February 2024


Why Legacy Systems Remain Critical in Modern, ‘Cloud Appropriate’ Hybrid Digital Transformation

By Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds

The impact of budget cuts and austerity, Covid-19 disruption, and concerns about security have resulted in a hybrid of legacy and cloud technology in U.K. government and public sector bodies. The government’s 2013 ‘cloud-first’ policy has driven varying levels of successful cloud migration and little consistency. Critical business processes supported by legacy applications are often too vital to risk migration.

Legacy systems can include all kinds of technology, such as older operating systems like Windows XP, without migration paths into the cloud. When the risk of migrating business-critical legacy systems to newer, cloud-based systems outweighs the benefits, the lengths an IT department must go to ensure compatibility with upgrades can be complex and painful.

So, when does it make sense to maintain legacy systems, and what is an appropriate level of cloud migration for government and public sector agencies? And how best to go about managing a hybrid environment? The latest 2022 SolarWinds IT Trends report reveals over half (55%) of public sector respondents have needed to upskill and/or train their staff specifically to manage their hybrid IT environments, with 40% resorting to outsourcing their IT services altogether.

For the government and the wider public sector, there is no one-size-fits-all. For each component in their infrastructure, organisations must weigh the migration effort, cost savings, and flexibility offered by the cloud against the benefits of using legacy systems.

Secure, Compliant, Predictable: The Benefits of Maintaining Legacy Systems

A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request shows two-thirds of government departments and public sector agencies are less than 50% cloud-based, with 46% mainly concerned about service interruption during migration. A further 32% highlighted the length of the process as a challenge to cloud migration. According to the report, at least two NHS trusts have no plans to use the cloud.

Public cloud is not always the most efficient or suitable place for workloads and data. According to government figures—again sourced via an FOI request—more than three-quarters (78%) of public bodies provide services unsuitable for migration to the public cloud. Furthermore, 63% of public sector organisations still do not have a dedicated cloud strategy, while more than 70% of their infrastructure and 73% of their data remains on-premises.

Often, this reliance on legacy systems is due to concerns around data security in the public cloud and applications not being cloud-ready. Entrenched outsourcing and a lack of skills across the sector may also factor into the equation.

Research by IDC reveals 70% of all applications remain outside the cloud. It cites several reasons for this, including concerns about cybersecurity and maintaining regulatory compliance. Unpredictable costs are also a worry.

Scalable, Flexible, Agile: The Benefits of Cloud Migration

So, what infrastructure makes the most sense to migrate to the cloud?

Some legacy systems are easier to move than others. Email, for example, can be an easy win, moving from on-premises to a well-supported platform like Microsoft 365 quickly reducing operating costs.

According to the Cloud Industry Forum, cloud adoption within the public sector accelerated during the pandemic, with 49% of organisations increasing cloud computing as a direct result of the crisis. For those who had already migrated, 97% said the cloud played an essential role in their response to the pandemic, while 42% considered it critical.

Benefits of cloud migration include enabling home-working, with 65% of public sector respondents citing this as key. More than half (54%) considered agility a top priority. Notably, government data anticipates 16% of public services could be fully cloud-based in three years.

The cloud also offers nearly unlimited scale with minimal lead time—you can deploy petabytes of storage in a couple of clicks or a simple line of code. It also provides flexibility around deployment, as most current systems are easily migrated into Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) operations in the cloud.

A successful example of a cloud-first approach is the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which wanted to help its core functions operate more efficiently. Its move to the cloud allowed it to find better ways to collect, process, and interpret data, so the statistics it produced were of higher quality. It also improved data-sharing with policymakers and other stakeholders and now stores data more efficiently and securely.

But this approach doesn’t work for everyone. Increasingly, a hybrid approach to technology brings together the best of both worlds.

The Best of Both: a Combination of Legacy Systems and Cloud

While cloud adoption is increasing, most of the public service infrastructure is still on-premises. The U.K. government and public sector still have many legacy systems simply because they work and continue to support mission-critical functions. For many organisations, it makes sense to combine the benefits of legacy systems and cloud infrastructures, following a hybrid IT strategy.

According to the FOI request made to governmental departments, agencies, and public bodies, 53% of respondent services already use a hybrid infrastructure. With this trend toward hybrid IT, organisations must have centralised visibility into infrastructures located across these multiple environments of on-premises, hybrid, and cloud.

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