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GCN : August 2015
LEGACY SYSTEMS OTHER MIGRATION ROUTES A problem with many legacy appli- cations is that they were written in a monolithic or vertical way, said Jason Andersen, vice president of business line management at Stratus Technolo- gies. That approach makes it difficult to migrate the applications because they are not compatible with the cur- rent service-oriented IT architectures, in which applications tend to be spread across various tiers and services. There- fore, legacy applications --- particularly mission-critical ones --- often require a wholesale rewrite in order to migrate them. One solution would be to also re- work some of the infrastructure on which those applications depend. In- stead of putting most of the reliabil- ity and security into the applications themselves, which was the old way of doing things, agencies could put that functionality into the infrastructure. It would cost a bit more, but agencies would save on the iterative testing and requalification that the rewritten and often significantly larger applications would require, Andersen said. Another approach is to move the application to a more amenable infra- structure, but there are some poten- tial pitfalls, he added. The application might have been written for an operat- ing system that's no longer supported or it might include special hooks or ap- plication programming interfaces that must be accommodated. An evolving approach to upgrading or migrating applications is to only move certain parts of them, Andersen said. "Essentially, the application gets tweaked by putting the right API set in front of it, then you can move it piece by piece," he added. "So you might move the user interface first, or the transaction or message queue, then save the hardest part for last, the one that could really bite you." That hardest part will happen only when an agency understands how everything works together and has a stable infrastructure in place. Ander- sen said that's one of the reasons why there are still so many mainframes in government: Agencies elected to move the parts they could and left behind the pieces they didn't want to mess with, so "they kind of did a hybrid mi- gration, if you will." A PREFERENCE FOR STARTING FRESH Stan Tyliszczak, staff vice president for technology integration and chief en- gineer at General Dynamics IT, said it would be less risky to migrate a legacy application as a whole because the various pieces of the application are working together as an ecosystem. Database applications, for example, rely on fairly high-speed connectivity between front and back ends, and if an agency were to separate those piec- es --- perhaps by putting a wide-area network between them, with the kind of latencies that produces --- the ap- plication might wind up not working at all. Even so, he admitted to a growing interest in what he called split solu- tions --- "such things as an analytical cloud that gives access to analysis tools that are tied into a data lake that has disparate sources around the world, not just your own, and you can choose the most appropriate tools for the job [and] can create very robust solutions. If you can have that kind of environ- ment, it's a different story, but we are only at the very front edges of deploy- ing that kind of technology today." Given their druthers --- and bud- gets --- most agencies would probably prefer to develop applications from scratch in the cloud rather than mi- grate legacy applications. That's what DOD IT professionals would do, ac- cording to a recent MeriTalk survey. More than half of the respondents said building new is the smarter way to go, versus just 18 percent who chose mi- gration. Some 28 percent anticipated using a mix of both strategies. Security concerns, the need to main- tain data structure and the fact that the legacy applications were custom- built to DOD requirements were the chief reasons respondents gave for choosing migration over building new applications. However, the cost of mi- grating was a major concern. Tyliszczak said the study shows that, given the choice, agencies would pre- fer to build something new so they would not have to deal with all the thorny issues that bubble beneath the surface with a legacy application. Mi- gration is only advantageous when an application was developed recently and when migrating it is fairly easy and does not pose a big risk, he said. In the end, agencies must make their own decisions about whether and how to migrate applications based on the best way to use scarce resources and constrained budgets. For that reason alone, some legacy applications might remain in dedicated, on-premise hard- ware or, at best, in virtualized environ- ments with spruced-up, Web-capable front ends. Wennergren said several things could happen given the tough finan- cial environment that agencies oper- ate in today. Budget pressures could prompt people to lead the charge to- ward change. But instead people often hunker down and protect what they have "because it's easier to defend the programs of record, and that's often why we tend to hold onto legacy stuff for too long," he added. That's also a reason why govern- ment still spends so much on maintain- ing legacy systems. Perhaps the OPM breaches will be the final straw that pushes legacy issues ahead of other pri- orities. "It's clear we've fallen behind on IT modernization," Wennergren said, "and it's clear that it has to be addressed.” • 20 GCN AUGUST 2015 • GCN.COM