Technical debt and the cloud: The key steps to repaying your development deficit

Opinion Many years ago, I compared the concept of technical debt to a mismanaged baseball team. The baseball team in question spent untold millions on ageing veterans, rather than home-grown talent that could take them into the future. IT departments the world over tend to exhibit the same behaviours in retaining ageing technology rather than keeping up with upgrades, new methodologies, and new paradigms.

The obvious result of this lack of foresight is the gathering of overwhelming technical debt. After years of ignoring or putting off dealing with the growing problem, many CIOs suddenly find themselves before the CEO and board of directors asking for funding to stem the rising tide. Many times, the funding necessary is not forthcoming without presentation of a solid business case and return on investment documentation. Unfortunately, paying off technical debt isn’t a business case. It’s an explanation of how the IT department got into this situation. 

Enter cloud computing. Everyone wants to move to the cloud, so the CIO has an instant business case.  Problem solved, right? Well not so fast.

If you are reading this then you probably have a good sense of the benefits to be gained from migrating workloads to the public cloud. In particular, the cloud can reduce infrastructure deployment cost, decrease maintenance costs, create standardisation, increase utilisation, and lower overall service lifecycle costs. Migrating workloads to the cloud can be the best way to pay off that technical debt. But there is a good deal of work to do first and a good number of risks that need mitigation prior to executing a cloud migration program.

A clear assessment of the current environment will be necessary in order to determine the level of effort for migration. The information to gather will include physical platform characteristics, application characteristics, performance and capacity data, and application to infrastructure mapping. This assessment will serve as the first step in architecting an overall solution.

Many of the workloads in an IT department beset by technical debt will need to be re-platformed from their current out of date environments as part of the migration path to the cloud. Even if the workloads run on cloud-ready operating systems, the workloads will probably need to undergo a physical to virtual conversion. 

Security is a major area that needs to be assessed and planned for in architecting the Cloud based solution. Remember that most cloud providers have a statement of “separation of responsibilities” when it comes to security. Usually, the shared responsibility statement sounds something like: the cloud provider is responsible for the security of the cloud and the customer is responsible for the security in the cloud.    

Another major area that needs to be considered – and will ultimately drive choices in the cloud – is service and data availability planning. Cloud providers differ in how they support availability services, especially in how they support multi-region failover. The criticality of the services in question and the level of availability they need should be built into the solution.

One of the major reasons that companies fall into a technical debt cycle is that their IT department is already overwhelmed with just regular functions that they need to perform. Many organisations come to realise that they need help in executing a cloud migration. Whether the company chooses a consulting partner, the cloud provider, or both,  it is often beneficial to get assistance from another party who has done this before.

These are just some of the areas that need attention when creating your cloud migration strategy. While this might seem like a lot of work it is well worth the effort. Cloud computing, properly planned for and executed, is singularly capable of turning an enterprise IT department fortunes around. No, cloud migration is not a magic pill, it requires a coordinated effort between IT operations, development, infrastructure support, the cloud provider and executive management. If an organisation and its partners can muster this kind of cooperation, plan effectively, and execute efficiently, technical debt can be reduced if not paid off using cloud computing.

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