Last week we laid out some basics of what we call the “Full PaaS” approach to legacy app modernization. While it might not make sense in every situation, we recently completed a modernization effort using the Full PaaS approach. Here’s some background and the steps we took…

Stop Playing Legacy App “Whack-a-Mole” 

Our enterprise customer developed and owned a budgeting application. The application was over five years old and built on tech that — while modern at the time — had become “stale” over the years.  Usage patterns for the application included huge spikes in demand during specific times of the year, and the need to meet these demands prompted the team to “reactively” invest in servers with more memory, better networking equipment, and other fixes. Problems were only addressed as they cropped up, with no time for long-term planning.

Yet despite throwing money and equipment at those problems, the issues with the platform continued, while customers were demanding more functionality. Unfortunately, since most of the application team’s time was spent reacting to operating issues, that simply couldn’t happen. Additionally, the application team’s O&M budget shrank over time, leaving a smaller staff responsible for the application.

After analyzing the application, we determined that three tiers of the application (compute, cache, database) could be moved to the “as-a-service” model with a reasonable amount of refactor, for two main reasons:

  • This model would address the seasonal demand challenges by leveraging “auto-scaling” capabilities built directly into the services the application would now be consuming.
  • As an added benefit, these services allowed scripted deployments, automated monitoring, and easier provisioning of “test” environments to get new features in the hands of users more quickly.

The 7 Steps to “Full-PaaS” Modernization

Once we chose the Full PaaS approach, we completed the modernization effort by following these seven (high level) steps:

  1. Analyze application dependencies: This includes compute and data tiers, software architecture, reliance on existing resources.
  2. Identify services to replace legacy components: Not everything will port directly, so map out your replacements ahead of time.
  3. Establish candidate PaaS architecture: Choose your cloud platform, specific services to be used, and architect the flow of communication between the services.
  4. Validate with internal stakeholders: We talk to everyone from operations staff to security to business users of the application.
  5. Refactor your application code: Target the PaaS services included in the candidate architecture.
  6. Automate your application delivery and integrate CI/CD: This is one of the biggest benefits to this modernization approach, so take full advantage of it!
  7. Establish a living roadmap for ongoing improvement: We’re looking for both ongoing improvements to delivery automation and for any additional applications that can also adopt the model.

FREE HALF DAY SESSION: APP MODERNIZATION APPROACHES & BEST PRACTICES
Transform your business into a modern enterprise that engages customers, supports innovation, and has a competitive advantage, all while cutting costs with cloud-based app modernization.

If you’re looking to modernize a legacy application, there are quite a few paths and approaches to choose from. Today, let’s look at “Full PaaS” modernization, which re-architects legacy applications to target cloud-native “serverless” technologies wherever possible.

This can solve many of the most common challenges organizations face when dealing with legacy applications:

  • The need to provide modern capabilities, innovate faster with limited resources
  • Your existing infrastructure is expensive and difficult to provision, maintain, scale, secure
  • Your existing staff could improve efficiency by focusing on their strengths
  • Your customers expect evolving, innovative functionality that relies on expensive, complex underlying technology

Why “Full PaaS” Modernization Is Different

Going the “Full PaaS” route allows your company to take advantage of the “best of the best” that the public cloud has to offer, including:

  • The responsibility for delivering platform quality shifts from IT staff to industry experts (uptime, security, etc.)
  • Managed offerings for all application components provide peace of mind and zero day-to-day maintenance.
  • You can immediately and automatically leverage the innovation and improvements being applied (almost constantly) to the underlying cloud platform.

Once your application is migrated, you’ll enjoy vastly improved speed, flexibility and agility. Modern PaaS platforms offer opportunities to automate and extend delivery processes as a core feature of the service, which creates a lower barrier to entry to incorporate modern, innovative technology for improvement of your software products.

And of course, we can’t talk about moving applications to the cloud without mentioning the cost savings and lower total cost of ownership. You’ll eliminate significant effort required to build, maintain, and evolve the “foundation” of your application’s infrastructure (servers, networking equipment, monitoring stack, data backup and disaster recovery, etc.). This, in turn, will let you focus your development resources on core competency, avoid inefficiencies related to effort not directly focused on improving the quality of your software products.

Sounds Great! Any Drawbacks? 

Well, yes. There are a few things to consider before taking this approach:

  • More significant application refactor or re-architecture could be required, which can include more significant up-front investment.
  • More potential for vendor lock-in specific to a specific cloud provider than other modernization approaches.
  • Existing staff may need to invest in modernizing existing skillsets and deeply ingrained ideas about “the way things are done” – instead emphasizing “software-defined” principles (networking, automation, monitoring).

This approach targets the highest level of maturity for cloud adoption, where you’re consuming cloud native features as a service to provide all of the building blocks for your application.  This won’t fit right away for all situations, as organizations balance an application’s internal dependencies with the need to modernize.  However, this approach can provide significant benefit for legacy application teams given the right circumstances.

