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Kris Beevers
Posted by
Kris Beevers on
June 17, 2019

It's Time to Get Out of Technical Debt

Critical to accelerating business velocity is eliminating the drag of technical debt to free up resources for growth initiatives. But paying down technical debt isn’t an easy task. In this article, learn which modernization initiatives can launch an enterprise out of technical debt and onto the path of future innovation.

As business leaders, we make decisions every day that have the potential to create some level of technical debt. We choose to deploy a new business application that streamlines HR processes but may require frequent patching, or we expedite delivery of a new product feature knowing there will be increased management overhead. To some extent, technical debt is unavoidable, but when debt accumulates over time, it will limit business velocity and stifle an organization’s ability to innovate.

For many enterprises, substantial technical debt is created by legacy applications, disparate platforms and processes, and outdated technology, and it is dragging down modernization initiatives. Organizations need to modernize their IT stack to compete in a digital economy, but – similar to the challenges of personal finance – you cannot begin to truly invest until you’ve paid off the debt you owe.

According to Forrester Research, maintaining older applications and technology typically consumes 70% or more of the technology budget. This debt slows development and burdens the organization with risk and cost but paying it off isn’t an easy task. Being able to quantify its cost, identify some critical technology areas that warrant your team’s attention, and develop clear plans for modernizing without business disruption is critical.

Stop trying to chip away at  technical debt

Successful organizations do not chip away at massive technical debt over time. Replacing one piece of stale, tactical technology with a newer, shinier version will probably still leave you with disparate platforms and future debt. The key is to make smarter investments that instead launch the organization forward on a path that enables accelerated long-term innovation.

It’s best to start seriously paying down technical debt at vital intersections and foundational infrastructure technologies. Below are a few areas where modernization projects will yield highest rewards.

Cloud technology

According to a recent study, 81 percent of enterprises are embracing a multi-cloud strategy and 38 percent of enterprises consider public cloud a top priority this year. For many companies, embracing the cloud is one of the first and best steps toward infrastructure modernization and paying down technical debt.

The move to public cloud is strategic because it eliminates historical infrastructure management overhead while accelerating the velocity and efficiency of your infrastructure, reducing cost and improving security. Cloud technology introduces opportunities for automation and orchestration that free up personnel resources for more complex tasks, like future innovation initiatives.

Containerization and microservices

Implementing containerization and shifting toward microservices architectures for key applications is another huge step toward reducing technical debt and setting up your organization for future innovation. The impact of microservices on software delivery and business velocity, and reduction of complexity in continuous implementation and delivery (CICD) are significant. Containers allow the IT team to exchange slow-moving legacy release management that relies on humans and ad hoc tools and scripts for a dynamic, high-velocity, automated approach to managing applications. This not only accelerates application development and improves delivery, but also frees up resources for future transformation projects.

Upgrade your DNS

The domain name system (DNS) is often overlooked, but because DNS is the first stop for all application delivery, modernization in this area is critical to enabling digital transformation. A primary advantage of modern technology, like cloud and microservices infrastructure, is the ability to auto-scale in response to demand. This empowers modern enterprises to quickly spin up new services and capacity to dramatically improve user experiences. DNS can simplify and aggregate multiple technologies, which extends the value even further.

This advanced technology requires a DNS foundation that supports high API call rates and fast change propagation to enable high-velocity infrastructure, which cannot be facilitated by traditional DNS solutions like legacy open source DNS servers or outdated DNS appliances. IT teams should take a close look at the DNS platform they are using now. Does it have a modular architecture to support microservices and cloud? Is it purpose-built for automation and integration into your cloud, container, and microservices stack? Does it offer fine-grained traffic controls that facilitate traffic automation and optimize infrastructure performance? If you answer no, it’s time to look into a more modern DNS platform that will support future transformation efforts and help to pay off technical debt now and in the future.

Technical debt Is not just an enterprise problem

Technical debt is not exclusive to traditional enterprise organizations – even leading-edge technology companies are faced with the challenge of balancing rapid innovation with the potential debt that can be incurred. Sometimes the challenge is not digging your way out of debt but making sure you are investing in strategic initiatives that allow your team to stay ahead.

As an example, NS1 recently underwent a large transformation project that involved a complete rewrite of our core DNS delivery software. Our technology was only 3 or 4 years old, but in order to scale, we were adding equipment at a rate that would potentially become cost-prohibitive. It was a quick fix to increase capacity, but each new piece of equipment was a cost directly attributable to accumulated technical debt. We knew that investing the time now would pay huge dividends for us over the next decade.

We brought in our architecture team to investigate, and we discovered this single project would bring radical benefits that would immediately improve service for our customers, but also support innovation for the next decade. Upon completion of the project, we experienced hundred-fold increases in our capacity and dramatic improvements in DNS resolution speeds. Paying off this technical debt in a strategic, foundational piece of our stack unlocked opportunities to create new product features and improved global DNS delivery response times significantly for every NS1 customer.

Getting out of debt and back to business velocity

According to research from Gartner, business growth is the number one objective for CIOs. Critical to accelerating business velocity is eliminating the drag of technical debt to free up resources for growth initiatives. For IT leaders looking at a complex technology stack, this mandate may seem daunting, but with the right perspective, it doesn’t have to be. Resist the urge to upgrade technology little by little. Instead start by identifying the areas that carry the greatest debt and determine which projects will bring the most significant value – not just now, but into the future.

This article originally appeared in Network World