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How to modernize apps as part of the cloud migration process

Take stock of your applications, and modernize them where appropriate as part of a cloud migration. Learn about the benefits of this approach, and be aware of the potential pitfalls.

There's no secret sauce to application modernization; organizations must effectively plan ahead when they begin the cloud migration process.

Application modernization, when done as part of cloud migration, can decrease the complexity of legacy apps, while increasing their flexibility. For example, if you put your internal inventory management application in the cloud, it opens the app to partners without letting them inside the firewall.

Enterprises can also save money if they move away from legacy development tools, hardware and the shrinking talent pool capable of working with those systems. For example, if you have a critical legacy application written in Borland Delphi, there's probably a limited number of programmers in your local market that could deal with the application -- and they won't be cheap.

If you are ready to make a move to cloud, review the various stages of an application modernization project and how to prepare your IT teams. Also, explore consulting and provider services to ease your migration journey.

6 phases of app modernization

Phase 1 -- Assessment

During the assessment phase, enterprises profile and evaluate applications. The migration team needs to assess the current state of applications and future state requirements so the application runs properly in its new environment.

Some apps aren't meant to make the cloud journey for various reasons, such as lack of a business case, compliance restrictions or cost concerns. The systems integrator -- or in-house team -- needs to account for application retirement services to aid in eliminating applications, and their dependencies, that are no longer needed.

Your migration team should work with your business users, as well as IT and security teams, during this stage. Other analysis services, such as security, compliance and cloud cost optimization, can also take place during this phase.

Six phases of application modernization as part of a cloud migration
Walk-through of the process of modernizing applications from assessment to management

Phase 2 -- Development

The application development phase involves refactoring or rewriting applications either partially or entirely with modern, cloud-native technologies. This phase is when IT teams might shift to microservices or cloud-native tools, while reassessing and reinforcing application security. A move to containerization, which increases portability, is a natural step toward migrating the application to a multi-cloud environment.

Phase 3 -- Migration

The application migration phase is where the real work takes place and works hand in hand with the development phase. Major cloud providers and third-party vendors offer a range of migration services, including migration automation, direct network links and physical transfer devices.

There are also various migration strategies, including rehost, refactor, revise, rebuild and replace. Rehost -- commonly known as lift and shift -- moves apps to the cloud as is. This technique has been the most common approach, but it's gradually giving way to other strategies.

The modern lift-and-extend approach moves an application to the cloud but replaces some app components with cloud services. For example, an enterprise might replace an on-premises MySQL database with Amazon Aurora to better integrate with other native AWS offerings.

Phase 4 -- Integration

The application integration and transformation phase focuses on the integration of newly modernized applications with other cloud services, legacy systems or external APIs.

Phase 5 -- Testing

The testing and validation phase takes place before deploying modernized applications into production. The IT and QA teams conduct extensive testing and validation to ensure that the applications function as expected, are secure and meet performance requirements.

Phase 6 -- Manage

The management and monitoring phase is the final stage of the modernization process, which is when IT teams deploy modernized applications into the cloud. Teams also set up monitoring and logging to ensure application performance, security and cost optimization.

Prepare IT teams for a modernization project

Inevitably, corporate realities affect cloud migration and app modernization efforts, whether because of budget constraints, business strategies or even internal politics. Keep this in mind as you map out your transition, and be aware of the need for everyone to buy into the process.

The pace of change can also be slowed by the complexities that come with separating legacy apps from their existing infrastructure. For example, admins may need to dust off their knowledge of SAP Adaptive Server Enterprise -- formerly Sybase SQL Server -- before they migrate those databases to the cloud.

Cloud architects also need to factor in systemic differences between on-premises data centers and the cloud. Perimeter-based security gives way to zero trust, and other governance and management processes must adapt to the dynamic nature of the cloud as well. All these concerns must be resolved before your apps go live post-migration.

Explore application modernization and migration services

The costs of app modernization and cloud migration, combined with the need for skilled cloud architects and engineers in some metropolitan markets, make automation a necessity. The major providers offer various tools to help with these projects:

  • AWS. AWS offers various migration services, such as AWS Server Migration Service, AWS Database Migration Service, AWS Application Discovery Service and AWS DataSync. These services help migrate VMs, databases and data to AWS.
  • Microsoft Azure. Azure Migrate is a centralized hub that provides tools and services to assess and migrate on-premises workloads to Azure. It includes Azure Migrate Server Migration, Azure Database Migration Service and Azure App Service migration assistant.
  • Google Cloud. Google Cloud migration services includes Google Cloud Migrate for Compute Engine, Google Cloud Database Migration Service and Google Cloud Transfer Service for on-premises data to automate migration.

There are also third-party automated migration tools in the market. One example is SurPaaS Migration as a Service (MaaS) from Corent Technology, which automates each phase of the migration and modernization process. One main feature of SurPaaS MaaS is that it analyzes your app and generates reports to propose the best migration plan.

If your staff doesn't have the necessary cloud experience, you need to hire a provider to take a systematic approach to app modernization.

Consider cloud consulting services

With the exception of the largest corporations, most IT teams outsource their app modernization and cloud migration to a third party. Still, internal teams play a critical role in the cloud migration process. They help ensure the modernization efforts are based on business-driven decisions that provide solid ROI.

If your staff doesn't have the necessary cloud experience, you need to hire a provider to take a systematic approach to app modernization. The provider should offer multiple channels to report on the project's progress, such as dashboards, status meetings and live demos. Those channels offer a means for feedback and for IT teams to approve the next steps.

DevSecOps practices are the ideal development process because they provide the development velocity, security focus and iteration ability necessary to modernize applications, while maintaining security, compliance and a schedule that'll please your users.

Large corporations look to firms such as Accenture, DXC and Deloitte for these services. Small to midsize firms often turn to regional players or independent consultants. Public cloud providers are also beefing up their professional services divisions as they seek to keep pace with the growing demand. Regardless of which approach you prefer to use, ask for client references, and do your due diligence on the prospective vendor.

The new role for AI in app modernization

AI -- and generative AI, in particular -- are helping understaffed migration teams improve app modernization and security. Check with your security and app modernization vendors to learn how AI is fitting into their product roadmaps.

Generative AI is enhancing application security and assisting organizations to streamline their security operations, letting teams focus on more strategic tasks. It is also finding its way into DevOps and DevSecOps tools and processes, helping automate tasks and reducing human error.

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