Look back at the history of IT and you’ll find it littered with hardware – the mainframe, personal computers, servers, network switches, routers – the list goes on, but not for much longer. Complex, fixed and inflexible hardware devices are being replaced with general purpose commodity platforms which, with the right software, can be made to handle just about any task required. Plus you don’t even have to buy the hardware itself any more, just rent it in the Cloud to build the kind of agile software-defined datacentre needed to support the modern digital business.

At least that’s the theory and there are, of course, exceptions to this move away from hardware to more flexible software-defined IT. Not least when it comes to the all important task of managing application workloads where appliance mentality still predominates with major implications when it comes to taking advantage of what the Cloud and other developments coming down the line have to offer.

Part of the problem here, is an understandable desire to cling to solutions already proven to work. Hence, for example, why so many early adopters of the Cloud did little more than migrate physical and virtual servers from their on-premise datacentres to AWS and other public cloud platforms. While this approach carried few risks, and also did away with the need to source and manage on-premise hardware, it did little to take advantage of what the Cloud had to offer in terms of instant scalability, workload balancing, process automation, AI and so on.

The same applies when it comes to the hardware-based application delivery controllers (ADC). Designed originally to balance application workloads within the confines of the on-premise datacentre, these legacy devices are a poor fit in a hybrid cloud world and, even when virtualised, fail to provide the on-demand flexibility and scalability demanded of digital applications or fully capitalise on what the software defined datacentre approach has to offer.

In its favour, legacy ADC technology is a known quantity and in an on-premise datacentre can be very effective. That benefit, however, is more than outweighed by the negatives which can be summarised as follows:-

  • Lack of on-demand scalability – even when virtualised, legacy ADC solutions need to be sized up-front to cope with ‘expected’ capacity, an approach which doesn’t fit well with the on-demand model of the cloud.
  • Legacy ADC solutions can be complicated to manage and slow to adapt to changing workload patterns. Different implementations will often require the use of different tools and different skill sets.
  • Lack of visibility when it comes to application demand and workload balancing – the digital business is increasingly looking for the ability to balance workloads using advanced analytics and automation technologies not readily available for legacy ADC solutions.
  • Limited support for different cloud platforms/services – digital businesses don’t just use one platform/technology, they mix, match and need to be able to interact with shared services regardless of where or how they are hosted.
  • Lack of support for emerging cloud-native technologies such as containers and microservices. Legacy ADC solutions are, in the main, designed to work with monolithic applications and struggle to cope with the needs of service-based architectures where hundreds or even thousands of services may be involved spread across multiple platforms.

The only sure way of addressing these issues and dealing with this particular elephant in the digital transformation room is to start afresh. Rather than simply virtualising legacy technology, it’s imperative to design a scalable, flexible and above all agile ADC platform, one that is fit for the hybrid, multi-cloud environment in which the modern digital business needs to operate.