Application modernization refers to a process of digitally transforming costly to maintain legacy applications into newer technologies. Historically application modernization meant porting legacy apps to new languages and operating systems, thereby accessing new features from modern languages.

Today, enterprise legacy apps have grown overly complicated, many resembling a patchwork of code from different developers over years to meet new business demands. In these cases, companies driven to digitally transform can overcome current and future challenges by moving on-premise legacy software to the cloud. In the cloud, compute and storage resources are abundant and designed to scale.

The need for companies to understand their modernized applications and drivers cannot be overstated. Take government systems which are some of the largest legacy systems in use, and which are notoriously difficult to modernize, in part because of extensive planning and buy-in needed.

Yet, one such system was driven to modernize and cut costs, the Air Force "System 1", with expected maintenance costs of $35 million in 2020, was moved to a cloud environment and ported to modern languages. The application modernization effort cost only $1 million, resulting in a $34 million annual savings for 2020. All while porting to a modern web application, which has saved them from suffering the limitations of a dwindling talent pool of programmers proficient in the legacy language (COBOL).

Application complexity and uniqueness requires a custom approach to each application modernization project and should entail a comprehensive evaluation of business, functional, technical, and financial drivers.

Here are other common drivers prompting companies to push application modernization:

  • Improve protection against security threats
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Updating the user experience
  • Enabling novel business opportunities
  • Adopting a cloud environment
  • Adopting a continuous integration/continuous deployment approach
  • Reducing business and IT costs
  • Software end of support
  • Urgent capacity needs
  • Access new technology capabilities
  • Reduce risk placed upon infrastructure
  • Future anticipated needs

Once it's been determined that application modernization is a necessary and cost-effective strategy, the application must be documented thoroughly, recording all functionality, roles, screens, workflows, and data that should flow through the application. Based on drivers and the design of the legacy app teams could have several options on how to approach modernization.

Popularly over the past few years, application modernization solely meant cloud migration. Fortunately, however, there are many more options for companies to modernize their applications as the wave of digital transformation continues to accelerate. Below are just some of the more specialized features offered in the cloud that have evolved beyond legacy capabilities and are available for modernizing apps.

1. Cloud Computing for application modernization — The cloud's benefits are well promoted: access to the latest languages, agile technologies, collaborative platforms, and scalable environments. Most companies have some aspect of their operations within the cloud.
2. Containers to modernize application workloads in the cloud — Containers are a cloud virtualization approach to separating run-time environments for apps and workloads in the cloud. These virtual environments are beneficial to developers, equipping them with consistent environments, and sandbox-style isolation.
3. APIs to modernize application integration — Application programming interfaces allow one program to talk to and access data from another. APIs have been paramount in promoting integrations between third-party software that have enhanced customer experiences.
4. Microservices to modernize application implementation — Microservices architecture offers loosely connected services for applications increasing the ease of IT development, implementation, and updates. The separation between services allows for maintenance robustness, without compromising the entire IT ecosystem.
5. AI / ML Automation to modernize application performance — Artificial intelligence and machine learning use intelligent algorithms to automate manual IT processes and workflows, conduct complex data analysis (think Big Data analysis), and actively monitor and optimize application performance.
6. Data Lakes for modernizing application storage and processing — Data lakes store Big Data assets, a collection of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, ready for processing. These massive and scalable data collections support data analytics through SQL queries, Big Data analytics, and machine learning.

In migrating to the cloud, teams can approach their applications in several ways. Depending on application evaluations, the code base may simply need to be rehosted, or it may be too old and need to be refactored. Below are the general approaches to application modernization.

  • Rehost — Rehost is a common approach to application modernization where teams can simply migrate their code to a cloud environment and mirror their configurations.
  • Revising or Replatforming — The modernization of cloud incompatible apps entails the application to be partially rewritten and optimized for a cloud environment. These re-platformed apps are then rehosted in the cloud.
  • Refactor — Legacy software that is too old to run on current cloud technology will need a complete rewrite to refactor for application modernization. However, this may be a useful opportunity to update their apps using efficient cloud-native capabilities.
  • Repurchasing or Replacing — When legacy apps with common purposes, like accounting and sales, is too costly to refactor, simply purchasing a replacement cloud solution to modernize applications may make the most business sense.
  • Revisiting and Retiring — It is not unheard of to evaluate a legacy application only to find that it is redundant. In some instances, application modernization means reprioritizing apps based on current business needs may eliminate costly legacy maintenance.

As can be seen by the numerous options and approaches, application modernization is a continuous process asking companies to revisit their applications and plan for the arrival of new technologies that can be used to enhance their user experience.

Hitachi Vantara leverages the latest technologies and development processes in offering industry-leading application modernizations solutions, whether that means cloud migrations, an ERP integration, or a full redevelopment strategy. Below are Hitachi Vantara's leading application modernization solutions.

  • Custom Application Modernization — Modernize legacy applications to provide holistic user experiences, enable rapid delivery, drive scale, and high availability.
  • Digital Product Engineering — Leverage AI/ML, IoT & cognitive services to develop products that are robust, ready to scale & maintainable.
  • Digital Experience — Engineer modern, holistic digital experiences to create personalized solutions.
  • ERP Modernization for SAP — Unlock the value of your SAP ERP applications, guided by intelligence, innovation, and industry experience.
  • ERP Modernization for Oracle — Streamline your business processes by moving your Oracle enterprise business applications to the Cloud.