Moving Oracle to the Cloud: A Q&A with Apps Associates

In a recent episode of the Early Adopter Research (EAR) Designing Enterprise Platforms podcast, EAR’s Dan Woods spoke with Paul Vian, SVP of sales and marketing, and Bill Saltys, SVP of alliances, from Apps Associates. Apps Associates is a leading firm that helps companies migrate their Oracle applications and databases to different platforms. The conversation centered on EAR’s Oracle Escape Hatch research mission that focuses on educating people about the choices they have when they manage their Oracle relationship. Woods, Vian, and Saltys discussed how to navigate an Oracle migration journey in the lowest risk, highest productivity way. This is an edited version of their conversation that can be heard in full on the podcast.

Woods: Could you just introduce yourselves and tell us very briefly the Apps Associates story?

Saltys: Bill Saltys, SVP of alliances at Apps Associates.

Vian: Paul Vian, I’m SVP of sales and marketing at Apps Associates. The company was founded in 2002, headquartered in Massachusetts, and we help customers migrate Oracle applications to the cloud and manage them. We’re fairly unique in that we’re a premier consulting partner of AWS, but we’re also a platinum partner of Oracle, and through both strategic consulting and managed services, we’re helping our customers get those legacy Oracle applications to the cloud. In addition to that, we also specialize in the integrations, analytics and Salesforce projects for our customers.

You have completed a large number of migrations to the cloud. How many have you done so far?

Vian: We’ve done just over 160 workload migrations to the cloud, specifically to AWS. And we’ve also done over 70 migrations to Oracle cloud applications, which is essentially a SaaS platform.

In your e-book, you covered a variety of issues that were related to these migrations. Could you explain the rationale for the e-book and some of the more important learnings?

Saltys: As we began to talk to customers and prospective customers we saw a hesitation in the market to move and migrate off of their legacy on-premises Oracle applications and we wanted to get a broader perspective from decision makers across the landscape and understand what were the pivot points and why they were hesitating, what were the recurring themes. We interviewed over 300 IT decision makers who actually had control of their budget and influence of what they were going to do with those Oracle applications.

One of the more common myths in this area are that it’s impossible to actually migrate a workload from an on premises license to the AWS or other platforms.

Saltys: Yes, that was one of the myths. We asked the question around feasibility, and clearly if I look at the data, almost 3 in 5, 57% of the decision makers said while they know going to cloud is the way forward, they weren’t sure how to get there. More importantly is we drilled down to specifics around those IT decision makers with legacy Oracle applications in their footprint, 4 in 5, 79% wanted to move to cloud, either public or private infrastructure but felt there was way too many risks with moving to a third party non-Oracle cloud environment. I’ll break it down this way, Dan. First of all, you get the, “It just can’t be done,” right?

The “It can’t be done” message is the idea that your license doesn’t allow it. That’s often the attitude people have that you encounter in the marketplace?

Saltys: Right. The first layer is really just technical feasibility, “Gee, I don’t think I can do it,” right? It’s a performance hit or compatibility issues. And of course, we’ve been doing this since 2012, in other words, putting Oracle workloads onto public and private cloud, knowing what to do and how to do that. So it provides assurance to them with the experience that we have and the success we’ve had over the years and we can provide those credentials and that information to them.

You’re not arguing that there aren’t issues in technical feasibility. Things may work differently, but it’s possible to solve them and have a high performance experience once the migration is done and on AWS.

Saltys: That’s right. You build up runbooks, you build up methodology, you build up processes that help support that, that make it very repeatable. The second layer to that question of feasibility is mitigating factors or the extenuating circumstances that include license, that include support, that includes security, and costs.

I’m assuming there’s another layer, which is just how the impact of this migration is going to have on the internal users of this application.

Saltys: Exactly. What it boils down to me is that it’s all about change management. No different than any other paradigm shift or IT area that we have seen over the years. Change management is really a mask over all of this, just causing hesitation. Once you apply best practices and methods and approaches to change management that we’ve seen and done many times and companies have gone through, then there a relaxation that it’s a controlled process to the cloud.

What other findings did your eBook reveal?

Vian: That’s the conversation around licenses that typically comes up early, and in fact, we proactively bring it up when we’re talking to clients. That process of what we refer to as a bring your own license, so you’re essentially taking that license and you’re moving that license across to a third party cloud, like a public or private cloud. And quite often some of the early misconception or concern is, “If I do this, I’m going to get audited.” When in reality, you’re actually less likely to be audited if you move that license. In fact, if we’re talking about authorized clouds and licensing, there is a published document by Oracle that was released in early 2017 which certifies both AWS and Microsoft as authorized third party clouds. So the important part here is to have that conversation upfront, to get in front of those licensing agreements, which can be very complicated depending on the type of agreement and how many agreements that you have.

