As the majority of today’s public sector organisations face the challenge of cutting costs across the board to meet government spending targets, one area that is coming under increasing scrutiny is IT infrastructure. As a result, cost-effective distributed IT platforms and services are being considered as an alternative to the costly proprietary mini-computers and mainframes on which many government organisations have relied for so long.

Today, many public sector organisations’ critical legacy IT applications sit on mainframes, which come with comparably high annual maintenance and upgrade costs. This has been the case for many years as it has always been seen as the most stable and secure environment for applications to be hosted upon, and to manage the large volumes of data. 

This view is now starting to shift as ‘IT agility’ also becomes a focus for many, as a mechanism to accelerate delivery while also reduce expense – to do more with less. To become ‘agile’ means moving away from closed environments, modernising applications and moving to new platforms, hosted off the mainframe.

The Cloud is one of those new platforms and is a hot topic in all organisations’ IT departments, from the public to the private sector, with many in the public sector looking to move their IT applications to the Cloud. There has been a lot of speculation around the move to a government Cloud platform, the G-Cloud , and whether it will or won’t happen.  

It seems that despite the hype surrounding the return on investment and overall efficiency that the Cloud will offer IT departments in local governments, there is still a lot of perceived risk. Questions still remain relating to the Cloud and legacy applications which have been used for decades. But, migrating to the Cloud does not have to be difficult and this process can be executed without compromising application performance or data integrity. We now have the ability to migrate these legacy applications, which have years’ of organisational value and are heavily relied upon in day-to-day operations, to the Cloud without losing any of this value or performance. 

It is estimated that moving these applications off the mainframe can reduce operating costs by around 60-70%, and utilising the Cloud can go further – a huge saving. So what is the best way for organisation to move to the Cloud ?

1. Identify Critical Applications
Technically, a legacy application is one that could have been written as recently as yesterday. There is a considerable legacy around so called modern applications and the languages they are written in. It is important to use application portfolio management tools when modernising legacy apps for the Cloud so that those most crucial to the business can be easily identified, the amount and value of change required, and therefore the time when savings can be delivered. 

2. Prioritise Applications for Migration
Before modernising legacy applications and moving them to the Cloud , it is important to prioritise which ones need to be modernised vs. which you would like to be updated. 
In order to do this, all applications should be evaluated and charted according to organisational value, cost, impact and use cases. The applications that are of the utmost importance in terms of value and impact but also carry a high cost are the ones that should be migrated to the Cloud first. As this charting commences, it is important to remember that the IT department should work with business departments to ensure that the technology and application roadmaps are on par with the organisation’s needs.

3. Old Applications are Good to Go
Contrary to popular belief, 20-year-old business IT applications written in older languages such as COBOL are in fact suited to run in the Cloud . These applications were designed to run on server based environments supporting many hundreds of users, managing complex transactions securely and with adequate performance, and being accessed through remote interfaces. These characteristics mean there is less architectural change needed to Cloud enable these applications than any other type.
In fact, the hardest applications to move are those written for client-server models during the 1990’s. All this means that the mainframe applications that are core to the organisation and represent the critical business processes and therefore house great value, can be migrated without concern.

4. Don’t Tie Yourself in to a Particular Cloud Hosting Platform
Working with a vendor neutral migration specialist will make re-hosting your applications to an alternate Cloud platform a lot easier should you wish to make a change. Portability should be built into the applications themselves, rather than at the hosting level. Surely this is what is meant by ‘agile’ as it means IT can be modernised and moved, benefiting from more costly or efficient platforms.  The ability to be agile can have huge future cost implications.

Migrating from mainframe to Cloud – the benefits
The migration of all applications from the mainframe can take between nine months for an average government installation to a possible three years for the very largest, so following these steps and migrating at a sensible pace is the key to success. Once complete it gives the opportunity for a better user experience (and internet access) and the sharing of data in a much more efficient way. Ultimately it will mean any chosen user can directly access the department’s IT applications from any device. 

There are huge benefits to be sought by moving away from a mainframe environment to a more agile and efficient platform and, while it may take time, all government organisations should consider a path to migrating their applications. The only alternative is to see public sector IT costs continue to escalate. 
Stuart McGill is CTO at MicroFocus