By Matthew Romero, Skytap technical product evangelist
The manufacturing industry has relied on traditional legacy systems and business applications for decades, with nearly 75% of companies still using old systems and spreadsheets, far behind other sectors when it comes to digital transformation.
Developing a path to the cloud for these traditional legacy workloads and applications can be challenging due to steep costs, lengthy timelines, lack of IT expertise and the potential risk of migrating business-critical workloads. But here’s the thing: migrating legacy workloads to the cloud is easier than it is often perceived and those that have done so quickly realize the upside it offers in the form of increased scalability and agility.
According to recent research, 60-80% of manufacturing IT budgets are allocated to keeping out-of-date legacy systems running—even a small reduction in costs could free up valuable budget to address other projects. Benefits of moving to the cloud include improved ability and staff productivity, better security and operational resilience, no longer needing to worry about managing or updating on-prem infrastructure (servers), no issues with hardware end-of-life, and the flexibility to quickly scale up or down or expand in other global regions. And given rising customer expectations on order-fulfillment and delivery times, as well as the increasing complexity of the global supply chain and the massive shift from single factory to multi-factory operations, the cloud imperative for modern manufacturing has never been greater.
There can also be cost savings when moving to the cloud as it offers better control over key IT operating costs—workloads can be powered on or off, as well as scaled up or down as needed, and IT no longer has to invest in capital-intensive hardware or costly software refreshes.
Last but not least is the notion of competitive advantage, as the above-mentioned benefits enable manufacturers to be better equipped to compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, where efficiency and agility have all but become table stakes.
To plan out a cloud-migration strategy, manufacturers should ask themselves the following questions:
- How long will existing systems be valuable? What exactly do they offer the company now and are there alternative ways to accomplish those tasks?
- Do legacy systems still provide the responsiveness, outputs and speeds of delivery required? If not, where do they fall short?
- If improvements are needed, can the systems be integrated with newer technology for those improvements? Or do they need to be completely replaced?
- Are the costs of running and maintaining legacy systems sustainable? Remember to consider the employees required to update and manage the infrastructure, and the fact that engineers that specialize in older server hardware are getting harder to find (and thus more expensive).
- Related to the growing skills gap noted above, do we have future in-house IT skills and expertise required to maintain these legacy systems? If not, what is our timeline to prepare for this future skills gap?
Until recently, it was not possible to migrate to the public cloud those applications written in the IBM i (AS/400) and AIX operating systems (for IBM Power midrange servers) without refactoring, rewriting or replatforming them. Since many legacy and business-critical applications are written for these hardware-specific architectures, migrations involve a great deal of work and risk. The more customized the application is (and the more important it is to the business), the more reluctant IT was to do anything that might damage it.
And the stakes are high for manufacturers as these workloads often run the lifeblood of the organization. No one wants to be responsible for accidentally breaking the ERP system, right? As the pool of IBM Power Engineers has shrunk, these migrations have seemed less and less feasible.
However, there are now workarounds that replicate the IBM Power environment in public clouds. This allows IBM i (AS/400), AIX and Linux on Power workloads to be migrated to the cloud without rewriting any code. This removes much of the risk of migrating legacy software and makes it a more appealing option to manufacturing organizations. Migrations can be completed in stages; first lifting and shifting everything to the public cloud of choice unchanged, and then updating or replacing individual components with cloud-native services. This allows IT to take advantage of the resilience and flexibility of the cloud immediately, and complete other modernization projects at a controlled pace. The risk of accidentally breaking something is much lower than if IT tried to update and migrate at the same time.
Migrating these legacy workloads to the public cloud provides immediate cloud benefits one would expect in terms of reduced infrastructure costs and increased scalability and agility, but there are also tertiary benefits related to data-modernization. This stems from the understanding that legacy systems and applications not only support mission-critical workloads, but these very systems often contain a wealth of enterprise data. Once migrated to the cloud, this data is essentially de-siloed and can be connective to cloud-native advanced-analytics services to ultimately support more intelligent business decision-making. Value-added cloud-native services such as these are further compelling manufacturers to accelerate their path to the cloud.
Migrating legacy applications to the cloud offers significant advantages for manufacturers; the continued development of technology solutions and supporting services is making the migration path easier than ever.