What's the difference between greenfield, brownfield & bluefield technology?

You might be familiar with greenfield and brownfield projects - but what about bluefield?

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Data is in flux. Everywhere you look data is being moved from one system to another, from one device to another, from one cloud service to another… and even perhaps from one cloud formation (i.e. private, public or hybrid) to another.

But not all data is created equal, and many firms will now be faced with the flux of data movement passing over an unequal sum of existing parts. Popular science (and you might say common sense) argues that standing back, defining, demarcating and auditing your current pool of data is a good starting point.

Greenfield, brownfield, bluefield

So, it's obviously important to know where you're starting from, and we normally talk about a completely new installation of software and data management technologies as a greenfield project. Aside from more nuanced system conversions (also known as lift and shift projects), we also talk about brownfield projects where a degree of ploughing (actions including data preparation, deduplication, parsing and so on) has already been carried out.

But there is a third type and colour field we need to consider. The notion of bluefield projects is meant to describe a combination of both brownfield and greenfield, where some streams of information are already in motion and some will be new instances of technology.

Quite apart from the fact that brown and green combined makes olive green not blue (you can try it out at https://trycolors.com/ -- just add 2 yellow, 2 red, 2 blue to make brown and then add 3 green), it's an arguably very valid point in that many firms will be dealing with a real mix of many types of earth and soil at the heart of their data foundations, the applications they are running now and the applications that they would like to run in the future.

What is bluefield?

The bluefield concept refers to organisations that might only be part-way on the road to fully blown migrations. Either way, and colour palettes notwithstanding, it's important to appreciate just how complex this work will be for many teams.

In zones or business divisions where business works well with IT and the relationship is fluid, the data and applications migrated might be targeted in the first wave. Where relationships are more fractious (or where data is badly unstructured or suffers from some other form of fragmentation or degradation), then this area of the business may follow in the second wave.

The bluefield term itself has been trademarked by SNP Schneider-Neureither & Partner SE, the company is an SAP-focused software integration services specialist based in Heidelberg, Germany. The company says that its SNP Bluefield offering allows customers to merge, split, upgrade and harmonise systems in a single step.

Paul Hardy, Chief Innovation Office (EMEA) ServiceNow says that he meets executives all over Europe at businesses taking this approach. He thinks it makes for steady progress forward whilst addressing the changing needs of the business. 

"In many cases, the bluefield approach is the only way forward and -- continuing to use the farming analogy -- it may be prudent to do what farmers do and share tractors and combine-harvesters, which are a huge capital expenditure outlay. In the case of technology, it refers to reusing tried and tested models alongside blueprints to ensure you can stay focused on getting the departmental relationship and data right to enable you to ramp up crop production (or progress)," said Hardy.

Diligent fertilisation

IBM's Keith Costello agrees that the complexity of modern migration scenarios requires careful mapping and diligent fertilisation. In his role as IBM global vice president and general manager for SAP global business services, Costello sees data migration projects made all the more challenging due to the legacy of customisations that many customers apply to platforms.

"It's critical to assess the best approach. For example, we're advising hundreds of clients on their SAP S/4HANA implementations. Through our client engagements, we know that all companies have different starting points and different requirements to drive this change. We recently introduced an accelerated migration approach that automates the process and conversion, enabling companies to approach their adoption [of new platforms] more quickly and ensures a faster path to true digital reinvention," said Costello.

Whether you think farming analogies help to convey the state of digital data projects or not, if we accept that there are at least many different fields in any data environment (geek reference to data fields intentional), then it is perhaps reasonable to talk about the state of the ground underfoot as a means of expressing the topography of the landscape. Either way, get your boots on and prepare to get dirty.

Editorial disclosure: Adrian Bridgwater has previously worked on corporate content for ServiceNow.