Legacy application modernization occurs when an outdated application is updated or rebuilt to work effectively in modern runtime environments and with other applications. Legacy applications were made with now-outdated technologies that make the application difficult to update, improve, and transport.
These applications are often slow to replace with a more modern version because they are essential to an organization’s business operations. Reasons organizations undertake modernizations rather than purchasing or building a completely new application include:
- There is no application on the market that meets all of an organization’s needs.
- The application is a fundamental part of an organization’s product portfolio.
- There are security regulations that are best met with the current application.
However, there are legitimate reasons to simply replace the legacy application. For example, an organization may find rebuilding an application more resource-intensive than practical. In this case, creating or purchasing a new app makes better use of available resources. Or, the gap between the state of the legacy application and where it needs to be maybe large enough that the underlying technology cannot be transformed into a modern application.
But first, let’s understand more about legacy application modernization.
What is Legacy application modernization?
Legacy Application modernization is the process of taking existing legacy applications and updating their platform infrastructure, internal architecture, and/or features. Conversations around legacy application modernization today are focused on bringing monolithic on-premises applications to cloud architecture and release patterns. This involves the use of microservices DevOps.
Modernization is a key step in the process of migrating legacy applications to cloud-native applications. By leveraging legacy modernization, you can realize the benefits of the cloud, such as faster speed to market, scalability, agility, and lower costs. By updating your application, you can release new features in a timely manner, give other services access to your old resources, and move your application from physical servers to the cloud to increase performance.
Today, staying up to date with the latest technology is crucial for every business. Updates and bug fixes can be implemented in real-time to keep your app running smoothly. Keeping your software up to date is essential to simplifying operations and easing IT burden.
IT companies that still rely on outdated and more expensive legacy applications often struggle. These include incompatibility issues, high maintenance costs, and a shortage of developers. This is holding companies back from a complete digital transformation
Application Retirement often involves reworking the code to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s just to make the legacy application work with APIs. The other extreme is to code a new version of the legacy application from scratch.
An effective method for modernizing legacy applications is to rebuild them to have a cloud-native architecture. While this results in an application ready to take advantage of modern cloud environments, it requires large investments in time, money, and skill.
Why is doing this effectively important?
The key to success in application modernization is strategy. Companies should examine each potential modernization project and consider cloud benefits, speed, performance, and other features. Cloud-based development is great for shortening the development cycle and creating a modern customer experience and ROI.
Moving your application from on-premises to the cloud can be a big task. One of the challenges is cost and complexity. While it’s a big change, updating legacy standards can increase developer productivity by up to 40%. Modernizing applications and making it easier to access better developer services can help make engineering teams more productive and increase time to market.
In today’s rapidly changing world, IT environments must be flexible and innovative. Application modernization is one way to do this. It enables organizations to capitalize on digital technology, including AI, machine learning, big data, and cloud.
Application modernization also helps with security. In recent research, it has been found that legacy applications make companies vulnerable to security threats. This is because these archaic programs are not compatible with high-quality security standards and modern authentication methods. As a result, today’s companies are more prone to hackers. If you want to stop these security risks, the best way to do so is to update your outdated applications to take advantage of better security standards.
The cost of maintaining legacy applications
Maintaining legacy applications can take a lot of time, work, and money. And because these apps are more difficult to update, security issues can arise as new threats rapidly evolve.
As the report states, “Legacy systems may also operate with known security vulnerabilities that are technically difficult or prohibitively expensive to resolve and therefore may hinder agencies’ ability to meet critical statutory and policy cybersecurity requirements.”
In other words, it costs a lot to replace legacy systems and applications, even though it may mean agencies are not up to code. A successful attack on a legacy federal government application can have its own cost in terms of stolen data and personally identifiable information.
In a survey by Logicalis, a provider of information and communications infrastructure and services, 54% of CIOs spend half their time “keeping the lights on” and a large majority say they spend 40% to 60% of their time managing legacy IT. That’s a lot of time and requires a significant portion of an IT budget.
