While cloud technologies and modern programming models like cloud-native have been around for several years, most enterprise applications are still run on-premises or use classic stacks and application servers.
At its core, application modernization is the process of improving your current applications to deliver a better customer experience and increase ROI. Through assessing the strategic importance of your applications against available cost and emerging technology options, including cloud, containers and Kubernetes, microservice-based architectures, and serverless, you can determine if and how much to migrate of your applications. Having your applications running in an environment that delivers a solid return on your investment should be your ultimate goal.
Not all applications need to be, should be, or even can be modernized. However, many applications are strategic to the business and the benefit of some level of modernization outweighs the cost. Enterprises are often hesitant to invest in modernization, but many times these investments pay off quite quickly.
The three main reasons why you should modernize your applications are:
- More agility
- Better experiences
- Reduced costs
The pace of change in all industries continues to accelerate. To keep up with evolving technology, to meet and exceed user expectations, and to introduce new features and capabilities rapidly, your critical applications need to evolve.
Achieve faster time to market and more agility. The deployment of new versions of monolithic applications are typically quite complex and time consuming. By using containers and a container orchestration platform like Kubernetes to deploy your applications, and by adopting DevOps best practices, like CI/CD, you can take the first step toward modernization and deliver applications more frequently, with greater ease than before. Further, when you refactor by breaking monolithic apps into smaller deployable units and ultimately microservices, you can update separate parts of your app; and, when you use CI/CD, you can roll back updates to running versions in case of issues.
Enable the development of new, bigger features. Many enterprise applications rapidly grew over the years and were developed by different people, which often led to large amounts of technical debt. Technical debt consumes budget and resources to keep applications up and running and it makes development of larger or new features harder. That’s why it makes sense to refactor and rearchitect your applications that are supposed to be significantly extended. By modernizing your apps, you naturally accelerate the digital transformation of your business.
Run mission-critical applications on a future-ready platform. Adopting cloud-native architectures, containerization and orchestration, such as Kubernetes or OpenShift, and modernizing your mission-critical applications to run on a future-ready platform ensures a longer-term stable platform and ongoing support from your ops teams. OpenShift can be run on-premises and on many different public clouds, which is why many enterprises choose it as their future-ready strategic platform.
Improve operational efficiency. When all your enterprise apps run on container platforms like Kubernetes or OpenShift, they can be managed more consistently. Everything is a container, no matter what programming languages, runtimes, or application stacks are used. While this setup makes operations easier, it does require organizational and cultural changes, which can take time to establish.
The drive to innovate and deliver engaging user experiences is further driving the need to modernize your applications. Application modernization can improve the user experience, but it can also improve the developer experience.
Improved user experiences. Application users decide whether applications are good or not, which is why we must work to provide good user experiences. Older applications often have weaknesses that can be addressed by using modern technologies. For example, building new user interfaces, mobile apps, or APIs, which can help provide faster response times, resiliency, and more.
Increased developer productivity. Containers increase our productivity because they address the “it works on my machine” issue. Furthermore, setting up development environments is faster. When we are more productive, we have more fun, which means we are more motivated and more efficient. By using containers, and more modular service-based architectures, enterprise applications can be polyglot, since different services can be implemented with different languages. Managers can find more developers since not every developer knows Java or Cobol. It also means that we can modernize our skillset and make ourselves more valuable to the team and organization, future-proofing our careers.
Decisions related to modernization for any given application typically come down to a question of cost. There is a cost to migrate to newer technologies and architectures and a cost to not moving. Exploring some of the benefits from a cost perspective is important to understanding the impact of application modernization.
Reduced resource usage. Most enterprise applications run in virtual machines. Running the same applications in containers instead saves a lot of resources, especially memory. Additionally, container orchestration platforms, such as Kubernetes or OpenShift, can balance workloads much better than virtual machines. Similarly, modern development libraries, runtimes, and tools, such as OpenJ9, can save resources. OpenJ9 requires less than half of the memory compared to other JVMs. Using containers and modern libraries often don’t even require any code changes.
Reduced license costs. Classic commercial software offerings come with license costs. Because of the success of open source, many of these classic offerings can be replaced with open source software, which frequently include commercial support. For example, WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment is a classic commercial software option that can often be replaced with the open source project Open Liberty. Many open source projects have strong communities that provide free help and fixes.
Reduced support costs. Sometimes legacy applications become very expensive, such as after the official support for the platforms or servers you’ve used has ended or when no developers can be found to maintain the code. In some cases, these legacy applications can be sunset. In other cases, it might be possible to replace them with SaaS offerings. For example, a 20 year old vacation planner application can be replaced by several SaaS or open source offerings.
As developers, we need to be able to articulate the reasons why we should modernize our applications (or not) so that we can influence our organization’s application modernization strategy and timetable. Increased agility, delivering better experiences, and reducing costs are the most important factors in determining which projects to tackle next. Now that you know why you should modernize your applications, explore how you might approach application modernization.