FREE HALF DAY SESSION: APP MODERNIZATION APPROACHES & BEST PRACTICES
Transform your business into a modern enterprise that engages customers, supports innovation, and has a competitive advantage, all while cutting costs with cloud-based app modernization.

So Is “Full PaaS” the Right Approach For Me?

AIS looks for the following characteristics when evaluating this approach:

  • The team is willing to invest a bit more time and money up front to modernize in return for the benefits listed above.
  • The team has significant challenges managing infrastructure which aren’t fully addressed by more basic lift-and-shift or “containerization” app modernization approaches. In many cases this comes from a slow erosion of operations and maintenance (O&M) staff over time, leaving developers responsible for all portions of development and delivery.
  • The team is interested in providing evolving features, but is constrained by the lack of innovation on the current platform.
  • The team releases updates/features too infrequently and is under pressure to improve the “cycle time.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at the specific steps involved in the “Full PaaS” modernization approach, and share an example of a successful legacy app modernization project the AIS Team recently completed.

AIS’ work with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) was showcased as a Microsoft Featured Case Study. This customer success story was our most recent project with NFLPA, as they’ve sought our help to modernize multiple IT systems and applications over the years. We were proud to tackle the latest challenge: Creating a single, shared player management system, using Dynamics 365, for the NFLPA and all its sister organizations.

The Challenge

This case study was featured on Microsoft. Click here to view the case study.As the nonprofit union for NFL players, the NFLPA constantly looks for ways to better serve its members—current and former NFL players—during and after their football careers. But multiple player management systems across the associated support organizations resulted in poor customer service and missed opportunities for NFLPA members. Valuable data captured by one department wasn’t accessible to another, causing headaches and delays when licensing opportunities arose, and limited the organization’s ability to be proactive about the challenges members face after retirement.

The Solution: A Single Source

We used Microsoft Dynamics 365 to create a single, shared player management system, called PA.NET, for all the NFLPA organizations. We customized Dynamics 365 extensively to meet the unique needs of the NFLPA and integrated it with the organization’s Office 365 applications.

At the same time, we shifted all legacy IT systems (websites, financial applications, and others) to Microsoft Azure, giving NFLPA an entirely cloud-based business.

The Results: More Opportunities, More Time, Fewer Costs

With one master set of player data and powerful reporting tools that employees use to find answers to their own questions, the NFLPA can uncover marketing and licensing opportunities for more players and identify other ways to help its members.

Because PA.NET automates so many previously manual processes, it frees up hours of drudge work each week for NFLPA employees, which they convert to creative problem solving for members. And its IT staff has freed up 30 percent more time by not having to babysit infrastructure, time it uses to come up with new technology innovations.

By moving its business systems to the cloud, the NFLPA can scale its infrastructure instantly when traffic spikes—such as when football season ends and licensing offers heat up. No more over-provisioning servers to meet worst-case needs. In fact, no more servers, period. With cloud-based systems, the NFLPA no longer has to refresh six-figure server and storage systems every few years.

Read the full Microsoft Featured Case Study here to learn more about our work and more about great work the NFLPA does on behalf of its members.

SCORE LIKE NFLPA. WORK WITH AIS. Transformation is on the horizon for your organization. All it takes is the right partner. With the experience, talent, and best practices to lead you to success, AIS is the right partner for you.

In this blog post, I discuss an app modernization approach that we call “modernize-by-shifting.” In essence, we take an existing application and move it to “managed” container hosting environments like Azure Kubernetes Service or Azure Service Fabric Mesh. The primary goal of this app modernization strategy is to undertake minimal possible change to the existing application codebase. This approach to modernization is markedly different from a “lift-and-shift” approach where workloads are migrated to the cloud IaaS unchanged with little to no use of cloud native capabilities.

Step One of App Modernization by Shifting

As the first step of this approach, an existing application is broken into a set of container images that include everything needed to run a portion of the application: code, runtime, system tools, system libraries, and settings. Approaches to breaking up the application in smaller parts can vary based on original architecture. For example, if we begin with multi-tier application, each tier (e.g. presentation, application, business, data access) could map to a container image. While this approach will admittedly lead to coarser-grained images, compared to a puritanical microservices-based approach of light-weight images, it should be seen as the first step in modernizing the application.

Read More…

I put together a two-part video presentation on how (and why!) to take on-premises applications and move them to the cloud (specifically the Azure PaaS platform), and how to do it quickly.

The second video continues the process and covers app modernization with Service Fabric.

FREE HALF DAY SESSION: APP MODERNIZATION APPROACHES & BEST PRACTICES
Transform your business into a modern enterprise that engages customers, supports innovation, and has a competitive advantage, all while cutting costs with cloud-based app modernization.

