One thing that’s always constant in the software space is ‘change.’ With digital transformation occurring rapidly everywhere, organizations are compelled to proactively monitor changing technology trends and user requirements, often necessitating the dynamic upgrading and deploying of software at an unprecedented scale. This is where an application modernization strategy becomes crucial.
This blog discusses the need for modernizing applications and infrastructure, provides guidance on the best way to accomplish this, and talks about modernization examples.
Table of contents
- What is Application Modernization?
- Why Should You Modernize an Application?
- The Road to Application Modernization
- Types of Modernization Approaches
- Application Modernization Example: FGI
- Elements to Modernize Your Application
What is Application Modernization?
Application modernization is a software approach to modernizing legacy applications and the underlying infrastructure. It is done in such a way that businesses gain the required flexibility and agility to realign business solutions to meet changing user requirements quickly. Simply put, it is about updating the software stack using modern languages, frameworks, infrastructure platforms, and cloud native application environments.
An application modernization strategy involves implementing modern software development approaches such as DevOps, CI/CD, SRE, etc. Breaking and moving monolithic software into a microservices architecture or a serverless architecture and migrating legacy workloads to highly popular Kubernetes-based modern cloud platforms, too. It is important to note that the legacy software is not always replaced here but improved and enhanced.
Why Should You Modernize an Application?
The biggest reason for businesses not being able to leverage digital advancements is legacy systems. According to ComputerWeekly, 90% of businesses have limits in terms of digital innovation because of legacy systems. A majority of legacy apps use monolithic architecture wherein the entire software is built as a single large code.
The development of legacy software uses a waterfall model that takes a sequential approach:
- Gathering requirements and documentation.
- System design to meet requirements.
- Developers write the code.
- The testing team takes over to run a variety of tests against that code.
- In case of errors, developers receive the software back for modifications.
- The QA team tests the modified code again.
- When the code passes through the testing phase, it is pushed to production servers.
- If there are any compatibility/performance issues, developers receive the code again.
Monolithic apps come with several challenges. As each development phase is dependent on the previous phase, the process is time-consuming. Similarly, alterations to requirements or design get complex. If a feature has to be added or modified, the entire application has to be updated and passed through different phases of the waterfall model.
Likewise, scaling is difficult as you have to scale the entire application when a single component needs additional resources. It means all components of the application consume high resources even when they don’t need them, resulting in severe resource wastage.
Deployments get complicated as changes to a single component can affect the entire application. While development cycles get slower, maintenance gets complex as each change requires retesting the entire app. Moreover, monolithic architectures limit you from adopting new technologies and frameworks and thereby deny flexibility and agility in business processes.
From a business perspective, a few of its challenges include server upgrades and overprovisioning infrastructure costs, and application downtime for maintenance. License costs for 3rd party integrations, security compliance, and finding the right people to manage legacy software can also be included.
An application modernization strategy helps organizations improve software quality, increase the frequency of software deployments, and leverage the latest technologies.
Here are a few benefits of application modernization:
For IT teams
Improved agility, flexibility, and scalability
Modern applications with microservices architecture and DevOps for cloud environments bring greater agility, flexibility, and scalability to the table. They enable developers to quickly, frequently, and securely make changes to the apps as per user requirements and changing market needs.
Cloud environments augmented by DevOps and Microservices architecture facilitate seamless collaboration between various teams right through the app development life cycle. Additionally, access to modern tools and technologies increases productivity while eliminating a single point of failure.
Better quality with reduced technical debt
As developers add new features to applications, businesses accrue a lot of technical debt over time. However, modernized apps reduce this technical debt and thereby increase the quality of software while delivering a better ROI.
For operations teams
Similar to IT teams, operations teams benefit from the flexibility, agility, and scalability offered by an application modernization strategy. Operations teams can handle dynamically changing workloads to offer high availability and a better user experience.
Contrary to traditional application development, wherein security is added at the last phase, modern applications are built using CI/CD practices. It means security professionals are also a part of the application development right from the beginning. As such, apps are secure against every type of cyber attack and threat.
As new technologies streamline operations and improve application performance efficiencies effectively, they reduce maintenance and downtimes. Moreover, it helps teams achieve optimal resource usage.
Audit and compliance
DevOps and cloud environments facilitate automated compliance checks and thereby help organizations eliminate penalties. Audits become easy, and security is guaranteed.
