For many years, legacy modernization was a black or white affair: either rip out all the old technology and start afresh or make do with it, layering new technology onto old to extend its useful lifetime. Afraid of the risks of the first option, most IT executives opted for the second, for better or worse.

Today, two epic changes have transformed this dichotomy: first, technology has fundamentally improved, offering IT executives a wider range of choices. And second: digital transformation priorities have upped the ante on legacy modernization.

In the digital era, enterprises simply cannot afford to keep aging legacy technology around. But falling into the older, black-and-white way of thinking about modernization is a false solution.

Only by leveraging key modern technology and approaches like cloud computing, DevOps, and enterprise low-code platforms can organizations achieve the goals of legacy modernization while managing the risks inherent in such a transformation.

Hybrid IT: Transforming the Context of Legacy for today’s Enterprises

Legacy Modernization

There’s an old joke about legacy technology: legacy technology is anything that works.

The underlying truth to the joke, of course, is that existing technology is only still in operation because it still meets a need, regardless of its age.

In fact, legacy doesn’t even necessarily mean old–and there’s more to understanding the legacy modernization challenge than simply whether some existing piece of technology is still working.

In reality, legacy refers more to the amount of technical debt a particular piece of technology has—in other words, how expensive and difficult it would be to resolve any of the issues the subject technology suffers from that keep it from meeting current needs.

The legacy modernization challenge has thus always boiled down to an economic argument: how expensive the pain in terms of costs an out-of-date system is causing the organization vs. the all-in cost of modernizing that legacy—including all the indirect costs of making the transition from old to new, including downtime, retraining, customer resistance to change, etc.

However, hybrid IT has thrown a monkey wrench into these traditional economic arguments.

Hybrid IT is a workload-centric management approach that seeks to abstract the choice of deployment environment across multiple public clouds, private clouds, and on-premises and cloud-based virtualized environments, as well as traditional on-premises systems, including legacy assets.

Hybrid IT represents the overarching paradigm for modern IT operations. However, in spite of the inclusion of legacy under hybrid IT’s umbrella, we don’t mean for hybrid IT to perpetuate legacy. Rather, hybrid IT gives enterprises the means for modernizing legacy.

Within this broader strategic context for hybrid IT, then, there are three trends that are changing the nature of legacy modernization.

Trend #1: The Cloud

Just as moving your elderly parents into a condo is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get rid of years of detritus, so too is moving to the cloud.

Even as organizations adopt cloud-first strategies, rarely is there an opportunity to “lift and shift” some legacy app directly into the cloud. Instead, cloud-native approaches like containers and microservices give technology teams new opportunities to replace legacy functionality with modern applications.

Trend #2: DevOps

DevOps is an automation-driven model for collaboration across the IT organization, including development, quality assurance, operations, and security—as well as an increasing level of collaboration with people in customer-facing roles that represent the ‘business.’

DevOps, however, isn’t only for bespoke (custom) development. DevOps is also an essential enabler of legacy modernization, as the teams responsible for maintaining legacy apps must be an integral part of the collaborative context of DevOps.

In the past, modernization has often succumbed to the “throw it over the wall” mentality that DevOps can likely resolve. DevOps calls for pushing such decision-making down to cross-functional, collaborative teams—who might determine, for example, that the best way to deal with a legacy app is to modernize it in place. In other words, the right modernization decision may very well be to update an existing application in its existing operational environment, perhaps rewriting it with microservices.

To be clear, without DevOps—and its automation and cross-functional collaboration, as well as pushing decision making down to the cross-functional teams—the organization is unlikely to make the right decision whether to rewrite, migrate, leave alone, or modernize in place.

Trend #3: Enterprise Low-Code Platforms

Given this range of choices, it’s clear that modernizing a monolithic legacy app is no longer a monolithic task in its own right. However, such modernization typically requires the creation of new application capabilities, which brings us to the third trend: enterprise low-code platforms.

One of the reasons why IT managers in the past have recoiled from modernization tasks is because of the cost, time, and risk inherent in hand-coding replacement functionality. Low-code changes this equation, lowering both the time and risk of application creation.

However, not all low-code vendors focus on legacy modernization, as bespoke app development is often the sweet spot for such platforms.

In response, a subset of the low-code space, what we like to call enterprise low-code represented by vendors like OutSystems, empowers software teams to modernize legacy apps as well as build new ones.

The Intellyx Take: Changing the Economics of Legacy Migration

Modern digital priorities are increasing the importance of legacy modernization by placing a greater negative value on the pain and expense that legacy assets are causing the organization.

Gone are the days where enterprises can put up with such painful legacy. Today’s IT requires an appropriate modernization strategy that takes into account this economic argument, while also better understanding the appropriate choices for any particular legacy asset.

And those enterprises who divert their attention and resources elsewhere, choosing instead to leave their legacy alone? Many will find that such a strategic error will make them less competitive, and some will even find themselves in the impossible situation where it’s simply too late for the organization to recover.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. OutSystems is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, none of the other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper. Image credit: Edward H. Blake.