Why Sun's New Cloud CTO Is Targeting Migration of Legacy Apps First

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-02-19

Why Sun's New Cloud CTO Is Targeting Migration of Legacy Apps First

On Dec. 9, 2008, Sun Microsystems called together the usual-suspect journalists and IT analysts in San Francisco to announce the launch of a new Sun division focusing on providing cloud computing goods and services to enterprises.

Following a full year in stealth mode, the unit is now moving forward with its strategy, which can be described-with a whimsical tip of the cap to Emma Lazarus' inscription at the Statue of Liberty-like this:

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of legacy software yearning to breathe free, and we will move that functionality into the cloud, so it may perform anew for amazed customers.

Sun is focusing on converting older enterprise data centers first because that's where the migration problems are cropping up.

Sun, celebrating its 27th year in 2009, always has provided the resources to put together a cloud computing system. This includes hardware (Sun Fire blade servers, StorageTek storage arrays and even its own branded network switch), server and storage software (OpenSolaris, GlassFish Web server, MySQL database, Zettabyte File System, Lustre backup and recovery package, and others), and networking software (Java) for general enterprise data center use.

The company also has retooled its services group for cloud service duty.

Sun's new Cloud Computing CTO, Lew Tucker, was on the original Java development team with Dr. James Gosling in the early 1990s. Once Java was up, running and well-established, Tucker left to become a vice president at Salesforce.com, where he led the development of AppExchange, a SAAS (software as a service) platform for business applications.

After that, Tucker served as CTO at Radar Networks, a semantic-Web-based Internet service for tracking interests. He rejoined Sun in 2008 as CTO of cloud computing and reports to David Douglas, senior vice president of cloud computing and Sun's chief sustainability officer.

Moving Legacy Applications to the Cloud

Sun's approach to cloud computing at this time is to determine how best to bring legacy applications into it, Tucker said.

In fact, most enterprise apps-including such stalwarts as Oracle and SAP databases and Windows Exchange and SQL servers-fit this description, as they were not designed or optimized for use in cloud systems, which employ newer open-source and SAAS infrastructures.

Mixing and matching old and new at this level is a nightmare if not planned and designed correctly. Open-source and SAAS structures don't actively support legacy software versions; workarounds, patches and other tricks of the trade are commonly used for short-term fixes, but this is not a recommended practice for anything in the long term.

When should an enterprise begin thinking about modernizing its data systems to include a cloud component? It depends on where you are as a company, Tucker said.

"If you're a startup, it makes no sense to buy racks of servers," Tucker told an audience of about 200 at Cloud Connect, a cloud computing conference held Jan. 20 to 22 in Mountain View, Calif. "There are rooms of legacy computers downstairs here in the Computer History Museum-you don't want to spend your startup money on hardware that will join them."

The data center itself has now become the computer, Tucker said, and that specifically is what has caused the current shift to SAAS-oriented structures.

"You can't just take some prepackaged legacy application running somewhere and just throw it into the cloud," Tucker told eWEEK in a separate interview. "With virtualization, over time, we will be almost able to do that. In time, we'll be able to virtualize basically the old data center, and therefore you'll be able to move your applications over into it."

Application Migration Mirrors Evolution of the Data Center

Moving applications from one data center today "to your new data center you just built" can be a thorny issue, Tucker said.

"Cloud computing doesn't make any of those things go away," he said. "There will be this continued migration of legacy apps that are being replaced by newer apps-the functionality, that is. Instead of using your old HR [human resources] system, for example, you'll use a new SAAS-type HR application. Apps that were built in the last five or 10 years-more the internal Web applications-can be moved over very quickly to a cloud."

Moving a data center that's loaded with applications from the 1990s and early 2000s doesn't require wholesale movement of everything all at once, Tucker said.

"It's not that kind of a switch. It's more of an evolution of what's going on in the data center and an evolution of the development of more interesting services on the Internet that are now finding applicability back in the enterprise," Tucker said.

Salesforce.com, Google Apps, and new online HR applications are current examples of these "more interesting" services, he said. "A lot of these have already moved into the cloud, and they are now becoming part of the IT organization that we have to manage and administrate.

"The question really isn't, 'Will legacy applications have to move?' I think some will, and some won't. The real question is, 'How does an IT organization evolve?' This will mean bringing in more and more cloud services," Tucker said. "The goal is to move all your end users forward at the same time."

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