Revitalising your Tech – Innovative Strategies to Extend The Life of Your Ageing Application

Craig Farren — 21 November, 2023

In an ever-evolving technology landscape it can be daunting to consider the challenge of adapting legacy applications to fit with modern development standards.1 It’s crucial to find the right balance between the need to update an existing system and the cost of replacement. This blog will explore the lifecycles of technology stacks and explore why businesses may choose to maintain older systems instead of investing in updates, and provides some strategies for modernising within budget constraints.

The Lifecycle of Tech Stacks and Legacy Applications

Let’s first define what legacy is. Legacy technology is an outdated computing system (software and/or hardware) that is still in use. Legacy applications come in different shapes and sizes. They could be old applications built using the best framework at the time, or newer applications built using a legacy framework. Legacy applications reach a tipping point where maintaining and updating them becomes difficult. An analysis must be done to determine the benefits of updating versus the benefits of maintaining.

Why Businesses May Opt to Maintain:

  1. Cost considerations: The upfront cost of replacing an entire system can be daunting. Maintaining an older system may seem more cost-effective in the short term.
  2. Risk Aversion: There may be reluctance to take any risks associated with a complete overhaul. Legacy systems are often stable and well-understood despite their limitations.
  3. Resource Constraints: Budget and skills limitations can make it difficult to take on a full-scale replacement.

Strategies for Modernising Legacy Applications:

  1. Modularisation and Microservices: Break down monolithic structures into smaller, more manageable components. Microservices allow for incremental updates and enhancements without disrupting the entire application.
  2. API Utilisation: Integrate modern APIs to bridge the gap between legacy applications and newer technologies. This approach can help ease interoperability limitations and allows for functional updates to be added incrementally.
  3. Containerisation and Cloud Integration: Containerisation provides a method for efficient deployment and scaling. Cloud Integration offers flexibility and cost savings, allowing modernisation without significant upfront infrastructure investment.
  4. Automated Testing and Continuous Integration: Implementing robust testing and CI/CD pipelines ensure that updates are reliable and can help detect new issues before they get to production. This will help reduce risks with modernisation.
  5. Frontend Framework and User Experience (UX): A user interface refresh can go a long way into making a legacy application act and feel more modern. This helps to improve UX which has a flow on effect of enhancing user satisfaction without ever needing to touch the backend.

To streamline the process of modernising legacy applications, the following tools should be considered.

Tools for Modernisation:

  • Module Bundlers: Web applications can utilise module bundlers to efficiently manage bundled code and to bring modern features not available to legacy development frameworks. These are often a very simple addition that requires little effort to extend a legacy application’s lifespan. Tools include:
    1. Webpack – a popular module bundler for JavaScript applications. It can also bundle CSS, images and other assets.
    2. Parcela zero-configuration web application bundler that supports various asset types and requires minimal setup.
    3. Rollupa bundler that focuses on creating smaller bundles which makes it suitable for libraries and smaller projects.
    4. Browserifya bundler that allows the use of Node.js-stye ‘require()’ to the browser to simplify the development process by allowing code to be organised using familiar module patterns and bundled files that can easily be included in a web page.
  • Docker and Kubernetes: These are containerisation tools that simplify deployment and management of applications.
  • API Gateways: Ensure seamless communication between legacy and modern systems by enabling API management and integration. Tools include:
    1. Azure API Management provides service features such as API creation, publishing and analytics that integrate well with other Azure cloud services.
    2. AWS API Gateway provides tools for developers to create, publish, maintain and monitor APIs at scale. It integrates with other AWS services.
    3. Apigee is part of Google Cloud and offers comprehensive API management with features like analytics, security, traffic management and developer collaboration tools.
    4. Kong is an open-source API gateway and microservices management layer that provides request/response transformations, load balancing, authentication and rate-limiting features.
    5. NGINX is predominantly known as a web server but it also provides some powerful API management tools. It can handle tasks such as load balancing, SSL termination, and API routing.
  • Automated Testing Frameworks: There are several tools that can be used to automate testing and find potential issues before they reach customers. These include:
    1. Selenium – a widely used open-source testing framework for web applications. It provides a playback tool for creating functional tests without needing to learn a test scripting language. It supports many programming languages such as C#, JavaScript and Python.
    2. Jesta JavaScript testing framework with simplicity in mind. It is popular in the React community but can be used for any JavaScript projects as well. It’s defining features include minimal configuration out of the box, snapshot testing, mocking and code coverage tools.
    3. Postmana well known API development environment that also has API testing capabilities. It allows automated API tests to be created and run with monitoring.
    4. Appiuman open-source tool for automated mobile application tests on Android and iOS. It supports native, hybrid, and mobile web applications which make it a versatile test tool.
    5. PlaywrightAn open-source automation library for browser testing and web scraping.
    6. Browserstack – A cloud web and mobile testing platform that allows developers to test across on-demand browsers, operating systems and real mobile devices.

Determining when to Invest in Updates or System Replacement

The timing of upgrading is determined by several performance factors and changing compliance requirements:

Factors Updates Replacement
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Assess the cost of updating the existing system, including software, hardware, and maintenance expenses over the projected lifespan of the system Evaluate the initial cost of implementing a new system, including development, training and migration costs, and compare them to determine the long-terms savings and benefits.
Performance Metrics Assess the performance of the current system and identify critical bottlenecks or areas where improvements are necessary. Assess how a new system could enhance performance, scalability and response times compared to the existing system.
Business Goals and Scalability Consider whether the existing system aligns with the current business goals and whether it can scale to accommodate future growth. How will a new system align with business goals and support scalability to meet increasing demands.
Age of Professional Staff Evaluate the skills and familiarity of the existing staff with the legacy technology and determine if training or hiring is required to implement updates.

Are there enough staff who know the technology?

Consider the learning curve for the new technology and assess the availability of skilled professionals. Factor in potential changes in skills and knowledge transfer.
Vendor Support and End-of-Life Considerations Check if the vendor still provides support and updates (especially security updates) for the existing system. Assess the implications if the vendor plans to discontinue support. Evaluate whether a new system offers vendor support, has a roadmap for updates, and consider the end-of-life plans for the replacement system.
Integration With Modern Technologies Determine if updates can integrate with modern technologies, frameworks, and third-party services, ensuring compatibility with current industry standards. Consider how a new system can leverage modern technologies, APIs, and microservices architecture for better integration and interoperability.
User Experience (UX) and Customer Satisfaction Assess the impact of updates on the UX. Determine if updating the existing system can improve user satisfaction without disruption to workflows. Consider how a new system can provide a more modern and intuitive user interface and how it can enhance the overall user experience.

Modernising legacy applications should be a high priority business goal and leveraging modern innovations like cloud integration, API utilisation, and microservices can make the process budget friendly. Businesses must carefully weigh the costs and benefits, considering factors like TCO, performance, and alignment with business goals to determine the most suitable path forward—whether it’s a series of updates or a comprehensive system replacement.

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