Legacy modernization, also commonly referred to as application modernization or platform modernization, involves the transformation of legacy systems to newer technologies for better operations and efficiency.
What Are Legacy Systems?
Legacy systems are outdated technologies such as applications or hardware that are still in use in companies. Although these systems may still be functional, they are sometimes incompatible with current system versions and become difficult to maintain, patch or integrate with other systems. In an increasingly digital world, legacy applications may not gel well with SaaS environments and end up burdening companies with high operational costs.
What Are Some Types of Legacy Systems?
Systems can be considered outdated for various reasons, including:
- Unavailability of Updates
Manufacturers/software vendors, in a bid to keep up with current technology, discontinue selling products or offering updates since the outdated technology becomes expensive to maintain. For example, Windows 7 reached its end of life in January 2020, with free security patches, updates and technical support being terminated.
- Lack of Expertise and Skills
As technologies evolve, so do programmers and engineers. As resources learn to adapt to newer languages and technologies, expertise and skills with respect to legacy systems become extinct. For example, companies are struggling to keep mainframe-based Cobol applications running due to resource shortages and plan to move away from it.
- Inflexibility and Inability to Scale
Gartner defines a legacy system as ‘Any system that is not sufficiently flexible to meet changing business needs.’ Legacy systems may not integrate well with other more modern systems and technologies such as artificial intelligence tools and big data processing. As a business grows, legacy systems can create bottlenecks, limiting scalability. Such limitations can hinder a company’s ability to have a competitive edge and grow the business.
Why Are Legacy Systems Still Used?
Some companies depend on legacy systems because they provide a business critical function. Extensive customizations the company has made to an application could mean that it’s difficult to find a replacement that meets all of the business’ needs. Another reason for businesses continuing to run legacy systems could be due to the amount of time, effort and cost it would take to replace them.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Legacy Systems?
Legacy systems have their own advantages and disadvantages. While some legacy systems are easy to use, others can be a burden to the company due to their complexity. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of legacy systems.
Advantages of legacy systems:
- Familiarity – Business users might be familiar with legacy technologies and learning to use a new platform will require substantial effort and training.
- Sunk Costs– The sunk costs of legacy systems are water under the bridge (depreciated capital expenses, most likely), whereas the subscription costs of SaaS applications, for example, represent new operational expense (OpEx).
- Avoiding disruption – Companies might be reluctant to deal with business continuity issues that may arise due to switching between technologies.
Disadvantages of legacy systems:
- Security issues with outdated technologies – If there’s an inability to apply security patches, either because the vendor has stopped providing updates or because applying the update breaks the system, legacy systems can be a security threat. That’s because hackers may be able to exploit newly disclosed vulnerabilities in that legacy software.
- Incompatibility with newer business systems – As noted above, legacy systems may not integrate well with other more modern systems and technologies that may be critical to business growth.
- Unscalable workloads – Legacy systems may not be built or configured to handle a sizable increase in workloads, which could hinder a company’s performance.
- Costly to maintain — Legacy systems, especially those that have undergone extensive customization over the years, can become quite costly to maintain. This drains IT budget away from strategic initiatives that will enhance the business.
What Is Legacy Modernization?
The risk of running legacy systems will sooner or later outweigh the benefits. That’s why modernizing these systems is critical for organizations if they want to move the business forward. Rewriting application code or migrating legacy systems to the latest technologies for better business performance are part and parcel of legacy modernization.
Why Is Legacy Modernization Important?
Legacy systems are often at the core of a company’s IT infrastructure and have the ability to slow down business processes and decrease business efficiency. They also pose a security risk, as discussed, that can attract the attention of cybercriminals. Modernizing legacy systems can help mitigate such risks and allows companies to reach their business goals with reduced costs and improved productivity.
What Are the Benefits of Legacy Modernization?
A few ways companies can benefit from the modernization of legacy software/hardware are:
- Enhance IT security
With modernized systems, organizations can improve their IT security posture by getting and applying timely patches and updates. Modern hardware and OSes deliver much better security, as well.
- Improved system performance
Newer technologies are designed to offer better stability, scalability and performance than yesterday’s tech. New business applications can take advantage of newer hardware and operating system platforms that provide much higher performance. This improves overall system performance and increases business productivity and efficiency.
- Frees up IT resources
By modernizing legacy systems, IT staff are no longer burdened with the time consuming task of maintaining the legacy systems, ultimately freeing up resources for other activities.
- Optimized operational expenses
While modern technologies may require considerable initial investment, the maintenance costs they incur should be lower than that of legacy systems.
Legacy System Modernization Approaches
Legacy systems can be modernized in various ways, such as:
- Replacement – Replacing the entire legacy infrastructure with modern system software, hardware and applications.
- Rebuilding – Rewriting the legacy system with modern features and capabilities; this could include making it cloud-ready or enabling it to integrate with other planned or existing modern technologies, for instance.
- Replatforming – This could involve migrating the legacy system to a cloud-native environment.
- Rehosting – Shifting a legacy application to a new platform or environment with minimal changes to the code.
- Refactoring – Replacing certain pieces of code with new ones so as not to break the application and to make sure the functionality stays the same.
- Rearchitecting – Restructuring the source code of legacy systems to change the data flow and making it compatible with the latest requirements.
How Legacy Modernization Can Improve Your Business
Modernizing legacy technologies not only improves the security and overall performance of an organization but, in many cases, has now become a necessity for businesses to survive. The hidden cost of outdated technologies, as companies work to maintain archaic systems, is quite high. Such costs can be avoided by updating systems and streamlining transformational processes for better flexibility, user experience and performance.
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