For business teams
Leveraging the Cloud
Modernizing an app involves moving it from an on-premise solution to a cloud-native environment. This shift enables organizations to leverage the benefits of cloud technology and seamlessly integrate with other cloud services. Teams can also collaborate effectively with others operating in the cloud, utilize elastic resources, and take advantage of flexible subscription models.
Enhanced customer experience
Modern application development environments empower developers with the flexibility to innovate and experiment with new features. As such, they can design highly intuitive user interfaces that offer simple navigation and easy-to-use functionality, ultimately enhancing the customer experience.
Speed to market
With cloud and DevOps-based CI/CD practices, organizations can frequently build and release quality code. Moreover, services of a microservices-based app communicate via APIs, which means a function can be individually modified without disrupting the entire app.
As such, they gain speed to market, optimize resource usage, and reduce operational and maintenance costs while moving ahead of the competition.
With clear insights into application performance and resource utilization, businesses can make informed decisions to dynamically realign strategies and stay relevant in the market.
The Road to Application Modernization
Businesses tend to continue with legacy apps as they are familiar with them and feel they are reliable. However, legacy apps pose serious security and performance issues in the long run.
Assess your actual legacy infrastructure and apps
The first step towards application modernization is assessing your actual legacy infrastructure and apps.
Here are a few modernization examples of legacy apps:
- End of Life: The app might rarely be used, or the dependent technology is retired. For instance, apps designed to run on older versions of Windows or database software might not function properly with newer Windows versions.
- Outdated / Obsolete Architecture: The architecture of the code or database might be obsolete or outdated, making it difficult to update or modify the app.
- Not Scalable: The application’s architecture does not support heavy workloads and crashes when you try to scale it.
- Lack of Skills: Businesses find it hard to hire people who have knowledge of the legacy apps and infrastructure the organization uses.
As a part of this assessment, check out the application’s pain points, functionality limits, and create your business objectives. Said objectives will later be converted into technical objectives and modernization milestones.
As a best practice, take inputs from all stakeholders, app users, and everyone involved with the app. Some of the aspects to note are the full stack technology of the app, all dependencies, languages, libraries, databases, dataflow, architecture, inbound/outbound interfaces, and other shared services. Security and audit requirements should be considered as well.
Keeping these details in mind, prepare an application modernization roadmap that should involve the modernization approach, implementing technologies/frameworks, project scope, deliverables, milestones, etc. Don’t ignore the time and the budget in your application modernization strategy.
Types of Modernization Approaches
Designing the right application modernization strategy is key to successfully leveraging modern technologies. Here are the 5 most common and successful approaches (also known as 5 ‘R’s) to modernizing a legacy app.
Rehosting, or “lift-and-shift,” involves migrating an application from one environment to another without modifying its design.
For example, a business that runs a legacy customer relationship management (CRM) application on its own servers in their data center can rehost the app to leverage the scalability and reduced maintenance costs associated with cloud computing.
The rehosting process would involve the following steps:
- Preparation: Assess the existing application and determine its dependencies. Prepare a suitable cloud environment with the necessary virtual machines, storage, and network configurations.
- Migration: Move the application code, data, and associated libraries to the cloud. Use migration tools or services provided by the cloud provider ( AWS’s AWS Server Migration Service or Google Cloud’s Migrate for Compute Engine).
- Validation: Test the application thoroughly in the new environment to ensure it performs as expected and all functionalities are intact.
- Switch Over: Switch over from the on-premise CRM to the cloud-hosted CRM.
Remember, rehosting doesn’t involve changing the application’s code – the application merely moves to a new environment. This is often a first step towards a more cloud-native approach, allowing organizations to realize some benefits of the cloud while planning more extensive modernization in the future.
Rearchitecting is about changing the structure and design of an app to suit new environments. Legacy apps are mostly monolithic in design, and re-architecting often involves changing it to microservices architecture.
For example, a company has an e-commerce application running on traditional on-premise servers. While the application works well, it’s not scalable enough to handle peak demand during high-traffic periods, such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
To resolve this issue, developers break the large and single code into smaller services wherein each service performs a single function, and each service is an independent and modular code. As such, you can separately update, deploy, and manage each service. It can also consume resources using APIs. You can independently scale a service instead of upgrading the entire app, and it can leverage CI/CD, agile, DevOps, PaaS, and serverless technologies in the cloud.
Rearchitecting involves changing the entire app architecture. On the other hand, refactoring is about moving the app to the cloud with significant changes to the source code, databases, and other dependencies to suit the cloud environment.
