Legacy applications – threat or opportunity?

Every organization has one or more: legacy applications. Those are the applications and mostly accompanying databases an organization cannot get rid of. The operating systems those applications use, can run out of support. So does the databases. When we look at control and security for the IT environment, is that a threat? Or is it an opportunity?

Legacy
Because not every person understands the IT term ‘legacy application’, let me start by explaining a bit (or tap the link for a Wikipedia explanation). Every organization uses software to run their business, such as Enterprise Resource and Production software (known as ERP), financial software, time registration applications, design software and many more. This software is periodically updated or renewed (newer versions). But an organization can also decide to change from one software vendor to another. By doing so, the ‘old’ application could be retired. But .. due to law and legislation or due to the fact that the old application holds data that has to be consulted once in a while the old applications has to be maintained within the IT environment. Those old applications and systems are called ‘legacy’ applications.

Resources
Right after a migration, the legacy applications, corresponding operating systems and databases aren’t that old. But over years, they will automatically become old. They break the software life cycle because they cannot be retired. As said before, the operating systems and databases will run out of support which by itself becomes a security risk over time.
All in all, these legacy applications still require resources from the IT department. Even if you move them to low performing hardware systems, they still require resources. Not only in power, cooling and floor space, but also in time and labor. With that and over time, these applications and systems might even cost more money than the brand new application which replaced them …
So what to do?

Upgra…. Oh no
First though would be upgrading the applications, operating systems and databases. But in most cases, this is not a possibility. The applications itself has ‘become old’ and no new versions available. And even there are, that is not an option because of financial reasons. Because the old application doesn’t support newer versions of the operating systems and databases, upgrading is not an option.
For security reasons, one could disconnect the systems, but in day-2-day practice that is not a desired solution because employees still need to access data from time to time.

software asset management legacy old software

Innovate
One other solution is to innovate. It might sound strange, because we already decided that newer versions are not an option. But I’m not talking about newer versions, but about a different way of innovation: the platform. Organizations could consider moving the application – as is – to the cloud. Modern cloud platforms mostly support older operating systems (to some point….). Or they have an emulator which acts as an old operating system and are able to accept applications who cannot operate on a modern operating system.
Regarding the corresponding database, today, organizations can make use of databases as a service (PaaS solution), like a Microsoft Azure Managed SQL Instance. Those platform solutions mostly do have possibilities to support older, legacy, applications so the data stays available for use.
Big advantage from such a migration to the cloud is that the security issue is solved. Let the cloud platform provider handle security. Secondly, you do not have to maintain your systems for such applications, which saves you time and money. You, as an organization, can maintain using the older systems and data. In the end, that is the only thing you really need.

Software Asset Management
The modern Software Asset Management (SAM) tools and platforms (managed or not) are able to connect to Azure (as an example). With that, you can manage the legacy applications within one controlled environment, even if they run on a cloud platform. So regarding SAM, innovating doesn’t affect the overview, control and management of the environment. Hence, you might even get enthusiastic about the new environment and even want to move other, non-legacy workload to the cloud. Thinking about that, legacy applications are an opportunity to get to learn modernized IT and become a lever for your IT innovation.

January 2019