Best of Texas AwardTwo years ago, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) came to AIS with an outdated online budgeting tool called the “Texas Reality Check” for middle and high school students. The application, designed to give students a clear sense of how much their desired future lifestyle will cost and what education and career choices will support it, was plagued by performance and accessibility issues…and its young target demographic was simply tuning it out.

AIS modernized the site for teen sensibilities, streamlined the underlying information architecture for easier use, overhauled the content strategy and user experience, and made it fully compliant with the latest accessibility guidelines.  You can read more about our work on this project here.

The new and improved Texas Reality Check has since gone on to become the most popular application of the Labor Market and Career Information Department (LMCI) of the Texas Workforce Commission. And now it’s been honored with a 2018 “Best of Texas” Award for Best Application Serving the Public. The awards highlight the Texas state government’s top creative tech implementations of the year, for both internal improvements and public-facing services like TRC.

“Governmental and educational leaders in Texas are leveraging technology to improve cybersecurity, enhance citizen service and advance emergency response, among many other things,” said Teri Takai, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. “Congratulations to this year’s Best of Texas winners for the vital role they are playing in advancing information technology in Texas.”

We’re really proud of our work on this project and thrilled that school students all across Texas have responded to the site in such a positive and engaged way. We hope the application continues to inspire them to dream big…while also equipping them with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve their goals.

ICON & GOLD Teaming Up To Explore Earth’s Interface to SpaceFor years, Federal agencies have struggled to drive efficiencies while addressing the growing volume and increasing size of geospatial data. Legacy stove-pipe connectivity and desktop thick-clients have prevented traditional production environments from achieving the potential of a modern cloud-based architecture. Coupled with responsive web-based components, the cloud offers a seamless framework to automate tasks such as data ingestion, pre-processing and product generation. AIS is proud to be helping our users migrate into these next-generation production environments.

Our Federal team is currently involved with multiple projects that foster the adoption of cloud-based tasking, ingestion, processing and visualization using open-source web technologies. We foster an approach to migrating data processing algorithms from research groups across the Intelligence Community into production environments such as AWS Commercial Cloud Services (C2S).

For instance, the open-sourced NGA Scale framework allows users to customize heavy data processing schedules and tasks, while leveraging and managing a large number of cluster nodes used to process each job.

Right…. So what does that mean, exactly? Read More…

The Microsoft Government Tech Summit – a free, technical learning event for IT professionals and developers – is coming to Washington D.C., March 5-6, 2018! This two-day event will be packed with technical content, and this year Microsoft is showcasing Azure Government and Microsoft 365 for US Government.

Our Cloud Application Development Director, Brent Wodicka, is presenting this year on “A PaaS-First Approach to DoD Mission Apps” on March 5th at 1 p.m.  He will be co-presenting with Microsoft’s Derek Strausbaugh, and showcasing how Azure simplifies and re-imagines legacy mission applications. Registration is now open, and we’re hoping you can join us!

As the expectations of citizens increase, the need for technology innovation in government intensifies. Learn how cloud innovation can help meet the needs of the nation. Whether you’re interested in learning about security approaches or attracting and retaining talent with a more flexible and modern workstyle, Microsoft Government Tech Summit can help you evolve your skills and deepen your expertise to lead your agency through digital transformation.

What to expect:

  • Connect with experts from Microsoft and the community, and learn how to get the most from the cloud. Ask your toughest questions, learn best practices, and share strategies.
  • Choose from a variety of learning opportunities to deepen your cloud expertise, from keynotes and breakout sessions, to hands-on labs and a hackathon.
  • Customize your learning – whether you’re already cloud-savvy or just getting started – Microsoft Government Tech Summit has something for everyone.
  • Discover the latest trends, tools, and product roadmaps at more than 60 sessions covering a range of topics, including over 40 sessions focused on the needs of government agencies.

The cloud is changing expectations – and transforming the way we live and work. Join us at the Microsoft Government Tech Summit and learn how Microsoft’s cloud platform can help you lead your agency through digital transformation – and make the cloud part of your mission success.

REGISTER NOW

In a previous blog post, we discussed a quick overview of Continuous Integration and Deployment of .NET applications using Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS). This involved building and deploying regular old .NET applications with VSTS—something that we would definitely expect a Microsoft service to handle. However, there is some lesser-known support that VSTS has for other frameworks, including Java. The Microsoft VSTS website even has a portal page proclaiming their Java support: “Love Java? So do we!

VSTS support for Java build frameworks such as Maven and Ant came in handy for AIS recently, as we were tasked with developing some new features for an older Java desktop application for a federal client. And I will have to say that all of the VSTS tools for Java applications worked flawlessly. We were able to easily add the Java project source code to a Team Foundation Version Control (TFVC) repository hosted online in VSTS. Oracle even has an extension for integrating with a TFVC workspace—allowing us to check in changes right from the JDeveloper IDE. Read More…