That’s one of the reasons that we launched the escape hatch from Oracle research mission on Early Adopter, because there’s so many dimensions to your Oracle relationship and then when you try to optimize it, you have to think about many different things at once. You guys have gone through the large amount of migrations you’ve had, and let’s first talk about what the motivations are and then talk about the stages of the journey and then what are the problems that people come up with in each of the stages. When you engage with somebody, why are they calling you?

Vian: The first workload that we migrated in 2012, it was really driven by customer curiosity and demand. “Hey, we’ve moved our other applications to the cloud, we’ve got this Oracle environment that’s been sprawling out in our data center and we’re not sure if we can move it. Can we move Oracle applications to the cloud? Is it possible?” So that certainly is where it starts. Where it really evolved from there is, “We’ve taken a toe into the water, we’ve moved some applications into the cloud. We realize that there’s plenty of innovations to be had in the cloud. How can we continue on this journey?” So one part of it is that lift and shift that we just talked about, how do we move those applications into the cloud, but the innovation from there, so how can we then perhaps refactor or change some of these applications or move in different areas. Once you move into a large third party cloud like an AWS, those options to innovate and move away from an operate and run methodology are what’s really pushing customers on.

I get the impression that what you’re saying is that Oracle is never the first application that people are moving to the cloud, that normally they are moving to the cloud for a variety of reasons, both business and technical, and then at some point they go, “Wait, shouldn’t we finish the job and take the rest of our portfolio,” and that’s when the Oracle question comes up.

Saltys: Yeah. It came out vividly in the eBook and the survey that we did with the decision makers, almost 9 out of 10, 86% say that their senior management have now mandated a cloud adoption strategy. So they have to move most things to the cloud or continue on that journey to get into the cloud. And then when we really look at that, is it really the senior management that’s driving it? Well, yes, but it’s competition and pace of innovation. That’s really the underlying reason. There’s economics involved with that analysis, DCL analysis and so forth. But the crux of it is if you don’t do it, your competition surely is doing it and consumer expectation is driving it. It’s just the way things are moving and cloud is enabling all of that.

But from an Oracle-specific perspective, your Oracle application running in your on premises and your Oracle application running in the cloud, how much more innovative are you going to be on that application?

Saltys: It’s more about the entire adoption cycle for the organization. Moving it from your on premises data center into the cloud in and of itself is not going to move the needle. It’s working, it’s running the business today, there’s no reason to move it. But if you’ve got to keep a data center up and running in utilities, there’s a diminishing return where you want to get it out as well so you can start to turn down some of the needs that you have there.

When you move something into the cloud, there are a lot of other considerations, like how are you going to provision it, what size of environment do you need, because there’s a myriad of choices of different kinds of EC2 instances, different kinds of storage, different backup strategies, different operational strategies, different security strategies. What are the Oracle-specific considerations you have when you’re doing a migration?

Saltys: Well, you have to consider and analyze the whole tech stack. One is where the current state is and then the future state, as you noted, whether it be EC2, and the size and things like that. But there are also Oracle prerequisites that are required in your infrastructure and in the supporting the next step up to the application. That has to be replicated and built in this new cloud environment. We’ve had situations where customers have had bad experiences where they’ve either done it themselves or they’ve had other providers do it that were not Oracle providers, but they’ve been cloud migration specialists, and then they hit this thing called Oracle and all of a sudden, those prerequisites and configurations were not applied properly.

Just to simplify that a little bit, the idea is that you plan your footprint for your Oracle application, you move your application to adapt to that footprint, but then there’s a surrounding operational sort of process infrastructure and that process infrastructure is going to work with new tooling in the cloud. In addition, the configuration of the Oracle application is going to be different. To make it work as seamlessly as it was on premises, you have to replicate all of that, you have to adapt it, both using the cloud tooling and getting that right and also adapting the different Oracle configuration to get that to adapt and better fit into the cloud environment. And then once you do those things, then actually your application works as well as it can on the cloud.

Saltys: Absolutely correct. In fact, one of the myths that came out was around security. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents said security is an issue. Well, of course, we know that that’s pervasive and security is job one. When you go to the cloud, as you pointed out, you’re adapting to new tools, new environments. Over the last five years, all these cloud native approaches, the resources, the dollars that the hyper-scalers have put in, AWS and others, have brought a very robust and hardening effect to the security environment.

You’re still responsible for supplementing if you need to, but it’s no longer as much heavy lifting and as much complexity as it used to be.