Said approach is the most complex one as you are making changes to source code, configuration, and infrastructure susceptible to errors. Consequently, you should ensure that code changes do not negatively affect the functionality.
However, it is worth the time and effort as you gain long-term savings, increase resilience, reduce technical debt and operational costs, and dynamically adapt to changing app requirements. It helps you to increase the app performance without altering the functionality, leveraging PaaS offerings.
Rebuilding keeps the scope and specifications of the app and builds the components of the applications right from scratch. For this, it uses new technologies, frameworks, and programming languages in a PaaS environment.
Furthermore, rebuilding helps in building apps faster, reduces operational costs, and accelerates innovation. You can choose this option when you don’t possess the necessary technical expertise or the budget to refactor or re-architect an app.
As the name suggests, a replacement approach retires a legacy on-premise application and replaces it with a cloud-based SaaS app. Replacing is a good option when the existing app is not meeting business specifications and investing in it is not worth the money. This is the most quick and easy application modernization strategy to follow.
Application Modernization Example: FGI
FGI is a New York-based financial services company that delivers diverse products to clients across more than 60 countries. FGI’s extensive offerings include services such as asset-based lending, invoice discounting, credit insurance, foreign exchange, and receivable financing. They also provide financial services such as collections, risk protection, and mitigation strategies.
The application architecture
The FGI application was written in PHP, implementing a monolithic architecture. Apache was the web server, while MySQL was used as the open-source RDBMS. FGI implemented an on-premises environment, hosting the components in cPanel.
- Scalability: As the company serves users in 60 countries, scaling was a key requirement. However, instead of scaling just the necessary components, teams had to scale the entire application, making the process inefficient and costly.
- Security: Since FGI deals with sensitive financial data, security was a key concern.
- Longer Delivery Cycles: Since all the application’s code was interconnected in a single codebase, even minor changes required a complete rebuild and redeployment of the application. Developers used to deploy code to production manually using some steps in a script, involving a lot of human action and resulting in longer development and deployment times.
- Complexity of Code: As the code grew larger, it became a challenge to collaborate on the codebase, often resulting in version conflicts.
- Flexibility: Tied to a single technology stack, FGI was unable to quickly leverage new frameworks and languages.
Application modernization strategy: Re-architect
ClickIT implemented the ‘Re-architect’ application modernization strategy for the FGI application. The company designed a resilient architecture on the AWS cloud, converted the monolithic app into a microservices architecture, and migrated the new cloud solution to the AWS cloud environment.
Additionally, the company decomposed the app into smaller individual services that communicated via APIs. With GitLab CI, a CI/CD auto-deployment was implemented for production and staging. A Github Strategy complemented development environments for deployments such as branching and PR request management.
The comprehensive AWS cloud portfolio enabled the company to leverage several cloud services such as EC2, ECS, ECR, IAM, S3, Guarduty, Cloudtrail, Session Manager, RDS, and VPC. They used Docker for containerization tasks, and Apache ran in a Docker container as well.
Moreover, ClickIT implemented Docker-Compose for local development. All infrastructure was deployed using Terraform, including IAM users, policies, groups, and roles. With AWS best practices in place, they were able to highly prioritize security.
With application modernization, FGI implemented a whole new cloud-based solution that was highly scalable, secure and delivered better performance.
Take a look at the complete FGI case study!
Elements to Modernize Your Application
Here are the important elements to consider while modernizing your application:
1) Select your Cloud services that can be ported from legacy systems or services
While your on-premise infrastructure runs multiple apps and services, not all software has equal modernization needs. As such, identify the services that should be migrated to the cloud on a priority.
- Business-critical services: Certain services are critical for your business operations, so you want to invest in them in the coming years. Identify these services and move them into the priority list of the modernization program.
- Business-noncritical Services: Identify services that are not critical for your business to succeed but are helpful in business operations.
- Inessential Services: Identify old apps that are not helpful to the business and ignore or replace them with modern solutions.
2) Cloud service provider
It’s been a while since the cloud has turned into a necessity from being an option for businesses of all sizes. The cloud offers ready-to-use managed services powered by world-class solutions and is always up to date. This brings faster time to market without much upfront investment.
Apps get global distribution and high availability with automatic scaling and resilience with optimized resource usage and costs. However, it’s important to choose the right cloud migration strategy to leverage the cloud revolution. To run apps on virtual data centers, you can choose the IaaS cloud model. On the other hand, you can opt for a PaaS model to build and manage apps in the cloud. Without a proper migration strategy, monitoring, and analysis, you can end up paying thousands of extra dollars.
AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud are the top three cloud service providers to consider for your application modernization needs.
3) Right architecture in the Cloud
While migrating to the cloud is the first step towards application modernization, choosing the right architecture for the app in the cloud is key to fully leveraging modern technology benefits.
Containerization of monolithic apps
Businesses that don’t have the required expertise in cloud technologies can start with containerization. It is a process of encapsulating an application along with its libraries, binaries, configuration files, and other dependencies into a container. As such, it runs in an isolated environment and delivers the same performance across different environments without version conflicts.
Achieving this objective with physical servers can be expensive and resource-intensive. With containerization, the legacy app becomes scalable, portable, and secure. Using container orchestration tools such as Kubernetes, you can easily scale, deploy, and manage containers in the cloud with ease. However, this approach doesn’t fully leverage the cloud benefits.
To migrate a legacy app to the cloud:
- Create a Docker image of the app.
- Create a Fargate/ECS cluster and define tasks.
- Deploy the Docker image to Fargate or ECS using AWS Management Console or CLI.
- Configure Load balancer to manage app traffic.
- Create target groups to customize traffic to specific instances.
Monolithic to microservices architecture
Legacy apps are built using a monolithic architecture wherein the entire software is written as a single code with closely coupled components. As such, updating or scaling a function requires changes to the entire app.
By breaking each function into a single service, developers can easily deploy, update, or manage services. Microservices architecture is an approach to breaking a single large code into smaller loosely coupled components. Said components are independent, modular, and communicate with each other via REST APIs. As a result, new features can be quickly added to gain faster time to market. This is the most desirable application modernization approach in the cloud environment.
Serverless architecture enables organizations to deploy and manage applications without managing the underlying infrastructure that is automatically provisioned on-demand by the cloud service provider. It means you just pay for the resources consumed during the time of execution of a function.
Subsequently, modern technologies augment legacy apps to reduce costs, increase scalability, and faster time to market. With image-based management and orchestration of containers, maintenance becomes easy. AWS offers Elastic Container Service (AWS ECS), a fully managed container orchestration service that is free. AWS Fargate is another serverless computing engine that serves this purpose but comes with a cost.
4) Select your orchestration management system
To effectively automate deploying, scaling, and managing container apps, businesses should select the right container orchestration management system that suits their business needs.
Here are the top 3 options available for this purpose:
Kubernetes is a popular open-source container orchestration platform developed by Google in Golang and is now a part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). It uses a declarative configuration method wherein developers can declare the desired state of containers using YAML files.
It comes with useful features such as automated scheduling, automatic rollbacks and rollouts, and self-healing capabilities. Other features are hybrid/multi-cloud support, horizontal scalability, extensibility, and community support, to name a few.
Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service is a fully managed Kubernetes service offered by AWS that relieves businesses from the complex tasks of installing and managing Kubernetes nodes and control planes on AWS.
It easily integrates with other AWS services, making it easy for AWS-heavy workloads to gain high scalability and security. It is compatible with the standard Kubernetes environment, which means you can migrate Kubernetes workloads to AWS EKS without modifying any code.
Amazon Elastic Container Service is a fully managed Docker-based container application management solution from AWS. It comes with two launch types.
- EC2 Launch Type: Users have to configure and manage container clusters. While there is an administrative burden, it gives more control over the container infrastructure.
- AWS Fargate Launch Type: AWS Fargate automates container management, which means developers can focus on adding features and improving the app’s quality.
Not sure which one to choose, Amazon ECS or EKS? Read the blog!
5) Select your CI/CD tool
CI/CD is a part of the DevOps framework. CI stands for continuous integration, and CD stands for continuous delivery (or continuous deployment). A CI tool enables organizations to automate the software build process comprising continuous integration, continuous testing, and continuous delivery. With quick and frequent delivery of code changes, CI/CD tools shorten software development cycles and bring faster time to market to the table.
Continuous integration pipeline
In the DevOps approach, a pipeline is a deployable code unit path comprising multiple steps such as build, test, deploy, and monitoring. The CI pipeline is the first part of the delivery pipeline that handles the automation of code build and testing phases. This pipeline is triggered when code is committed to a code repository such as Git.
