Legacy applications on cloud-hosted desktops: Migrate or not?

If you think legacy applications won't work well in the cloud, you just might be wrong.

If you deploy virtual desktops in the cloud, don't forget to consider legacy desktops and applications that might not be so intent on coming along.

Often in IT, technology that has long been pronounced dead and buried lurks in organizations for far longer than anyone wants. Moving all of your servers and applications into the cloud empowers staff to work wherever they are, using whatever they have, but what about those legacy apps that you need to access from cloud-hosted desktops? Interestingly enough, the cloud could be the right place for them.

The problem with legacy applications

When a company moves to Desktop as a Service (DaaS), the front of the business may be pushing ahead, developing Web applications that run beautifully in the cloud and provide ultra-modern touch-based interfaces. The company's data may now be entirely in the cloud and accessible from any device with a modern Web browser. But somewhere, hidden out back, are legacy applications that are used once a month or year or are used by three people out of 3,000 -- applications that have no Web equivalent and would be uneconomical to turn into Web applications

More on cloud-hosted desktops

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Other organizations that are considering the move to cloud-hosted desktops may have an army of application developers beavering away to transform the business. They may do a great job of identifying the parts of the business that ought to be in the cloud, but there are some apps that won't benefit from cloud deployment and would need major work to behave well with their data moved outside the corporate firewall.

The problem is that those applications tend to use the data in your cloud applications, and the apps expect to have it close at hand, not in some remote data center over the Internet. These critical applications have been around for a while and were taken for granted. You don't want them to suddenly stop working because the data they need isn't where it used to be.

Cloud could be the answer for legacy apps

In fact, this shouldn't stop the whole company from moving to the cloud. If you have a need for legacy desktops and applications, DaaS can be a great play. The desktop and its applications run in the same cloud data center as the company's applications, so the desktop is close to the data. 

Think about it in terms of Dave McCrory's concept of data gravity. The company's data needs to be close together to get the best value out of it. The applications and their data need to be in the same place. If the data is in the cloud, then the application should also be in the cloud, close to the data. If your data is in the cloud, your desktop should be there too. Plus, being in the cloud means legacy applications can take advantage of self-service provisioning and on-demand resources -- sometimes making them more economical.

Moving to cloud-hosted desktops can also help you get rid of some of the legacy apps that you don't need. Plus, you can remove the last few old PCs that you have hanging around.

Still, if you go shopping for DaaS now, there isn't a lot to choose from. In the coming months and years, as companies are able to move the majority of their computer estate to the cloud, I expect to see a lot more DaaS around to handle that long tail of legacy desktops required to cope with the long tail of desktop applications.

This was first published in June 2013

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