4 characteristics of enterprise application platforms that support digital transformation
It has been a decade since digital transformation and cloud adoption became industry buzzwords. Their importance significantly increased after the pandemic began and organizations had to pivot quickly to accommodate remote and hybrid work. It's no secret that the organizations that digitally transformed earlier were able to thrive or neutralize the pandemic disruption better than those who hadn't.
Lately, enterprises across industries are talking about using multicloud or hybrid cloud as their primary cloud deployment model. Some of the common benefits of these approaches are flexibility, minimizing vendor lock-in risk, and cost savings. The choices you make in developing your enterprise application platform are vital to maximizing your digital transformation benefits, reducing burden on IT teams, and addressing organizational security and compliance standards efficiently.
Some of the key characteristics of an ideal enterprise application platform to support a digital transformation journey are described below.
1. Support for innovation and exploring new business opportunities
The public cloud has been an innovation engine over the past decade, and it has leveled the playing field for a lot of digital startups. This helped startups challenge the status quo and create new revenue streams. Many startups adopt a public cloud platform from a single vendor and build their applications and operations model around it. This simplified approach sets them apart from larger enterprises with faster innovation cycles. It also gives them the ability to explore new capabilities with minimal or no disruption.
However, as these startups mature into more established enterprises, they face additional challenges. One challenge is being able to extend their offerings to new markets where their primary cloud provider may not have a sufficient presence to support their business needs. They may also have difficulty following the many different localities' security and compliance requirements. This can prompt them to revisit their cloud strategy.
[ Get the checklist: 4 ways to improve cloud security with managed cloud services ]
Most established enterprises that are implementing digital transformation now were not born in the digital era. They have to support myriad applications across Gartner's Pace-layered application strategy. This includes systems of innovation, systems of record (core business apps), and systems of differentiation (unique capabilities), which adds additional complexity. For these enterprises, standardization on a public cloud platform may not be feasible. It can also be restrictive in supporting their immediate and potential future business needs.
To address this challenge, enterprises are increasingly looking for a platform that can provide them with all the benefits of the public cloud. This allows for innovation, along with the flexibility, security, and compliance that their existing on-premises datacenter provides.
There are a few different definitions floating around for the cloud operating model. Simply put, a cloud operating model involves creating an IT ecosystem with development, operations, and security teams working together to deliver faster and safer business outcomes. This should include self-service, on-demand provisioning secured by default (zero-trust security), declarative automation, and elasticity (moving away from ITIL to DevSecOps). It may also include deploying a site-reliability engineering model at an organic pace that makes business sense with limited or no disruption.
2. Flexibility to deploy applications across cloud infrastructures based on needs
The need to deploy applications in various different cloud infrastructures—public cloud, private cloud, physical, virtual, and edge—based on business needs is a key requirement for most established enterprises. As more and more business value is created with the Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing, and artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), the need to deploy applications across these cloud providers from devices, edge datacenters, on-prem, and colocation providers to the public cloud ecosystem is growing exponentially. For an enterprise, a baseline application platform that can be deployed on all these cloud provider types is essential, if not vital, to support current and future business needs.
Another aspect to consider is the growth and distribution of enterprise data. As the famous saying goes, "data is the new oil," and the amount and pace of enterprise data growth are unprecedented. Enterprises are looking at options to leverage this data to create meaningful business insights. They're using this data to improve their business and customer experience with data warehousing and data science initiatives.
Unlike with e-commerce and client-server architecture, data is not just stored and processed in huge on-premises SQL databases anymore. Data is now produced across the ecosystem from edge to cloud. It is then processed and stored in different formats such as data streams, SQL, and NoSQL databases.
[ Related reading: Edge computing: 3 ways you can use it now. ]
Having a flexible application platform to deploy apps closer to the data is another important thing to consider within the enterprise application platform architecture. One common challenge for enterprises is the inability to adopt a public cloud platform without committing to move the data along with the application. Separating the data from the application and leaving it in a private cloud datacenter often results in poor performance. It also leads to increased egress costs from the cloud provider. This is a significant limitation for enterprises in certain regulated industries where data sovereignty and privacy are top priorities.
A hybrid cloud architecture helps you address this issue by stretching the platform across the cloud providers where the enterprise data is located. You can also leverage a colocation provider as one of the cloud providers. This has better performance and reduced egress costs with public cloud providers, thanks to their cloud-adjacency deployment model.
3. Consistent security and compliance across the platform
Security and compliance are important considerations of enterprises. As more and more services are digitized and moved to a cloud platform, the attack surface is increased. This, along with new compliance requirements that may differ from country to country, adds additional complexity to the business.
Therefore, enterprises need to come up with a security and compliance framework that is consistent across the platform. It also needs to be flexible enough to implement country-specific requirements (declaratively) as the business grows into new markets. Automation, proactive monitoring, and observability capabilities are used to standardize and simplify this for enterprises.
4. Shared marketplace or catalog across the platform
It is also important to provide a consistent, standardized catalog of tools or third-party applications across all cloud infrastructure or cloud providers where your enterprise platform is deployed. This ensures the same set of technologies are used across the enterprise.
This is also a pivotal practice to prevent enterprise security and compliance from being compromised by introducing vulnerable tools or applications that are not vetted through the enterprise-review process. This can be achieved by leveraging an independent (neutral) marketplace or catalog solution that is deployed and managed by the application platform across all the cloud participants.
Digital transformation has given enterprises a rare opportunity to revisit their IT operating and application delivery models with closer and deeper alignment with businesses. On the other hand, this newfound focus has also added pressure to already stressed IT teams with limited resources and a huge technical debt. A well-architected hybrid cloud platform can set you apart from the competition and build a strong foundation for future requirements or challenges that may come up.
[ Try Red Hat OpenShift to learn how an open hybrid cloud architecture can set you up for success. ]
Navigate the shifting technology landscape. Read An architect's guide to multicloud infrastructure.