Survey after survey finds organizations are struggling with application modernization. A recent survey of 150 IT leaders at organizations with at least 1,000 employees, for example, finds 93% admitting that application modernization efforts are either extremely or somewhat challenging.
Issues hindering application modernization efforts span everything from identifying the right tools and technologies (30%) and finding the staff with the right experience (20%) to choosing the right external partner (18%), getting users trained on new systems (17%) and securing the support of senior management (11%).
The real culprit, as every IT leader knows, is simply the staggering amount of legacy code that has not been proactively maintained over the years. From decisions made early on to prioritize deployment over quality to subsequently failing to keep pace with upgrades, the reasons there is so much technical debt are manifold. The truth is it may never be possible to retire all the technical debt that has piled up.
Unfortunately, IT leaders don’t always appreciate how that technical debt conspires to increase the total cost of IT. Applications that run, for example, on the Java 8 Standard Edition (SE) platform first released in 2014 are going to be a lot less efficient in terms of how they consume IT infrastructure than applications based on a modern cloud-native architecture.
More troubling still, legacy applications tend to also have large numbers of vulnerabilities that can be easily exploited being left unpatched. It doesn’t take much these days for cybercriminals to scan those applications for vulnerabilities that make it all but trivial to inject malware that can then easily move laterally across an entire IT environment.
Most IT leaders are familiar with the basic application modernization challenge. Options range from either decided to rehosting an application by lifting and shifting it to the cloud; refactoring some portion of the application to natively take advantage of a few infrastructure capabilities available on a new platform, re-architect an application to run better on a different platform; rewrite the entire application; or simply retire it in favor of a packaged application provided by a vendor.
The issue is that most IT teams don’t have a lot of application modernization expertise. It’s not as though they are continuously modernizing applications. Each project begins and ends based on an agenda defined by business goals. With the exception, of course, of retiring an application, any path toward application modernization will require organizations to extend their DevOps workflows to include these projects. The more applications that need to be simultaneously modernized the more crucial it becomes for an IT organization to be as proficient as possible when it comes to building, deploying, updating, maintaining and securing applications.
That’s especially critical when the number of monolithic applications that have already been lifted and shifted to the cloud is considered. Many of those applications have been encapsulated in containers to make it easier to run them on a new platform. The next challenge will be making those applications as cloud native as possible so they can more easily scale up and down as required. IT teams today still need to provision the maximum amount of IT infrastructure that might be needed to run a monolithic application at peak capacity so even though these applications are containerized they still waste a lot of capacity. Cloud-native platforms such as Kubernetes reduce the total amount of infrastructure required but it’s all but impossible to manage the environment required to deploy cloud-native applications running on that platform without employing DevOps.
As IT organizations enter this next era there will be more application modernization challenges ahead. Arguably, application management may become a lot harder but as advances in automation continue to be made it’s now only a matter of time before the total cost of deploying secure applications starts to decline to the point where all the effort required materially lowers costs. It will naturally then be up to each organization to decide to what degree to pocket that savings versus opting to build and deploy even more applications that provide even more value to the business.
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