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1/22/2009
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Roger Smith
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Panelists Say Legacy Apps In The Cloud Are A Roll Of The Dice

The premise of the Thursday morning panel discussion at the Cloud Connect event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., was that it's possible to have the best of both worlds: your legacy applications and the cloud. By the end of the hour-long discussion, many of the 200 or so attendees seemed to have come to the conclusion that enterprise and Web-scale development were worlds apart and moving further away from each other at something approaching the speed of light.

The premise of the Thursday morning panel discussion at the Cloud Connect event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., was that it's possible to have the best of both worlds: your legacy applications and the cloud. By the end of the hour-long discussion, many of the 200 or so attendees seemed to have come to the conclusion that enterprise and Web-scale development were worlds apart and moving further away from each other at something approaching the speed of light.Dave Berlind, general manager of the hands-on Cloud Connect event, introduced two panelists with unique perspectives on migrating Microsoft and Java enterprise applications to the cloud:

    Rob Helm, director of research, Directions on Microsoft Lew Tucker, VP and CTO, Cloud Computing, Sun Microsystems

According to Helms, he and his company Directions on Microsoft have covered Redmond's shifting product road map and corporate organization for the past 11 years. "We're like the little bird that sits in the crocodile mouth and picks at its teeth," he said.

Sun panelist Tucker recently rejoined Sun Microsystems after creating AppExchange, a SaaS platform for business applications, when he was a VP at Salesforce.com. He went on to be CTO at Radar Networks, a semantic-Web-based Internet service for tracking interests, before returning to Sun to lead its cloud computing efforts.

In answer to moderator Berlind's question about when enterprises should consider embracing cloud service, both Helms and Tucker agreed that it depends on where your enterprise is in its lifecycle. "If you're a startup, it makes no sense to buy racks of servers," Tucker said. "There are rooms of legacy computers downstairs here in the Computer History Museum -- you don't want to spend your startup money on hardware that will join them."

Asked if Microsoft was "coming out of its cave" on cloud computing, Helm said from his experience that Microsoft has three approaches to the cloud:

1 -- The Microsoft Consumer cloud, with products like MS Live;

2 -- The Microsoft Business cloud, with Microsoft online, Microsoft hosting of packaged apps, such as the 500,000 seats on MS Exchange e-mail, and Microsoft's Dynamic CRM;

3 -- MS Windows Azure. Helm said that Azure isn't strictly your Microsoft apps running in the cloud. Azure will have new apps built with ASP.NET. to run on the Azure hosted Web platform. Currently in beta, Azure apps will run in a tight security "sandbox" to keep from crashing other Azure apps. Helm said it would be necessary to port your current .Net apps to Azure, they can't be run natively on the Azure cloud.

Asked if Microsoft is moving fast enough to embrace the cloud, especially since companies like Amazon, GoDaddy, etc., will sell you a virtual Microsoft platform in the cloud now, Helm said he expected a smoother transition in the next 5 years from the current Microsoft enterprise stack to Azure, using techniques like virtualization.

Berlind said that prior to his current work with TechWeb, a startup he worked with had built its IT infrastructure on Gmail and Google Apps, to which Helm said Microsoft is moving to a subscription pricing model with its SharePoint product and that the cloud will force all vendors to figure out their collaboration strategy. In Helm's view, Microsoft will gradually migrate Microsoft Office functionality to SharePoint, and not the other way 'round, where the company would add collaboration capabilities to its Office Suite.

Sun's Tucker said that the current app development model seems to be changing due to the impact of open source development and software-as-a-service (SaaS), both of which don't actively support legacy or older versions of software. "The goal," said Tucker, "is to move all your end users forward at the same time."

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