Overcoming the Integration Ties that Bind Us to Legacy Systems

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IT definitely has a love/hate relationship with legacy apps. On the one hand, you hate them, because they don't play well with the newer technologies. They're hard to maintain and nobody wants the dead-end job of coding with legacy apps. On the other hand, you love them, because you're already invested in them-literally and figuratively -- by and large they work, and who wants the hassle of replacing them with something new?


You doubt it? Consider research analyst R "Ray" Wang's recent post on "10 SaaS/Cloud Strategies For Legacy Apps Environments," in which he cites a recent survey of more than 300 companies. Seventy-three respondents who were "wary' of SaaS and the cloud were asked to list the top three reasons they didn't plan to deploy a SaaS/cloud solution in the next 12 months. Their top three reasons? All related directly or indirectly to legacy apps and a culture of legacy apps.


Of course, one big reason organizations have such a hard time abandoning legacy apps has nothing to do with preference and everything to do with integration. Akiva Marks, a senior software architect and consultant, calls this phenomena "Integration Spaghetti," which he defines as "when the connectivity to/from an application is so complex that everyone is afraid of touching it."


In this situation, Marks writes, the complexity can actually give legacy systems a sort of wicked immortality:

If the primary system is replaced, it's not unusual that the new system won't be integrated into all the old connections-this would require actually understanding each existing connection, extracting it and redirecting/reconnecting it to the new system-rather the OLD SYSTEM will stay around to act as the connection point for all the existing spaghetti connections and the new system will become an integration, taking data feeds or a regular ETL load, off the old system! Meaning the old system lives forever!

I'm pretty sure there's a Doctor Who episode about exactly this sort of invasive, pervasive leech, and if not, there should be.


It's also worth asking yourself how much these legacy systems have intertwined their way into our thinking about technology. The survey's No. 1 reason for being wary of SaaS/Cloud was actually a "legacy apps CIO," someone so "vested in protecting the existing investments," they won't consdier new options. Likewise, the No. 3 reason was an IT team that wouldn't take the time to understand SaaS/cloud. "SaaS requires organizations to revisit SOA strategies, integration requirements, and master data management," writes Wang. That's just not something some IT teams are willing to do.


"Challenging assumptions is never simple, but it is essential if we want to stop dragging the legacy solutions anchor around and inhibiting progress," Gartner's Mike Rollings warned in an August blog post.


So you have to wonder, which is the bigger obstacle, Integration Spaghetti or legacy thinking? Maybe it's equally both.


Either way, Wang offers a 10-step strategy for moving beyond legacy apps. You can view the list two ways: In part, it's a guideline for individual companies, and in part it's a guideline for the SaaS/Cloud market as a whole. What's nice about Wang's list is that it offers baby steps, giving both the legacy- and the integration-bound among you time to adjust and unravel.