Modernization of Legacy Software with Microservices: Pros and Cons

Understand the value of microservices in modernizing your legacy software systems

It’s all too common to see complex, monolithic software systems in both government and commercial IT systems. Although these applications often start out small, they can quickly expand into different departments throughout the organization as new functionalities are added. The more successful app from the outset, the more likely it is to expand in its capabilities until too many features and dependencies burden it.

This is when your software becomes unsustainable and unmanageable. It’s unable to adapt to fast-changing market demands and the evolving business environment. And for most companies, it’s simply not feasible to eliminate their existing IT systems entirely in the short term, which drives over 70% of to turn to legacy software modernization.

The path to software modernization and innovation is often built on microservices and containers, modern application development tools and approaches, and cloud migration processes. If you decide to take this path, the goal here is to figure out the best way to renew your software solutions to squeeze maximum benefit from applied technology solutions and modern enterprise application architecture. The right engineering teams can redesign and recode your legacy application to modernize both the user interface and, more importantly, the level of performance.

As you might expect, the software modernization process is not simple. And it gets even more complex when you need to integrate the emerging technologies that so many businesses today need to stay competitive. Based on our expertise, the correct approach to re-engineering legacy software includes understanding the business requirements and objectives, auditing the existing processes and structure, identifying the right places for microservices patterns, as well as developing a comprehensive software modernization strategy.

The Introduction to Architecture: Monolithic vs. Microservices

The evolution of engineering technologies has changed our approach to custom application development, as well as legacy application modernization.

The monolithic architecture is the traditional architectural style that many large-scale enterprise software systems still employ. It consists of one massive code base with various modules that are divided for technical and business features. In most cases, the monolithic structure is a common choice for pilot projects, when companies are not sure whether new functionality will be added or not. However, as soon as the application starts to grow changing and testing become cumbersome and slow.

If companies decide to add new or extend existing features, they have to scale the entire solution, complicating further updates. Software engineers work within the same code base, and their changes affect the whole stack at once. What does that mean to your company? Even small updates can lead to malfunctioning or downtime of the entire application.

On the other hand, in the microservice architecture style, an application is built as a set of small independent services that communicate with each other through APIs. All the units comprise their own logic and database and each performs a specific function. As a result, each module can be scaled, updated, tested, deployed, or maintained independently. Microservice architecture is highly cohesive, autonomous, business-domain focused, resilient, observable, and automated.

Building microservices within large enterprise applications, software developers can work in parallel within separate components. If there is a bug in one module, it won’t affect the entire system, and it will continue working as expected. That’s why the microservice approach is commonly applied to high load systems.

Blog App Dev - Monolithic vs Microservices - TEAM International
Monolithic vs. Microservices

The influence of microservice architecture on business

Despite the risks and problems related to obsolete software, most organizations still lack modernization planning processes and initiatives. Many only consider system enhancement in case of emergency, like a software outage or excessive application malfunctioning that continually interrupts day-to-day operations.

This becomes a significant business problem when you consider the costs involved. We estimate that operating and maintaining legacy software can consume up to 80 percent of your IT budget. Yes, you heard right, 80 percent. This huge chunk of your budget could and should be more effectively used to drive business innovation and optimization through innovative technologies like AI and ML, process automation services like RPA, and other software innovation projects that help your business maintain its competitive advantage.

When it comes to software enhancement, there is no one-size-fits-all approach or scenario, as everything depends on the problem that you need to solve. However, we’ve analyzed legacy modernization projects within TEAM International to define the most common advantages that this service can offer to businesses.

