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The importance of adopting an evergreen IT strategy

Today's modern IT systems are potentially tomorrow's legacy technology problems, without an "evergreening strategy" in place

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Tackling legacy systems by making IT evergreen

Keeping your hardware and software systems up to date is a constant challenge for IT departments, both large and small. Not just from a maintenance and patching perspective, but in terms of ensuring these systems are equipped to cope with everything the business has to throw it at.

Failing to do so can leave organisations with legacy technology environments that are difficult to scale, costly to upgrade, and make it difficult for the businesses running them to keep up with their competitors.

And this is where the concept of “evergreening IT” comes in, which – in short – is geared towards helping IT departments continuously upgrade and iterate their systems in such a way that they never go out of date, so they avoid the costs and issues associated with running a legacy IT estate.

It is a process the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is going through at the moment, as part of its push to modernise and consolidate its IT hosting infrastructure, and move all of it to the public cloud.

On the way there, the government department is intent on adopting a Kubernetes-based, cloud-native infrastructure as part of its IT estate modernisation effort.

The idea is this should make it easier for the MoJ to make iterative upgrades to its systems as and when needed, instead of having to embark on another sizeable upgrade and modernisation exercise across its legacy estate later down the line.   

Another example of this is a company which had a very complex warehousing system that integrated with several other pieces of kit, as well as a PLC (which is an important component in conveyor belt systems), and assorted scanners.

Read more about IT support and upgrade strategies

The whole setup was designed to run what was considered to be a mature platform, but – over time – it became less reliable, stoppages became more frequent and it was classified as being “extremely legacy”.

Due to the complexity of the setup, remediation was not an easy process, due in no small part to the logic built into the system. The only way to navigate this was to redevelop the entire system and effectively replace it with a newer, modern platform. What this took up in terms of time and resources it more than made up for in stability improvements.

Stop planning for obsolescence

One of the major issues a proper evergreening plan resolves is getting too far behind the curve to the point at which upgrade paths are no longer valid. But how does a forward-thinking administrator implement evergreening? Well, by not thinking like that in the first place.

Evergreening shouldn’t be a standalone affair. The whole evergreening cycle should be integrated into a review, test, update, open loop-style model. In other words, continual service improvement will help keep everything up to date, and should not be treated as an isolated undertaking.

Done correctly, evergreening also brings improved efficiencies and therefore helps the financial bottom line. An example of this is when a software product is updated, and introduces new functionality that may require a process to be reworked as a certain step is no longer required and can be streamlined. The process itself may change as well.

Top tips for achieving evergreen IT

While the above case may be a best-case scenario, sometimes there is a limit to what can be achieved by a lone administrator with restricted funds. Some of the best tips that can be offered include:

  • Feed and care for the infrastructure often. This means keeping up to date with patches and keeping the environment in good working order.
  • At a certain point hardware becomes more of a liability than an asset. Slow, hot hardware is good for no one and costs more the older it gets. Support for older hardware becomes more expensive and in extreme cases parts can become a significant issue. Hardware refreshes take care of this but exercise caution and ensure the operating system has support for the new hardware.
  • Keep up to date with application and operating system suppliers’ product lifecycles, because this details (in concrete terms) everything you need to know about a product’s support requirements.
  • Plan well ahead of time for migrations.
  • Some systems can be virtualised, which can provide the ability to snapshot and (if needed) roll back and make management much easier. Admittedly, this is not always possible, but where it is, definitely do it because it also isolates the machine from potential hardware-based compatibility issues.
  • For those applications that cannot be updated for whatever reason, ensure the issues are detailed in the application risk register, where all of the risks and potential mitigations associated with them should be documented.
  • In conjunction with managing the risk, there should be a plan for a fallback position to protect the setup’s business continuity.

Another important thing to note is that the evergreening process itself should also be subject to change and continual improvement. The aim is to have evergreening as a process that is treated with as much importance as bringing new services online.

Who should be involved in the evergreening? In an ideal world, it would involve the team responsible for building the application, the support teams and someone responsible for managing the overall process.

There are many frameworks that are prescriptive in terms of the “what”, rather than the “how”. Evergreening may be a new in-vogue buzzword to some, but it is also something that should be thought of as a management process like any other. Done correctly, it will make an IT administrator’s life easier and less stressful.

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