Achieve Biden Administration Cloud Goals with these Approaches to Legacy Modernization

  • September 22, 2021

Modernizing legacy systems to take advantage of cloud computing is a clear directive for many agencies, as we explored in our last article. (Found here ICYMI.) While there are many benefits to modernization, the path from legacy to modern can be less obvious, as some agencies have discovered in their challenged attempts to modernize. Muddying the waters in part are the diverging paths to modernization, in this article we’ll share five primary modernization options and present our perspective on optimal phases to help ensure success along the modernization journey.

Five approaches to modernization

For federal, state and local governments looking to modernize legacy systems, there are several primary approaches to consider. Often called the “5 Rs”, each approach has its own pros and cons which we’ve assembled into this handy table for you.




ReplaceReplace an existing system with a commercialoff-the-shelf product (COTS) like SAP or Salesforce.

  • Savevaluable resources, allowing you to dedicate them to other legacy systemmodernization efforts.

  • Will typically change the functionality available, resulting in the need to change your processes.

Re-host or lift and shift: Redeploy the existing application in a like-for-like fashion, retaining existing source code and functionality.

  • Keeps your existing functionalityin place.

  • Often the quickest way to move to the cloud.

  • Solutions like NTT DATA’s UniKix help streamline the re-hosting process.

  • Ideal first step in the modernization journey.

  • Doesn’t take advantage of cloud-native benefits like elasticity and cost optimization features.

Recoding: Conversion oflegacy code to a more modern language,e.g.,COBOL to Java or C#.

  • Retains expected functionality.

  • Automated tooling is available to help.

  • Often this syntax changedoesn’t take advantage of the benefits of the target language.

  • Can result in code bloat that is a sizeable project to streamline once code is in the new language.

Rewrite: Rewrite the applicationfrom scratchusing traditional methods.

  • Can produce crisp code that takes advantage of features in the language and the cloud.

  • Includes desired features and functionality as determined in the scoping process.

  • A time and resource intensive process, which is especially risky when you consider thatroughly half of all application rewrites fail.

Refactor or rearchitect: Matches and/or enhances functionality and provides best practice modern architecture using a tooling assisted approach.

  • Retains the best features of the original application while removing unneeded functionality.

  • Takes advantage of cloud-native benefits like security, scalability, and more.

  • Maximizeoperational and cost efficiencies.

  • Time and resource intensive.


The modernization journey 

Rather than simply choosing one of the 5Rs, we encourage our clients to think of modernization as a journey in which there are different phases, and different potential outcomes based on the needs of each workload. This crawl, walk, run approach to mainframe modernization creates iterative improvements that help agencies see more immediate ROI that grows momentum for future phases. 

Phase 1: The first phase is rehosting of the legacy application. By simply lifting and shifting the legacy workload to the cloud, agencies can unlock immediate savings in the form of hardware costs and software licensing fees. We typically see agencies save 30-70% in this first phase. While the workloads are migrated to the cloud, we recommend that agencies begin adopting DevOps practices and processes like CI/CD with pipelines to support. Beginning to institute culture change that supports the new technologies is also important at this phase of the journey. 

Phase 2: The second phase in the journey presents agencies with two diverging options. We recommend you select based on the complexity of the workload, how imperative it is to the services your agency provides, and the team’s skills and bandwidth. 

Option A: Refactor to cloud-native using a microservices architecture. Taking advantage of cloud-native features and functionality enables agencies to maximize inherent cost optimization of the cloud as well as provide a platform for digital innovation and operational excellence. While this approach bears greater up-front investment, agencies benefit from the security features of immutable infrastructure, auto-scaling, greater elasticity and more.  

Option B: Build a new, modern front-end for the service using a low-code or no-code platform. This option affords agencies the luxury of a user-friendly interface that helps ensure end user satisfaction while reducing the application’s resource drain on the agency. This approach is a good fit for applications that cannot be modernized due to technology and/or cost constraints or are less imperative to the agency’s overall mission.  

While every agency will have a mix of option A and B workloads in their portfolio, it’s advisable to conduct a thorough analysis before you begin, assessing the right path for each legacy application in the agency.  

Determine the right journey 

For each workload it is helpful to define the ideal outcome from its modernization. For example, is it reduced costs, greater reliability, addressing skills gaps or something else? And determine if you have resources within the agency with in-depth knowledge of the workload. If so, are they available to help with its modernization or should you look for a knowledgeable partner to help? 

NTT DATA has over 20 years’ experience modernizing legacy systems. Learn more about accessing the billions of dollars available in the American Rescue plan from Joe Kyle, VP of Strategy, Public Sector:

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Noel Hara

Noel Hara is an experienced strategist that infuses technology solutions across the public sector to help solve the most challenging problems. As Chief Technology Officer with NTT DATA’s public sector, he blends over two decades of experience in the public and private sector with an insatiable curiosity for technology and applications. Since the start of the global pandemic, Noel has been responsible for adapting the company’s offering portfolio to support clients in their shift to remote working and learning while continuing to support constituents through the expansion of digital government.

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