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August 7, 2015

VCE CTO: Battling legacy and pointing the finger at Oracle

C-level briefing: Nigel Moulton, CTO, VCE spoke to CBR about the challenges facing the company, overcoming legacy concerns and educating about vendor lock-in.

By James Nunns

As the summer months wind on and the quiet period in the tech world comes to an end, Moulton discussed educating the customer about how they don’t lock customers in.

"What we build are x86 mainframes, you rent time on a processor with some memory and disk to get something done. In the past that was associated with a single vendor, an IBM, Digital or HP – you don’t have that anymore. There’s a very physical break between paying an HP or an IBM a service tax for life versus where you are now."

Moulton goes on to detail how customers can now slide in compute from different vendors and different disks, so that you aren’t tied to the rigid hierarchies – something "that people of a certain age in the industry will remember."

While this is true, he says that they still have to overcome that concern of vendor lock-in, although less frequently that they have in the past.

"You have to dismantle the argument piece by piece and say, actually though software abstraction it doesn’t matter. If you don’t like EMC’s disk then use another one. There’s a software abstraction layer that you can get for free to allow you to provision across those array tabs."

The company’s plan is to put its arms around a number of vendors to give a controlled experience for businesses.

While vendor lock-in may be less of a concern, he does cite legacy systems and Oracle of being guilty of lock-in.

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Moulton sys that some of the architects were written to that an application would run in an appliance and that it had to be architected in a very certain way. While this gave you tremendous performance, it means that it only ran in that application.

This means you are back to paying a service tax and license tax again.

"Oracle is incredibly guilty of that, having built an appliance which allows them to optimise for their environment, but their environment only. If you buy into it – good luck."

Virtualisation has been extremely important in breaking the connection between an implied operating system and the vendor, as Moulton says, "You don’t need that anymore."

"If you look at Oracle, there’s an implied relationship between an OS and a vendor, it’s retrograde in terms of what it does because it does lock you in, truly lock you in to only doing it on their stuff. Is that a legacy challenge? Yes it is."

While he is critical of Oracle, he did go on to praise its success. ‘What I will say is that they have been massively successful, they are embedded in the core of a lot of enterprise organisations.’

The other legacy challenge that he sees are writing an application for a mainframe environment because at the time, that was the investment you had. But as the tech around it has advanced so quickly, it has meant that business can’t migrate an application off the mainframe.

Moulton says the alternatives are to turn it off see who screams, or to rebuild it from scratch in the cloud and then turn it off when it’s ready. "That’s hard, that’s expensive and it’s not easy, if you live in those bigger environments."

When the cost of running outweighs its usefulness, the technical debt, then a budget will be given to rebuild it from scratch. Moulton says: "You have to wait till it gets so expensive that the business case to justify rewriting it makes itself."

When you reach that point, Moulton advises: "Get out of it now."

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