Application Modernization: Benefits, Challenges and Importance of the Cloud
“Adapt,” “evolve,” “innovate” and “grow” are timeless catchphrases in the business world. These phrases become even more relevant in today’s incredibly fast-moving business landscape. One of the ways organizations can stay ahead is by modernizing their business applications.
With time, older applications can result in performance degradation, inefficient functionality and inability to integrate with newer technologies. These issues can not only create technical roadblocks but can also be disastrous to an organization’s operational efficiency and competitiveness in the market. That’s where application modernization can be the difference between grappling with obsolete technologies and leveraging the power of new technologies to move the business forward. In a recent survey conducted by Foundry, commissioned by Insight Enterprises, more than 85% of senior IT decision-makers cited app modernization as a key digital transformation initiative for 2023.
In this article, we delve into application modernization, its benefits, challenges, strategies and how to protect critical workloads in cloud environments.
What is application modernization?
Application modernization is the process of updating existing or legacy software systems to keep up with the constantly evolving technological landscape. VMware defines application modernization as “the practice of updating older software for newer computing approaches, including newer languages, frameworks and infrastructure platforms.” It requires more than just replacing old software with new versions. App modernization involves redefining how these applications interact within the broader technological ecosystem. This may entail various levels of change, from simple user interface improvements to complete architectural overhauls, to ensure business applications remain relevant, efficient and adaptable to changing market dynamics.
The application modernization process often involves refactoring to microservices, replatforming or rehosting outdated applications onto today’s cloud platforms. While it’s possible to lift and shift applications without doing much of a substantial rewrite, the value is often found in restructuring the application to take advantage of cloud models better, often leveraging containers and Kubernetes.
Why is application modernization important?
Some things get better with time, but legacy systems and applications are not among them. They tend to lag as time progresses, requiring additional resources to manage and maintain them. They can impact productivity and be detrimental to an organization’s growth in the long run. Obsolete applications are also more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Threat actors can easily exploit the security gaps in them to gain access to your systems or expose your network.
Application modernization is a critical part of an organization’s digital transformation journey. The main objective of application modernization is to enhance or rebuild existing software applications so that they align with current business needs and technological advancements. It allows businesses to respond to changing business needs quickly and more efficiently. Outdated applications are difficult to maintain and troubleshoot, often resulting in higher maintenance and support costs. Modernizing applications helps streamline operations, reduce unnecessary expenses and lower the total cost of ownership because updated apps can integrate easily with existing infrastructure.
Modernizing an application involves changing the application architecture, enhancing user interfaces, incorporating new functionality and optimizing performance, which results in improved performance and smoother user experiences. Modernized applications improve scalability, ensuring applications can handle increasing workloads and business demands without sacrificing performance. Application modernization also allows integration with new functionality and technologies like cloud computing, enabling businesses to deliver innovative services a lot faster, hence gaining a competitive advantage over their peers.
What is an example of application modernization?
An exemplary case of application modernization is upgrading an outdated on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to a cloud-based solution. Consider an ERP system built a decade ago that does not integrate with the latest hardware and software systems. By transitioning the ERP system to a cloud-based solution, your organization can benefit from increased scalability, improved security and accessibility, and decreased infrastructure management. Modernizing the legacy system helps to automate key business processes, streamline workflows, increase efficiency and improve data integration. This enables employees to access critical business data and processes from any location, improving collaboration and enabling faster decision-making. With ERP modernization, your organization can customize and configure the application to meet specific business needs.
What are the benefits of application modernization?
Businesses across industries embrace application modernization to protect their investments and use technological advancements to upgrade their systems. Let’s look at some of the key business benefits of application modernization:
- Improved user experience: Modernizing applications involves refining the user interface, adding cutting-edge functionalities and innovative features, and automating manual processes that enhance usability and improve user satisfaction.
- Enhanced security posture: When it comes to cybersecurity, legacy systems can be entry points to various cyberthreats since integrating them with modern security measures can be extremely difficult. By modernizing outdated apps, organizations can ensure their applications work with the latest security solutions and features like multifactor authentication or can be implemented in the zero trust security model to further enhance their security posture.
- Increased productivity: Application modernization means moving away from outdated, low-performance systems and time-consuming processes to new and more efficient technologies, enabling operational efficiency and increasing employee productivity.
- Agility: Modernized applications are highly flexible and adaptable to changing business needs. They can easily be migrated to different environments — public, private or hybrid cloud environments. Additionally, application modernization enhances the compatibility of older or existing applications with newer hardware and software solutions, enabling easy integration with modern applications and services, such as cloud computing, mobile devices/applications and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and fostering innovation within the organization.
- Reduced operational costs and technical debt: Maintaining and fixing outdated applications is very expensive and tricky since the components are interconnected, not built to scale and contain bugs. In addition, most legacy systems are hosted on on-premises data centers, making them a costly endeavor. With application modernization, businesses can harness the power of cloud computing, eliminating the need to invest in a separate data center and avoiding capital expenses. Cloud databases are available as a “pay-as-you-go” model to clients, which means customers only pay for the services they use. Modernized systems reduce the accumulation of technical debt and make future updates and enhancements much smoother and economically viable.
What are the challenges of application modernization?
While the benefits of application modernization are enticing, it also has its challenges. Below are some major challenges that need to be considered before taking the leap.
- Complexity: Legacy systems have intricate architecture and interdependent components, making modernization extremely challenging. These interdependencies make it difficult to update and maintain obsolete applications since modernizing one component can impact other parts of the application.
- Data migration: Legacy applications contain large volumes of data (in terabytes or petabytes), making data migration to modernized systems risky and challenging. When migrating data from old systems to new ones, businesses should plan carefully to ensure data integrity, accuracy and security throughout the transition. Migrating data from legacy systems to modern architectures may require addressing compatibility issues and rewriting code. Concerns over disruptions in operations during transition periods and data loss can also be a major roadblock.
