When someone says they want to modernize an application for the cloud, what exactly do they mean? Users have one point of view: they hope the upgrade will bring improved experiences, higher reliability, faster performance, and ideally more frequent feature deployments. Architects, software developers, and devops engineers have different answers about what application modernization means. This is because there are several technical approaches to application modernization and the optimal choice is not always obvious.

For example, a workflow application used by dozens of users, written in the latest versions of Java and MySQL, can be easily lifted and moved to a public cloud. This approach requires little code rewriting, but likely requires configuration changes, updating CI/CD, and re-automating tests. On the other hand, if the same application is written in Cobol and runs on a mainframe, there is a good chance it will need an overhaul before it can run in the cloud.

There are still several technical options between lift and replace and full overhaul; these are known as the 7 Rs of cloud application modernization. There are slight differences from one source to another, but they represent the top-level upgrade options well.

Factors to consider

Organizations have hundreds to thousands of legacy applications, applications with significant technical debtand others with consumer or business migration benefits. Architects and technical managers often use different modernization approaches depending on business needs and technical challenges.

The first issues to consider are the impacts on business operations and consumers. Mission-critical applications with higher usage will require different technical approaches than episodic applications. Any upgrade will require communication with users, testing and training people on workflow changes.

Nita Putran, senior vice president of cloud and infrastructure at Persistent Systems, provides an overview of some of the business considerations when choosing application modernization approaches and roadmaps. She says: “One of the biggest challenges organizations face is identifying and knowing which applications need to be removed and moved, redesigned or rewritten and in what order. Application upgrades require careful balancing of speed to market with scalability, cost optimization, mitigating future technical debt and operational disruptions.”

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