Application Modernization Strategies: The 7 R's of Transformation

What is Application Modernization?

Application modernization is the process of converting, rewriting, or porting legacy software packages to operate more efficiently with a modern infrastructure. This can involve migrating to the cloud, creating apps with a serverless architecture, containerizing services, or overhauling data pipelines using a modern DevOps model.

In the following article, we will discuss the different strategies used in application modernization to help you understand everything from simple procedures, such as a “lift and shift,” to more complex approaches, such as redesigning a microservices deployment strategy.


The Benefits of Application Modernization

Legacy application modernization breathes new life into old applications. It typically occurs within a broader enterprise digital transformation plan, but ultimately aims to reduce operational inefficiencies and streamline business processes. Here are a few of the benefits of modernizing legacy applications:

  • With a more efficient infrastructure and pay-as-you-go model, there is substantial cost-saving in the long term.

  • Uptime and performance improvements allow applications to do more with the same resource allocation.

  • Refactoring a database from an older technology to a modern alternative can reduce performance overhead and enable new features.

  • Orchestration and container technologies like Docker and Kubernetes allow enterprises to spool and decommission resources as needed.

  • Converting legacy apps to new infrastructure enables data-driven analytics, and automation workflows or playbooks to reduce the low-level administrative burden.

Questions to Ask When Planning an Application Modernization Strategy

During the planning stage, this is the time to decide what technologies will deliver significant business value, which will allow applications to be decommissioned, and what procedures will minimize risk while returning the most ROI from the investment.

Asking the following question will help you achieve the most value from an application modernization initiative:

  • What does our current legacy software do well?

  • What do we need from our legacy software?

  • Which of the 7 R's is most suitable for our initiative?

  • What are the intended outcomes after completing application modernization?

  • How many applications require modernization?

  • Which applications are the highest priority for modernization?

What Are the 7 R's of Application Modernization?

When modernizing legacy applications, there are 7 R's that organizations should be aware of. Which R to choose depends on your use cases, but a good rule of thumb is to always migrate simpler applications first.

1. Replace

With this approach, a complete replacement of the application will be necessary. No amount of application modernization effort will overcome technical limitations such as obsolete code languages or APIs. The application may not be supported on the latest Windows or Linux operating systems, or even supported by cloud providers like AWS, Azure, or GCP.

2. Rehost

When enterprises rehost an application, it means moving an application to a different host platform without any changes to the app itself. Since digital transformation strategies require fast cloud migration, this is a good option to retain service uptime with minimal disruption.

This is only possible if the current instance of the app is compatible with the new infrastructure platform. If not, the next item in this list applies.

3. Replatform

An application replatform is similar to rehosting. This method is often used with DBaaS, SaaS, and IaaS solutions.

One example is moving an eCommerce website from Microsoft Azure to AWS to save on expenses. The website itself remains the same, with the core dependencies being modified for compatibility with the new platform.

4. Refactor

Refactoring is more relevant to software development and DevOps teams. It involves rewriting the underlying code of an application to improve operating performance without altering existing functionality. This is known as code refactoring, which unlocks some benefits of cloud platforms like AWS, but does not involve unlocking maximum functionality.

Part of this process could involve removing duplicate code or app logic. If a 10-line function can be condensed to 5-lines with the same functionality, that’s a successful refactoring attempt. Otherwise, reducing the number of classes and methods improves performance and simplifies management within an integrated development environment (IDE).

5. Rearchitect

To rearchitect an application is to redesign an application from the ground up. This is commonly seen in monolithic application packages, where enterprises may want to leverage microservice architecture.

One method for rearchitecting applications could be replacing proprietary APIs and software dependencies with open-source alternatives, such as Microsoft SQL Server to PostgreSQL. Such efforts can reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO), drive greater cloud agility, and improve application resilience against outages and performance issues.

6. Rebuild

An application rebuild involves starting from scratch for an individual or a collection of components. When rebuilding, the original scope and specifications remain the same, while fulfilling new technological or operational requirements.

The rebuild phase of application legacy modernization can be completed over time. For example, one or two of the most critical components are rebuilt and deployed into a live environment. Additional components are then slowly rebuilt until the entire application has been transformed for optimal use on a cloud platform like AWS.

7. Repurchase

This is perhaps the easiest way to modernize an application. Rather than refactoring, rebuilding, or rehosting, enterprises repurchase new software. This software is not repurchased from the same vendor, but from an alternative vendor that meets business requirements.

This is commonly achieved using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms. Other options include Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). The main obstacle is identifying a new application provider that offers similar functionality, while facilitating data migrations and the merging of configurations to the new app.

Also ReadECS vs. EC2

What Does an Application Modernization Strategy Involve?

Before deciding on what cloud platform, programming language, or consultant to work with, it is imperative to map the current state of your existing application architecture. A successful strategy must focus on the business before the technologies. This will help to create an ideal future state.

While every roadmap will be unique to each enterprise, here are six commonalities every application modernization strategy should involve:

  • Evaluation of legacy systems for modernization candidacy. Items to evaluate include agility, business fit, business value, risk, complexity, and cost.

  • Define the business challenge, such as identifying employee personas and limitations in each domain caused by the legacy app.

  • Evaluate which of the 7 R's can be applied to this specific application modernization effort. Do this for every application you plan to modernize.

  • Prioritize the application modernization process. Consider the workload, architecture, expenditure, business risk, opportunities for operational improvement, and cybersecurity.

  • Consider how future-proof your application modernization will be. How many years until this modernization effort becomes obsolete, requiring further effort?

  • Once you finish application modernization, you are never truly finished. Continuous improvement and redevelopment can retain functionality and compatibility in the long-term while minimizing business disruption.

Graphic showing the steps Trianz takes when working with clients on application modernization

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Start Your Application Modernization Strategy with Trianz

Trianz is a consulting partner with all major cloud platform providers. We have extensive expertise in the migration and modernization of legacy systems. If you are unsure about the scope of your modernization strategy, Trianz can help identify which of the 7 R's best suits your application initiative.

No matter where you are on your modernization journey, Trianz is here to help you reach the end state that offers the flexibility, scalability, and agility to respond to changing business demands.

Interested in migrating applications to AWS?

With its wide breadth of services and the world’s fastest and most reliable infrastructure, AWS may be the application modernization pathway that fits your business.

Learn More About AWS Application Modernization

Experience the Trianz Difference

Trianz enables digital transformations through effective strategies and excellence in execution. Collaborating with business and technology leaders, we help formulate and execute operational strategies to achieve intended business outcomes by bringing the best of consulting, technology expertise, and execution models.

Powered by knowledge, research, and perspectives, we enable clients to transform their business ecosystems and achieve superior performance by leveraging infrastructure, cloud, analytics, digital, and security paradigms. Reach out to get in touch or learn more.


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