The legacy IT conundrum: Money pit or value-add?

Bernard Golden, senior director of Cloud Computing Enterprise Solutions, Dell

However, as Saugatuck notes, most IT budget is already committed to keeping the lights on. Not only is most of the budget placed toward legacy, so, too, is most of the time and attention. In other words, for most IT organisations, cloud computing competes with the weight of legacy for management bandwidth, prioritization and money. That's a huge problem.

Eventually, of course, legacy systems will be retired. Someday IT organisations will run all of their applications in cloud environments. (In fact, when that someday arrives, we won't speak of cloud computing at all. It will be the de facto deployment environment, and no one gives attention to environmental factors that are assumed to be universal. It will just be the infrastructure environment, with no special name.)

Cloud Is Coming Quickly, Too
The question is, how long will it take for the 80 percent of spend associated with legacy systems to drop to only 10 percent or even 5 percent? As I noted in my review of The Second Machine Age, the transition from steam to electric factory power took nearly 40 years and was only fully realized when a new generation of factory designers and managers replaced those raised on steam power.

We see evidence of why these transitions take so long in the way IT organizations have responded to cloud computing. They doubt cloud security. They insistent that they can run cloud environments cheaper than public providers. They assert that most applications don't require cloud characteristics such as elasticity and large scalability.

IT organisations won't have 40 years to retire legacy environments in favor of cloud computing and thereby free up sufficient budget to meet increased demand. The demand for new applications is going to be so overwhelming, and the allure of bypassing IT in favor of public cloud computing so powerful, that IT organizations will need to be much more aggressive in retiring old applications and infrastructure. Otherwise, they're going to be like the Maytag repairman, left alone and undisturbed, tending to a devalued cost center.

There's evidence of this. Business units embrace cloud computing much more rapidly than IT organisations burdened by the sunk costs of inflexible legacy systems and hindered by sluggish processes better suited to traditional infrastructure timescales. Frustrated by these factors, business units bypass IT and setting out by themselves. All the warnings about lack of governance, provider security and VM sprawl are ignored in the rush to respond to business opportunity.

The choice is stark: Figure out a way to provide value or be relegated to a devalued cost center, discarded in favor of more responsive alternatives.

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