  • Lower risk: A “legacy enterprise application” is an extensive system that performs day-to-day tasks and serves as a technical foundation within a company. Businesses are dependent on their IT products, which places them at risk. But with the microservices framework, if one unit fails, it won't take out the entire software platform. Ultimately, this means that small service malfunctions can go unnoticed by your users.
  • Faster time to market: Your team can advance a module without redeploying the entire system as well as easily roll them back and forward if something goes wrong. New feature releases and bug fixes are faster, less risky, and more manageable.
  • Better scalability: For most companies that we cooperate with, software limitations are among the top pain point driving the need for legacy application modernization. The inability to add new functionalities or integrate emerging technologies slows down your business and sets your industry leadership at stake. With the microservices approach, you can scale each unit independently. This process is more time- and cost-effective, it also won't get in the way of further web application development and maintenance.
  • Advanced security: Legacy software often falls short of the mark when it comes to rapidly evolving security and compliance requirements, especially in industries like financial services, healthcare, and insurance.

    For example, TEAM helped a leading insurance company to leverage the benefits of MS Azure microservices concept to improve system stability, data security, and maintenance. Today, the system is comprised of self-contained components where data is stored on different servers rather than just one. This helps greatly reduce the risk of security threats and malfunctioning, as any potential issue would be confined by each server.

  • Seamless maintenance: Legacy software support and maintenance is the #1 concern for many industry leaders. With a monolithic app, even a small bug can break down the entire system. Refactoring is time-consuming and cumbersome. And it’s nearly impossible to track the changes, meaning QA engineers spend more time testing the whole system instead of newly-released components. And although microservice architecture can be complex and requires solid DevOps knowledge to configure the servers, development/testing/production environments, CI / CD, etc., we believe the benefits it brings are more than worth the investment.

Considering risks and challenges of legacy software modernization

When we discuss enterprise application modernization initiatives with our clients, there are two main concerns: time and cost. Of course, large-scale systems can’t be renewed in just a week or two, regardless of the number of software engineers and MS Azure experts on the job. We’ve decided to share some of the most common challenges from our own experience and the most effective ways to solve them.

  • New structure and development approach: Employees need time and assistance to adjust to management changes. Knowledge sharing activities like training and coaching help mitigate these risks and speed up the onboarding process.
  • Priorities and workflow: Most clients we work with own multiple legacy applications within one organization. It’s of utmost importance to analyze business requirements and objectives to create a comprehensive reengineering strategy that allows time and resources for each software system individually. Accurate planning of the reengineering process gets all teams on the same page and prevents confusion that can hinder the process.
  • Complexity: A microservice-based application includes more moving parts than an average monolithic system, meaning it requires domain expertise and a mature DevOps culture to configure and manage it. Software engineering teams should implement inter-service communication, technology consistency, versioning, and data integrity to ensure stable performance and simplified maintenance in the long run. We promote knowledge sharing and continuous learning within TEAM International to develop the necessary skill sets of our DevOps teams.

The Bottom Line

Although most large organizations recognize the value in intelligent digital transformation, many struggle to find the fastest and most effective pathway to get there. It requires alignment and active collaboration between IT, operations, and business leaders from all departments. The key to successful software innovation is to define the cause of your system problems, whether that be the architecture, underlying technology, or specific functionalities of the system. With the problem identified, you can then apply the microservices development approach to optimize and enhance your legacy system.

Microservices can offer substantial advantages to your business, including an increase in agility, security, transparency, scalability, and predictability. Many industry leaders like Amazon, Twitter, PayPal, The Guardian, and Netflix have already successfully switched from monolith to microservices. And leading companies from a range of different industries are not far behind.

Real digital transformation of your legacy systems requires deep expertise and mature processes. Leveraging a reliable IT partner with proven microservices experience in application development can prove extremely beneficial in terms of speed and cost-effectiveness. At TEAM International, we take responsibility for every stage of legacy software modernization process. We help you analyze business requirements and objectives, audit existing processes and software solutions, create a comprehensive strategy, prioritize, select the best technologies and platforms, as well as share knowledge with your team and promote the microservices implementation throughout your organization.

Learn more about how TEAM can help drive innovation across your business with best-in-class custom software development services.

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