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Atlassian Forge fills key role in cloud migration strategy

After a two-year development effort, Atlassian Forge is generally available as a distribution point for the add-on apps users need to match on-premises features in the cloud.

Atlassian's second attempt at a SaaS marketplace for add-on applications requires less integration work from users and offers better security, as part of the vendor's aggressive cloud migration strategy.

Atlassian Forge, in development over the last two years, succeeds Atlassian Connect, launched in 2012. It has the potential to fulfill a major requirement for enterprises that want to go along with the software vendor's push to replace on-premises versions of its products with cloud-based ones.

Parity between the third-party extensions and add-on apps available for on-premises and cloud versions of Atlassian Jira Software, Confluence and Jira Service Management has been sought after by enterprise customers since the vendor began shoring up its cloud-based products two years ago.

The Atlassian Marketplace, where users purchase third-party add-ons, plays a significant role in most customer environments, said Mike Tria, head of platform engineering for Atlassian cloud. The marketplace has more than 5,300 apps from more than 1,000 partners, and more than 60% of Atlassian's customer base has at least one add-on app installed.

Such apps were initially integrated with on-premises products in 2005 with simple but flexible plugin code. Later, Connect exposed a cloud API for partners and users to create their own add-ons for Atlassian SaaS products.

"There was a big difference between what you could do on-premises, which is pretty much anything, and with that Connect framework," Tria said. "Forge is meant to bridge that gap."

Instead of an API, Forge uses a set of serverless functions to integrate with third-party add-on apps. Rather than a "bring your own app" setup where users and partners had to run and troubleshoot add-on apps themselves, Forge uses Atlassian's cloud infrastructure to host apps and add resiliency, regulatory compliance and security features, Tria said.

"Because the [add-on] applications run next to the [Atlassian SaaS] products, we can do those tight workflows that we could only have done on-premises before," Tria said. "I can do things like synchronous blocking workflows that I could never have done with Connect."

Cloud migration strategy requires marketplace refresh

Atlassian's strategic priority over the last year has been to move as many users of its on-premises software as possible to its cloud-hosted offerings. It has already made several changes to its products and pricing to encourage users to pursue a cloud migration strategy, including limiting new features such as Jira Advanced Roadmaps to cloud-based products, eliminating its midmarket Server licenses and hiking prices for on-premises Data Center versions.

Now, the general availability of Atlassian Forge delivers another major piece of the work Atlassian must do to grow the use of its cloud-based products among large enterprises, said Frank Della Rosa, an analyst at IDC.

"This has become a necessary channel -- last year did a lot to move the [enterprise] buying cycle to almost 100% virtual," Della Rosa said. "As companies like Atlassian start migrating legacy customers to cloud, these customers increasingly want to have self-serve access to the extensions and the add-ons that they need to get the most value from Atlassian products."

While enterprise end users want self-service access, enterprise upper management and procurement departments also require centralized control over purchasing and support for security and compliance requirements. That's where Atlassian Forge's built-in support for such features will appeal most, Della Rosa said.

However, hyperscale cloud vendor marketplaces are still somewhat ahead of Atlassian with support for private marketplaces and enterprise contracts for enterprise buyers, Della Rosa said.

The success of Forge will depend on how well it allows the company to engage with enterprise buyers.
Frank Della RosaAnalyst, IDC

"Atlassian should consider that as it starts to move to more of a top-down [sales process], versus bottom-up," he said. "The success of Forge will depend on how well it allows the company to engage with enterprise buyers."

Moreover, Atlassian can raise awareness and use of Forge by positioning it as a tool for cloud migration itself, rather than as one of the features companies gain only after they make the move, Della Rosa said.

"They can use it to offer cloud migration apps and access to migration partners," he said. "Generally, with SaaS companies looking to migrate customers and an ecosystem to cloud, this needs to be positioned very early in that journey."

Atlassian doesn't offer separate pricing plans for Forge apps, which is set by the app developer, a company spokesperson said. Forge is also not specifically meant to help developers build a migration path for customers; the company has a separate automated app migration program for that.

Early cloud migrant encounters growing pains

One of the first highly regulated companies in Europe to move to Atlassian cloud under the vendor's cloud migration strategy said benefits such as the Jira Advanced Roadmap features and offloading IT ops tasks to Atlassian are worthwhile, but the process was sometimes challenging.

Erik fan der Meijde, de VolksbankErik fan der Meijde

"The world is moving to cloud," said Erik van der Meijde, platform delivery manager at de Volksbank, a bank in the Netherlands, during a session at Atlassian's Team conference in April. "It makes you wonder, what is the added value of maintaining a platform on your own [when] we have a partner and provider that can do much better security and compliance than we can do ourselves."

However, when de Volksbank began its cloud migration last year, it found there wasn't an established process to get the specific compliance attestations it needed from Atlassian to satisfy risk managers and regulators, van der Meijde said in an interview during the April event.

Atlassian makes a white paper available about how it satisfied requirements for SOC and ISO certifications, but when de Volksbank had questions about how it conducts disaster recovery and penetration tests on its AWS infrastructure, it took time and extra work via a reseller partner to extract that information from the vendor.

"The way they work needs to be auditable by regulatory agencies like the Dutch government or the European Central Bank," van der Meijde said. "Those organizations aren't going to be satisfied by a quote on a webpage."

Since de Volksbank's migration, Atlassian has continued to update its online Trust Center to offer self-service access to specific compliance information, a company spokesperson said, and is building EMEA-specific information into that knowledge base.

The vendor also created an Atlassian Community group dedicated to improvements in security and compliance, with a direct line to product managers working on these areas for feedback on features users need in the cloud, along with a cloud specialization program for partners to support migrating on-premises customers.

Meanwhile, van der Meijde said his company will hold off on migrating an on-premises Bitbucket deployment to Atlassian's cloud until the company offers a fully supported migration product for it similar to the one it has for Jira. He also said he'd like to see Atlassian offer more data residency support specifically for Germany, rather than the EU region, which is what Atlassian supports today.

Atlassian initially made data residency available only in its Cloud Enterprise licensing plan, but it will add that support in Standard and Premium plans without additional charges later this year, and plans to support data residency in Australia, Canada, the U.K. and Japan, a spokesperson said. Data pinned to the EU location is hosted within the Frankfurt and Dublin AWS regions.

The vendor also has scripts to help Bitbucket customers move their repositories to the cloud, and customers can sign up for a Bitbucket Cloud Migration Assistant early access program for access to a migration wizard slated for rollout this summer.

There are still "nitty-gritty technical details" de Volksbank's IT team must resolve on its end as well before the bank's cloud migration strategy is complete, van der Meijde said.

"The biggest issue there is the reverse proxy," he said. "It has a direct pathway from the cloud to on-premises ... at this particular time we're using one-way communication from on-premises to the cloud but still working out how to do communication from cloud to on-premises."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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