Application Modernization: The Path to Digital Transformation

Sarabjeet Singh

A recent research says that the global market for application modernization services is poised to reach $25.6 billion by 2024, compared to $10.5 billion in 2019. This shows that organizations are willing to spend top dollar to remain competitive in their chosen domain of expertise.

When companies modernize a legacy system, their objective is to preserve the business value of their legacy investment and at the same time, be agile enough to respond to constantly changing market demands. Some of the common application modernization approaches are given below:

  • Complete Transformation: Out with the old, in with the new. In this approach, the entire enterprise system is rebuilt by using new technology and the old system is terminated. This method provides an excellent way to those who are on the lookout to redefine their business by leveraging new processes and systems. Risky, yet rewarding.
  • Module Level Replacement: Renovate your house, floor by floor. A module or functional component of your IT system is replaced with new technology and transitioned to production, with the remaining system still utilizing old technology. The remaining components are replaced one at a time, ultimately leading to the entire system being rebuilt.
  • Micro-level Replacement: Fix your leakages, one pipe at a time. Small changes are made to the system with the use of new technology to deal with specific issues in the system. The overall core system architecture and technology remains unchanged. This option is a short-term tactical approach and has to be in line with an overall, long-term strategy.

Though each of the above methods has its own benefits, one should understand the architecture of the systems before going ahead with any app modernization project. Often, the architecture of legacy systems is monolithic in nature. In this method, applications are built as a single unit. It involves re-building and deploying the application every time there’s a change even in a small part of the application. This results in deployment and delivery inefficiencies and mounting costs. It’s simply not built for the future.

Today, Microservices architecture is widely used in application modernization as well as digital transformation projects. It is a fresh approach to designing applications as a suite of loosely coupled services that can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently. Microservices-based applications can be easily connected with monolithic applications through APIs and make for a seamless digital transformation. This method helps applications stay agile and future-ready.

Microservices: Incremental Changes for Major Business Impact

Large enterprises have to deal with a multitude of issues, just to stay relevant in today’s dynamic business environment. Some of these issues include quickly responding to market demands, managing sharp spikes in web traffic, being failure proof or failure tolerant.

Microservice architecture can confront these issues by splitting up a business domain into microservices. In this architecture, individual services are built exclusively to manage a single service. This kind of granularity helps developers to develop, test, deploy, and scale their specific services individually.

Each service has its own process and communicates through a clearly-defined, lightweight framework to achieve a business objective like billing, logistics, maintenance, etc. The common communication method is through a HTTP/RESTful API with a simple transport protocol like JSON. DevOps practices, such as Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery, drive the deployment of microservices. Some of the common characteristics of Microservices are:

  • Decentralized: Microservices are essentially distributed systems with decentralized management of data. They do not depend on a central database and each microservice has its own perspective on data models. They are also decentralized in terms of how they are created, engaged, managed, and operated.
  • Autonomous: Each service is independently deployable. Change in one service doesn’t mean rebuilding and deploying the entire application. This enables continuous deployment and delivery, and independent scalability, which means faster time-to-market (in days, not months).
  • Singular Focus: Each microservice unit is built to handle a specific set of competencies and focuses on a specific business domain. If a unit becomes highly complex, it can be divided into two or more services.
  • Polyglot programming: Microservices do not prescribe a specific programming language, operating system, data repository, or tool. So, development teams decide on the technology stack and programming languages on the basis of business requirements.
  • Black box: Microservices do not reveal their level of complexity to other components. Instead, communication between microservices occurs through well-defined APIs. This prohibits the presence of unqualified or hidden dependencies.

Microservices are being used by large enterprises to approach challenges with agility and scalability. Here are some of the key advantages that microservices offer over legacy systems:

  • Nimble and responsive: The key objective of microservices is to cultivate the use of small teams within an organization that takes charge of their services. Teams can independently build, deploy and maintain these services, which substantially reduces cycle times.
  • Transformative: As the microservices implementation teams are small and independent, they can choose the right mix of technology, framework, and tools to achieve the desired business output. This kind of flexibility drives innovation and creates a culture of accountability and ownership.
  • High-quality code: The division of software into small and distinct modules improves the reusability, composability, and maintainability of the code.
  • Failure detection and isolation: Microservices make it easy to identify and isolate defective units through various techniques, such as health-checking, circuit breakers, etc. This reduces the effect of the defective unit on the rest of the application and enhances the overall accessibility of the application.

Netflix is a prime example of how successful microservices architecture can be. Netflix made the transition from monolithic to a cloud-based, microservices architecture in 2009. Today, Netflix at 14.97%, is the top ranked global application in terms of traffic share. It’s API gateway handles close to two billion API edge requests through 500+ microservices on a daily basis.

Microservices can solve the challenges faced by legacy systems by being as modular and granular as needed. The best way to establish the optimal modernization approach for your business is to conduct a deep-dive diligence study of your existing IT systems and applications and prepare a well thought implementation plan that is future-ready in its scope.

There is another method where you do absolutely nothing to modernize your enterprise system and adopt a wait and watch approach. Twiddling your thumbs might prove detrimental to the growth of your organization in the long run.


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