These two examples show how legacy applications consume a significant portion of budget and manpower. However, undergoing legacy application modernization is investing a comparatively significant amount of budget in hiring qualified personnel and the manpower and resources required to modify or rebuild a legacy application.
An IT department may not have the resources to keep legacy applications running as well as invest in modernizing legacy applications. This forces the department to make difficult decisions about what to fund and to what extent.
Legacy vs. Modern Applications
Legacy applications are often monolithic, meaning they are single-tier software applications where all parts of the applications are integrated into one platform. In a monolithic application, there is no clear separation between the different elements of the applications.
The result is that to update one part of the application, a new version of the entire application needs to be released. Likewise, a bug in an element can affect overall functionality and be difficult to identify and fix. Overall, the monolithic nature requires maintenance, and maintaining legacy applications can be incredibly complicated and slow.
In contrast, modern applications are often divided into individual loosely coupled services called microservices. Microservices are stored in containers, which are runtime environments that contain only the elements of an operating system (OS) needed to run a microservice.
Microservices are housed in containers. Containers are small software packages that contain only the necessary parts of an operating system to run a specific microservice and nothing else. Because they are smaller, they can be scaled more easily, as copying them takes less time. Containers are what allow a microservice to be replaced and rolled back. With a management platform like Kubernetes, containers can be isolated and updated individually across multiple servers in rolling updates.
Cloud-native applications use this architecture. They are called cloud-native because they are specifically designed to run on a cloud. Cloud-native applications are made of loosely coupled microservices. This means that individual microservices or groups can be isolated and worked on by developers individually. Therefore, the overall application is not disrupted and unrelated microservices are not significantly affected.
Securely migrate and modernize applications
As you modernize, you need to find the approach that fits your organization’s strategic priorities. There are many ways to approach modernizing legacy applications, but they all come with their own benefits and difficulties. One of the best and safest ways to safely migrate and modernize applications is with feature flags.
Moving or changing databases is not an easy task and can often be very risky. One of the most common misconceptions is that feature flags are only useful for new features or cosmetic changes. It turns out that they can also be very useful in less risky situations, like moving or changing databases. They make it easier to test with real, live data (for a subset of your user base) and much easier to roll back if something goes wrong.
Database migrations are intimidating but also necessary. This process of using feature flags for migrations has been done several times by other companies, and most of the time it goes without a hitch. After all, who wants to have an unsafe migration? Feature flags can be used to perform database migrations without impacting any clients.
Things to Consider When Updating a Legacy Application
An organization should not start adapting an old application to a modern one without a well-thought-out plan on how to do it and what budget to allocate to it. Formulating the plan is not a simple task, however. IT department budgets are not always deep wells that allow the department to comfortably fund both the maintenance of legacy applications and the development of a modern application.
An organization must determine what its objectives are for undergoing legacy application modernization. One goal may be to migrate to the cloud and take advantage of all cloud functions, requiring complete modernization.
Another goal might be to simply move the application to the cloud as quickly as possible. By lifting and shifting, as it is called, you can save money on data center operation and maintenance, to minimize disruption to services and have some form of relatively greater scalability. Lifting and shifting require minimal, if any, changes to the application.
With these goals in mind, an organization must define the problems it needs to address with its legacy application. Some parts of the legacy application may be more essential than others. Some parts of the legacy application are degrading the customer experience and will need improvements along with modernization.
Organizations don’t want to go through all these problems only to have the same problem in the future. This is why they must research modern technologies and approaches that can be easily updated.
Using virtualized infrastructure along with open-source code could be one way to do this. Virtualized infrastructures, such as microservices, are separate from the hardware they reside on and can be upgraded more easily than hardware-based infrastructures.
An organization’s developers and dedicated open-source developers work together continuously on open-source code. This ensures that the code used in the application is constantly maintained and fixed by a diverse group of people with different perspectives. To keep your modern application code up to date, simply download new versions of an open-source library, integrate it into your application, and publish an update.
Any changes made to the application must be documented in detail. Having detailed documentation means that when problems arise in modern application code, they can be more easily resolved because DevOps teams can dig into the documentation and find the exact source of the problem. Poor documentation can be one reason why reworking a legacy application can be so difficult, especially when the developers who created the legacy application no longer work for the organization.