- Cultural resistance: Application modernization translates to organizational transformation; therefore, depending upon the extent of modernization, it could significantly alter existing norms. Employees might resist changes to interfaces and workflows they are familiar with. Modernizing legacy applications can potentially disrupt normal business operations, lead to downtime and impact productivity, which could cause concern for executives at all levels. Therefore, developing comprehensive change management strategies is vital to ensure the smooth adoption of modernized applications.
- Cost and time: Modernization projects often require significant investments in time, effort and resources. When planning for application modernization, organizations must take into account the costs of migrating data and applications to cloud platforms, the new infrastructure and cloud usage while upgrading legacy applications. Organizations must also consider the time it may take to complete the modernization process since untangling a huge code base and interdependent functionalities may slow down efforts.
What is an application modernization strategy?
Application modernization might seem simple, but it isn’t. There are multiple approaches to optimizing legacy applications, and since every business has unique challenges and needs, the modernization approach from one organization to another may vary. Therefore, a robust strategy is critical for modernization initiatives to be successful. An application modernization strategy encompasses all factors in the modernization process — recognizing which applications need to be modernized, analyzing whether to rebuild, upgrade or retire legacy applications, understanding potential risks and benefits, convincing stakeholders and key decision-makers, getting budget approvals and selecting the best modernization methods and technologies.
What are the R’s of application modernization?
When modernizing current or outdated applications, you must consider the R’s of modernization or the application modernization options. The “R” you choose will depend on your organization’s needs and goals. However, regardless of your chosen method, a good rule of thumb is to always begin with a single business unit or simpler apps first. Let’s take a closer look to better understand the R’s of application modernization.
- Retire: This strategy involves identifying and eliminating redundant or obsolete applications that are no longer required. This helps to simplify the application landscape and reduce maintenance overhead. Retiring such applications will not disrupt business operations.
- Relocate: This strategy allows businesses to move applications to a different environment, often the cloud, without purchasing new hardware, modifying existing procedures or rewriting apps. Relocating applications to the cloud provides businesses with scalability and accessibility to newer technologies while reducing the burden of infrastructure management.
- Rehost: This approach is also known as “lift and shift.” It involves transferring applications to a new environment with minimal to no changes to applications. This is a quick way to attain cloud computing benefits, such as scalability and cost reduction.
- Replatform: This method is similar to rehosting but requires some modifications to make applications compatible with modern infrastructure and services. The modifications do not alter the application’s core architecture, features or functions.
- Refactor: This app modernization strategy takes a step further by restructuring application code to optimize it to improve performance, scalability and maintainability.
- Rearchitect: In this method, the application’s architecture is redesigned to ensure scalability, flexibility and improved performance. This might involve breaking monolithic applications into microservices or smaller units. Rearchitecting is an expensive and resource-intensive modernization strategy since it significantly modifies the application’s code.
- Rebuild: As the name suggests, this strategy involves developing applications from scratch using modern technologies while retaining existing functionality. Rebuilding applications improves functionality, addresses issues and reduces technical debt.
- Replace: With this “R” strategy, legacy applications that no longer meet organizational needs can be replaced with new systems that serve the purpose.
- Repurchase: This is one of the simplest application modernization methods. This method can save businesses significant time, effort and resources. Rather than refactoring, rearchitecting or rebuilding obsolete applications, your organization can repurchase the application from a new vendor that suits your organizational requirements.
- Retain: This is a low-risk app modernization strategy where applications that cannot be migrated due to compliance reasons or may not need immediate changes due to their relevance and alignment with business goals are optimized and retained. These applications can be revisited in the future to meet business needs.
What are the key technologies for application modernization?
With application modernization, businesses aim to leverage modern technologies and methodologies to revamp legacy applications to stay competitive and agile. Listed below are key technologies that drive application modernization and innovation.
- Cloud computing: Rehosting or replatforming outdated applications to the cloud is critical to the application modernization process. There are several cloud platforms that businesses can take advantage of, such as public, private, hybrid and multicloud. Cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud offer the flexibility to scale resources as needed, reducing infrastructure management complexity and costs and enabling organizations to modernize their applications seamlessly.
- Containers and Kubernetes: Containers are a lightweight and portable cloud-centric approach for packaging applications and their dependencies, making deployment consistent across various environments — desktops, cloud and on-premises (within an organization’s IT infrastructure). Kubernetes orchestrates containerized applications for automating scheduling, deployment and general management, ensuring scalability and availability.
- Microservices: Most legacy applications have a monolithic architecture or are built as a single unit. Breaking such applications into smaller, manageable microservices enhances flexibility and allows for independent development, testing and deployment.
- Application programming interfaces (APIs): APIs enable seamless communication between different applications. Rather than replacing or rewriting outdated applications, businesses can use the existing code for creating APIs and integrating with cloud-based applications to take advantage of the capabilities of cloud computing.
- Automation: Automation streamlines various aspects of the modernization process, such as deployment, testing and monitoring, reducing the risk of human error and accelerating development cycles.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML): By integrating AI and ML capabilities with legacy applications, businesses can reap the benefits of predictive analytics, data-driven insights and automation to further enhance user experiences and decision-making processes.
Embrace cloud computing with Unitrends
Application modernization is critical, and so are backups. Moving old databases to the cloud may require recategorizing to suit the new architecture. Additionally, importing legacy solutions to cloud platforms can be challenging, requiring manual input and increasing the risk of data loss and corruption. Compatibility issues, technical glitches or human error during the app modernization process could disrupt business operations and lead to downtime. Therefore, migrating large volumes of workloads without a reliable backup and recovery solution could be detrimental to your business.
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