Saltys: That’s correct. You’re still responsible, so you still need to do it properly. Most of the data breaches and the problems that you see are, interestingly, with on premises environments. And it could just be simple human error.

What are the opportunities for improving the productivity, performance, the value that you get from an Oracle application once you’ve done the migration?

Saltys: The breadth of services that you have in the new cloud environment with the retooling that we talked about, with the optimization and the flexibility that happens, provides another level of support for the innovation. You’re after transforming the business. When we have the discussions around what’s stopping you from getting to the cloud, a lot of people forget that the endgame is the transformation of the business.

But what are you able to do better with respect to the transformation of the business now that the application is in the cloud?

Saltys: First and foremost, it’s a software-controlled environment. So whether it’s SDDC or it’s dev ops, those enablers that are being provided in the cloud environment are absolutely necessary for the future.

But my question is about the Oracle-specific application. If the answer is that being in the cloud has operational benefits and benefits with respect to opening up new possibilities for integration, but an Oracle application is an Oracle application and you’re going to use it and get the benefit of it pretty much the same way on premises or in the cloud, it’s not a transformative effect about the value of the specific Oracle application.

Saltys: But when you’re in the cloud, you do have those enablers that I was just talking about. For example, one example is Apps Associates is building out optimization layers, a dev ops layer to control things like cloning and patching. Those are things that we couldn’t do on premises that now with the software environments for both public and private are allowing us to do more efficiently. The level of automation of the operational and administrative aspects can go up.

Vian: I was just going to add that the other way of looking at it, in addition to the application story, is once you’ve moved into an environment where there’s the possibility of then moving from that database into another database which is hosted by AWS, for example. So it’s different options once you get into the cloud. But to the point that you made from the application.

The idea is that once you move to the cloud and you want to do a migration to a cloud version of the application or to another application entirely, that becomes easier because you’re in a more automated, more software controlled environment.

Vian: Correct.

What are the common mistakes that people make during these migrations?

Saltys: Number one is you have to embrace that this is about change management and you have to apply best practices for change management, number one. Secondly is, after you embrace it, you do have to completely plan it out. You can’t just haphazardly move your environment over. It has to be according to practices that are proven. And then after you’ve done that, you start the execution, and that could be phased, your applications and other parts of the environment, but get it over there. And then you can’t forget about governance.

So when you get called from people who’ve tried to do a migration and then had it blow up in their face, what are the mistakes that they make with regard to doing the migration that you can help them undo?

Saltys: Sometimes you have to start over. But it’s usually around what I mentioned earlier was the prerequisites are not applied correctly, the configurations are wrong, they’re using the wrong structure so their cost is out of whack with where they should be, they can be much cost-effective.

What are some prerequisites that you can get wrong?

Saltys: Your configurations of the Oracle application environment, including the database, the solution architects have specific parameters that have to be set up.

Are there any other specific problems that people run into?

Saltys: They vary. Performance is another area that, again, if it’s set up wrong—so for example, it’s natural if you’re going across availability zones or a global environment, there are a lot of areas in that environment where your performance will suffer. So you will have to take into consideration the cloud computing environment that you’re doing and how you do the replication, how you do recovery, how you do availability properly. That’s not only with Oracle. That applies generally. But certainly knowing Oracle and how it works comes into the play here.

Do people have much of a challenge using their data protection system or their backup system?

Saltys: That happens smoothly. A lot of times they replace it. Particularly data backup.

One of the reasons we’re doing the escape hatch from Oracle research mission is that many customers are afraid of Oracle. Many customers are nervous about Oracle’s power to audit them and gain leverage over them in a business negotiation and they don’t want to anger Oracle. Have you seen that Oracle has reacted in any negative way after these migrations have taken place?

Vian: The reality is that if you’re talking about the migration itself and when that happens and repercussions, the answer is no. AWS is a certified third party cloud so I’ve not seen any repercussions once the migration has moved through.

Saltys: That’s right. It’s more of a pre-evaluation when you’re trying to determine Oracle’s cloud versus another cloud or whether you should go to cloud or not. They’re going to hear it from Oracle and they have to step back and evaluate. But once they have gone, we haven’t seen any instances since 2012 where they can’t get support from Oracle.

Essentially what you’re saying is that if you decide to declare to Oracle, “I’m going to bring my license to a cloud,” you should expect that they are going to try to sell you on bringing your own license to the Oracle cloud. They’re going to do everything that they do in their normal sales cycle to encourage you to make that. But once it’s clear to them that they’re not going to get that sale, you haven’t found that they’ve punished people extraordinarily in any unusual way for moving to the AWS cloud?

Vian: Correct. It’s a highly competitive landscape. It’s that education process that certainly makes the migration move forward.