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Encapsulation – the big secret of enterprise IT

(Image credit: Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay)

Encapsulation services are rescuing critical business applications trapped on legacy Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 Operating Systems, making it possible to move them to the cloud before end of life hits next year, says Mat Clothier, CEO of Cloudhouse

As enterprises move their IT into the cloud to achieve digital transformation, major challenges are emerging.

Chief among them is the difficulty of migrating business applications that are dependent on legacy operating systems. It is proving to be a major problem. Critical applications that were customised or built to specific requirements can fail to function due to a lack of compatibility with the environments delivered by public cloud providers such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.

Many enterprises that have been quietly running applications on unsupported servers for years are running up against the brutal realities of cloud migration. These become more acute as the deadline approaches for the end of life for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 next January.

The complexity of this problem may seem daunting but new solutions are emerging, especially in application encapsulation, enabling enterprises to continue using crucial legacy applications in cloud environments - something that was previously thought technically impossible.

The scale of the challenge

First however, it is worth remembering the scale of the challenge and just how urgent cloud migration is to enterprises globally. Gartner predicts worldwide cloud services will grow by 17 per cent this year to hit $214bn, compared with $182bn last year. Applications are right at the heart of this. More than a third of the 550 enterprise-level IT chiefs surveyed for the IDG Cloud Computing Survey last year said they are under pressure to migrate all applications and infrastructure to the cloud, while nine-in-ten plan to have some part of their applications or infrastructure in the cloud this year, with the rest following suit by 2021.

As this migration continues, estimates by global software network SpiceWorks highlight how 79 per cent of organisations still have at least one Windows 7 system on their network and a quarter of businesses plan to migrate all their machines from Windows 7 after the end of life deadline next January.

Other estimates place Windows Server at approximately 70 per cent of server OS installations with about 40 per cent of those on Server 2008/2008 R2 with millions of enterprise applications run on Windows Server, the majority on Windows Server 2008 or earlier.

Compounding this is the reluctance of many enterprises to move to Windows 10 because of concerns about moving onto the treadmill of six-monthly or annual updates. This involves almost continual testing and a risk of damage and disruption to business due to application failure.

The effect on critical middle-tier and back-office applications

All these challenges mean the majority of enterprises will still have critical middle-tier and back-office applications stuck on legacy Windows systems even after the end-of-life deadlines have passed. These are often applications that have become absolutely critical to the running of the enterprise, for instance manufacturing, stock monitoring or accounting. Assumptions are commonly made that these are simply too mission critical to touch and therefore cannot be migrated to the cloud without a huge amount of risk – not to mention cost and disruption to the business. Consequently, these applications are often removed from the scope of a cloud migration, leading to a significant reduction in the potential benefits being delivered by the migration in the first place!

This approach extends the life of the current systems and keeps them out of the cloud until further notice. Microsoft, for example, has been ready to sell Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESUs) on a per-device basis to enterprise users with volume-licensing agreements. Yet this too is costly, with the price doubling year-on-year to January 2023 – a tough sell for any IT department to take to their CFO.

Microsoft is campaigning hard to persuade enterprises to shift workloads into Azure, having offered, for example, three years of free support for VMs running Windows Server 2008 R2 after the January 2020 end-of-life date. As attractive as such offers may be, enterprises want to avoid being locked in to one provider, whichever that may be. Many CIO’s mitigate this by pursuing a multi-cloud strategy, working with multiple cloud providers.

But as far as applications are concerned, it is common to encounter an “If it ain’t broke, don’t’ fix it” attitude even though this can jeopardise applications on which the enterprise depends.

What is the right way forward – virtualisation or encapsulation?

Which then, is the right route forward for an enterprise facing all the challenges of cloud migration and legacy applications? Virtualisation is often touted as a solution, but although it simplifies deployment and addresses some application-to-application conflicts it fails to solve compatibility problems between the application and the cloud-provider’s system.

The most effective solution to emerge from the need to move legacy applications into the cloud is in application encapsulation. It is a simple enough concept. Experts in encapsulation lift an application from its legacy environment and successfully transpose it into any cloud system, future-proofing it through the power of advanced encapsulation technology.

This encapsulation technology provides the redirection, isolation and compatibility needed for the application to function in the external cloud service environment exactly as it did on the old Operating System. It isolates the application from the underlying Operating System, meaning that Windows Servicing Updates can be rolled out to the server or device without it impacting the application. No recoding or refactoring is required. The application will remain evergreen into the future, running as if cloud-native without the need for a single piece of additional infrastructure.

No longer should it be necessary for IT teams to “hope for the best”, leaving some of their most fundamental applications on insecure and unstable operating systems. And since this is a cloud-agnostic solution, the danger, of an enterprise being locked into a single cloud vendor, with all the risks that entails, is removed.

Encapsulation is fully supported by cloud-vendors

Because encapsulation needs no additional third-party infrastructure or software, and requires no code changes, it is already supported by all cloud vendors.

As the pace of cloud migration increases, application encapsulation services will become an essential part of the digital transformation journey for any enterprises that has legacy business-critical applications. Encapsulation services will ensure they remain evergreen in the cloud, reducing the financial burden and business disruption of migration.  This is true digital transformation in progress.

Mat Clothier, CEO, Cloudhouse