The build phase takes over and compiles the code, which is then tested for errors and prepares a deployable code unit. There are other tasks included, like running security checks, sending Slack notifications, etc.
Continuous delivery pipeline
Continuous delivery is the extension of a continuous integration pipeline that involves automation of pushing the code into production and continuous monitoring of the performance of the application and infrastructure. All this without the need for human intervention. With a rightly designed pipeline, the app behaves consistently in the test and production environment.
While continuous delivery and continuous deployment are both abbreviated as CD, their practices differ primarily in the manual approval step. In a continuous delivery model, after passing CI, the changes are automatically deployed to a staging or production environment. However, there might be a final manual approval before production deployment. In the case of continuous deployment, there is no human intervention.
While choosing a CI/CD tool, check out the features like hosting options, interface, support for Docker, plugins, issue tracking and extensibility, horizontal scalability, configuration complexity, security, etc.
Jenkins, GitLab, AWS Deploy, TeamCity, and Bamboo are a few popular CI/CD tools.
6) Choose the Infrastructure as Code tools
Infrastructure as Code tools automate the process of building and managing the IT infrastructure using code. They minimize human intervention in infrastructure management tasks such as configuring networks, servers, databases, and 3rd party integrations, delivering agility, scalability, and resilience.
While choosing an IaC tool for your application modernization strategy, check out for features like Infrastructure provisioning, configuration management, scripting abilities, and container orchestration.
Terraform, AWS CloudFormation, and Pulumi are three popular IaC tools.
7) Scripting language for your DevOps and SysAdmin tasks
Automation, scaling resources, and data manipulation are the most common tasks in a cloud-native DevOps environment. While there are automation tools to help you in this regard, scripting is also important for ad-hoc tasks such as AMI configuration, AWS user data management, repetitive development tasks, etc. Therefore, you should choose a scripting or programming language for your cloud application.
- Bash: Bash is a scripting language for Unix-based systems. Also known as Linux Shell Scripting, Bash makes it easy to do the heavy lifting in app deployment and configuration management tasks.
- Python: Python is a popular programming and scripting language. With readability, concise syntax, a minimal learning curve, and an extensive module library, Python has become the go-to option for DevOps scripting tasks.
- Golang: Golang is quickly becoming the number one language for DevOps engineers that offers more speed and the ease at which developers can compile standalone binaries without any dependencies. DevOps tools such as Kubernetes, Docker, and TerraForm are written in Golang.
- PowerShell: PowerShell from Microsoft is best suited for workloads powered by Windows Servers. Built on the .NET framework, PowerShell enables you to seamlessly automate system admin, infrastructure management, and app deployment tasks.
Manage your application and infrastructure
Once the application is migrated to the cloud environment, the next step is to effectively manage the application and infrastructure. Right from integrations with backend services and 3rd party solutions to monitoring the performance metrics, security, and ensuring a rich end-user experience, businesses should ensure that the app delivers optimal performance by fully leveraging cloud benefits.
Application Performance Monitoring (APM) or Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tools enable you to visualize app performance and cloud infrastructure health in real time. It also gives you insights into key aspects such as app resource consumption, app dependencies, performance comparison of pre-migration and post-migration, full-stack observability, app latency, and scalability gains..
They automatically detect and fix anomalies, analyze root cause diagnostics, and reduce MTTR. For instance, if a function takes more time to execute, you’ll receive an alert and modify the code to expedite that process.
New Relic, Sumo Logic, AppDynamics, Datadog, and Dynatrace are a few popular APM tools in the market.
Application modernization is all about transforming legacy apps hosted on on-premise environments into cloud-native services powered by microservices architecture.
Today, cloud technology is not an option anymore but has become a necessity for businesses of all sizes. This includes Software development. While the cloud benefits of elastic resources, world-class solutions, and flexible subscription models look enticing, the need for modernization has already outweighed these benefits.
By planning, assessing, and executing an effective application modernization strategy, you can ensure that your business stays competitive in the ever-changing digital landscape. Whether you’re a startup, a small business, or a large corporation, application modernization is essential for long-term success and sustainability.
While the application modernization strategy depends on your existing infrastructure and your business objectives, re-architecture is the best approach as it allows the app to fully leverage the cloud advantages.
A cloud-native architecture is a software development environment that combines all components developers use to build cloud-native applications.
-Application Programming Interface (API)
Yes, tools such as AWS Migrate and Azure Migrate help you automate the application modernization process. But, you should have an application modernization strategy to leverage these tools effectively.