask the former customers of Nirvanix and Megacloud. No company is immune so do yourself a favor and consider what you’d do in the case of such an awful event.

Final analysis

The public cloud can be hugely beneficial, providing customers the means to flexibly and cost-effectively address computing needs and business challenges. But public cloud is also no panacea and, in fact, exposes organizations to many of the same problems and challenges as privately owned IT, only with less control and oversight.

If you’re already using the public cloud or are in the process of engaging with a service provider, it is effectively your new legacy system. So consider it realistically, make sure your provider is treating you fairly and do everything you can to protect your workplace and yourself. It and you will be living with your successes – and your mistakes – for years to come.

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