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Steps to Building a Successful App Modernization Strategy

Modernizing legacy applications is a critical element of the digital transformation of businesses today. The need to modernize these applications has never been higher, as these applications can act as the catalysts towards a company’s most strategic goal - to continuously modernize their business for greater agility, competitive advantage, and forward investment.

Legacy applications and their supporting infrastructure drain budgets and resources, creating a major drag on IT, lines of business, and the ability to innovate. Technical debt robs organizations of their ability to compete and respond to dramatic business changes like we all experienced over the last year with Covid-19. Investing to fix technical debt and continuously manage it is a core competency that leading innovators must develop and nurture. So, if you’re approaching an app modernization strategy, where do you begin?

Developing an app modernization plan

The first step in building an intelligent application modernization plan is to determine which apps to retire, rewrite, refactor, or just lift and shift. Applications with limited business value or current use should be retired. Other applications which are business-critical but have newer or more modern SaaS alternatives or packaged software options can be efficiently replaced.

For custom applications core to the business, the typical “Lift-and-Shift” calculus has resulted in far too many applications being simply re-hosted or re-platformed to the cloud. The preferred alternative to lift-and-shift is refactoring these applications to optimize them for all the advantages of cloud architectures - from increased engineering velocity to elasticity to business agility - but the difficulty, complexity, time, and risk of refactoring has stood in the way.

Data-driven cloud migration assessments look deeper inside your applications to realistically determine which can be efficiently refactored. With automation, the refactoring is often as fast or even faster than a lift-and-shift approach. These tools use the same analytics for both assessment and decomposition. In other words, the same intelligence measures complexity and refactorability and then enables decomposition of the actual monolith into microservices.

The opportunities and benefits of modernizing Java Applications and moving to cloud-native

Moving legacy applications to cloud-native yields four key benefits:

  • Increased business agility
  • Lower costs
  • Improved scalability
  • Accelerated engineering velocity

From a business perspective, the migration of Java applications to a cloud-native architecture allows for faster product release cycles and major improvements in time to market. Businesses can adapt to changes faster, adding new features to jump into new markets or respond to new customer requirements. Cloud-native architectures also allow organizations to drop expensive legacy licensing costs and adopt lower-cost open-source container platforms and managed service offerings in addition to cheaper infrastructure and IaaS models. The elasticity that cloud computing enables creates a more scalable and efficient application environment that can shift with seasonal demands and competitive opportunities. Finally, engineering teams shed technical debt that slows down innovation and affects team morale.

Where is modernization needed the most?

Most major companies across every vertical in the last 20 years followed accepted patterns for their most critical business applications. This included a rich investment in Java Enterprise (e.g., WebLogic, WebSphere) and Spring application architectures to manage the business logic and application layer. This resulted in a generation of extremely reliable, core business applications that still run a large majority of the backbone applications for today's top companies, including financial services, insurance, telco, retail, and more. These monolithic applications are now in need of modernization approaches that can bring the valuable intellectual property embedded in these business processes forward to the cloud and into the next generation.

How IT departments can overcome skills gaps and avoid a manual app modernization process

Modernization of legacy applications, particularly refactoring, has been a labor-intensive activity requiring months-long engagement and extensive investments in money, people, and time. Automation technologies help automate this process and accelerate the migration of monolithic applications to cloud-native. This saves time and money but also lowers the risk of refactoring as it retains the critical business logic while modernizing and packaging the logic into microservices optimized for the cloud. Building a bridge from legacy applications to cloud-native can bring both the software and the team forward at the same time, building new skills built on top of existing competencies.

Moti Rafalin is CEO and Co-founder of vFunction

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