It is particularly important for organizations to ensure they have the skills base in their IT departments to execute legacy application modernization. Again, this is especially the case when the original developers aren’t around. Options available to organizations include upskilling existing employees, hiring new employees, or partnering with a cloud migration organization.
Upskilling existing employees may be the most cost-effective approach, but it requires employees to go through training processes, which takes time. It is up to the organization to research how long this takes and whether it prefers to hire new employees or work with third parties.
Gain more control with granular targeting and gradual rollouts
When upgrading a legacy system to a cloud-based one, a powerful feature with feature flags is the ability to turn features on and off. This allows you to route traffic, requests, and data between old and new systems seamlessly. You can also create segmentation rules that allow you to deploy new infrastructure with extreme precision.
There are several ways to migrate workloads to the cloud. For example, you can perform iterative migration of small batches of your application at a time with feature flags. You can also enable databases, microservices, and containerized applications in the cloud for only a subset of users.
Modernization improves user satisfaction. It is very difficult to use outdated applications. A user interface with cutting-edge functionality and innovative features will make your business more efficient and your customers happier.
Modernizing legacy applications and the cloud
Running applications in the cloud has increasingly become the norm. Legacy applications don’t work well in the cloud without being changed. An example of an approach to legacy application modernization that does not prepare the application for the cloud is lift and shift. This is where small changes or APIs are applied to the application before it is pushed to a cloud environment.
There are benefits to moving legacy applications to the cloud from on-premises data centers. Mainly, the cloud is less difficult for organizations to work with and maintain, due to the cloud provider’s services. Operating costs are also much lower because an organization can only pay for the resources it uses and does not need to maintain the physical infrastructure.
Customer experience also improves when an organization fully modernizes its legacy application and makes it cloud native. This is because any issues with the application that would otherwise disrupt service can be fixed faster and with more granularity.
Advantages of migration
Another reason to migrate from legacy applications to cloud-native applications is to keep up with changing infrastructures and new technologies. An organization’s IT team can create APIs that allow the application to communicate with new infrastructure. There is a mitigated risk of changes to the application itself containing bugs; however, there is a risk that the APIs may be flawed.
This is a particular risk if the personnel working on the legacy application are not the original developers and do not have quality documentation to understand the complexities of the legacy application. Furthermore, by simply placing the legacy application in the cloud, the application cannot utilize all of the cloud’s resources. This results in organizations spending more on the cloud than they would otherwise.
There are different degrees to which to work with legacy applications to transform them into something that can run in a cloud. The names for these different approaches are refactoring, review, rebuild, retirement, and replacement.
Read this SDxCentral article for some brief summaries of these different approaches. Rebuilding a legacy application is the best approach to truly modernizing legacy applications. This is when an application is rewritten or redesigned from the ground up, sometimes using a cloud provider’s platform-as-a-service coding tools.
Accelerate your digital transformation with feature flags
Modernizing your organization is an excellent step in the right direction. When legacy systems are updated, this process can give your company the flexibility and agility needed to meet important business requirements and seize new growth opportunities. Feature flags make digital transformation seamless. They allow you to migrate from legacy systems to newer versions by slowly routing traffic and allowing you to monitor how it affects your system.
Legacy applications are often outdated and difficult to use. Modernizing them is a great way to integrate new technologies and platforms into an organization’s workflow. It also redefines the way an organization integrates its applications, making it better able to meet current and future demands.
Legacy Application Modernization: Key Takeaways
- Legacy application modernization is the process of transforming an application built with outdated technology into a modern application with the latest technology.
- Legacy applications are monolithic and cannot have individual aspects updated individually.
- Modern applications are often cloud-native, meaning they are designed to take full advantage of the benefits of the cloud.
- Organizations need to plan how they will approach modernization to avoid overspending and wasting resources in general.
To facilitate this process, it is interesting to have the support of a company specialized in IT, capable of understanding your technological environment and the real needs of your business.