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Use this helpful guide to help you navigate legacy systems migration, the challenges to be aware of, and the many benefits it can have.


Learning Legacy Systems Migration Inside and Out

Posted by Angela Davis on May 18, 2023
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Companies often cling to legacy systems because they’re familiar—but using outdated technology causes unnecessary expense and leaves you open to security risks. A recent report revealed that 88% of organizations are still hindered by legacy technologies.

As the digital revolution continues apace, it’s vital for businesses to keep up with technological advancements to maintain efficiency, increase revenue, and stay ahead of the competition. The older your legacy system gets, the more of an obstacle it becomes.

According to Gartner, more than 85% of organizations plan to embrace a cloud-first principle by 2025. But what exactly is involved in swapping legacy systems for modern technology?

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the meaning of legacy systems migration, the challenges and benefits, and potential solutions.

What is a legacy systems migration?

A legacy systems migration is when an organization updates an outdated software application by moving it to a new platform, rebuilding it, or replacing it entirely. The aim is to upgrade the original system to modern technology so that it can meet the expectations of today’s business. For example, a company might migrate from an on-premise system to a cloud platform.

Considering legacy systems migration for your business

If your legacy system is not meeting the needs of today’s online customers, delivers poor performance, needs frequent updates, and is increasingly expensive to maintain, it will have a negative effect on business efficiency as a whole.Legacy systems migration might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s a complex task—there’s a lot to consider before you get started.

You’ll have to weigh up the cost and potential disruption of migration against the continued cost and effort of maintaining a legacy system. And you must ensure that the new tech is compatible with the existing systems and data formats you want to keep. 

What is a legacy application?

A legacy application is any system, software, or app built on old or obsolete technology, making it inefficient and costly to maintain. It may no longer be supported by the vendor, or the vendor may no longer exist.  

Legacy applications can include outdated computer hardware or software. Real-world examples are hardware in power plants, mainframe financial and insurance systems, and manufacturing machines controlled by computers running outdated operating systems.

Such systems can impede your ability to run the business smoothly and increase IT costs. However, legacy applications are usually critical to day-to-day operations. Replacing or adapting them with new technologies is a significant challenge.  

 Diagram outlining the advantages of undergoing legacy systems migration  

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Importance of legacy systems migration to businesses

Improves technology

The migration of legacy systems to cloud platforms or modern architectures enables you to take advantage of new technologies such as AI, machine learning, and big data.

You’ll be able to access real-time data from anywhere, get support for a remote working model, and set up automatic backups—none of which are possible with legacy applications. Older systems require downtime to perform upgrades, but new solutions can implement the latest versions of software almost instantly.

Improves performance

After a legacy migration, you’ll see a significant increase in efficiency and productivity, which means an improved user experience for both employees and customers.

There’s no need to find workarounds for functions that don’t work properly or waste time restarting applications when they crash. Data loading performance is improved by integrating into the cloud, whereas local storage causes slow loading and potential data loss.

Enhances compatibility and scalability

Legacy applications often cannot connect easily to newer technologies, such as web or mobile interfaces. So if you do try to integrate any new software into your IT stack, you probably won’t get the full functionality.

But with a legacy system migration, you’ll have the flexibility to mix and match applications and ensure seamless data flow between them. Plus, cloud-based systems with no physical hardware make it far easier to scale up when needed.

Protects data

Legacy systems might seem like a tried-and-true way to store valuable data, but that’s not the case. As the technology ages, it becomes more vulnerable to breaches, viruses, and data loss—especially if you have a situation where you can’t recover your information should there be a breach.

To handle the latest threats, software requires constant updates and patches. Legacy systems struggle to implement these, but migration or modernization will help to keep you safe.


Challenges of a legacy system migration

Legacy systems are ingrained into your company’s workflows. Apart from the fear of change, here are some other challenges involved in rebuilding or replacing them:

Maintenance costs

Modernizing legacy systems often requires an up-front investment, but don’t overlook the potential for ongoing costs. For example, the price of buying cloud capacity might outweigh the benefits, and you need to check that the vendor has a transparent pricing model.

Another hidden cost is maintenance. For instance, if you use ESB (enterprise service bus) and middleware to connect old and new apps, you’ll have to factor in the cost of training, engineers, monitoring, and patch management.

Security risks

Your existing systems will have been modified many times over the years, creating a patchwork of fixes created each time a security issue or other modification was identified. If these instances were not well documented at the time, it’s possible that the migration project could re-expose you to the risks.

In addition, it might not be possible to automate every aspect of the migration, which means data needs to be entered or modified manually. This can lead to more issues due to human error and the time-consuming nature of the task.

Diagram demonstrating the challenges to legacy app modernization

Data audit for users

Apart from the security issues, data migration from legacy systems is a complex process and a resource-intensive task. It requires an audit to evaluate the state of the data, determine how much of it needs to be migrated, and in what format it should be post-migration.

Migration requires high data protection measures, and it’s not uncommon for data to become corrupted or lost during the process. You’ll need to make a backup of your data and put a disaster recovery plan in place.

Software conformity

Your legacy system migration will also run into problems if your existing software is incompatible with the new system. This is particularly likely if you created custom integration solutions as workarounds to extend the life of the legacy application.

It’s also possible that you’ve lost track of all the applications that integrate with an old system. You’ll need to categorize all the elements, especially the custom ones, and ensure that you find a workable solution before the data migration takes place.

Software license use

Don’t forget that your new system might need a new license enabling you to purchase or remove some software. When you migrate to a new system over time, there may be an unavoidable period of overlap between the previous software license and the new one—incurring extra costs.

It’s best to pick software platforms that can be deployed on any of the major clouds, as they’re typically available with quick installation and cloud licenses.

Hardware compatibility

If you can find a cloud solution that’s compatible with your existing system hardware, you can reduce the cost of the migration. But if the legacy system is super-old, that’s harder to do—meaning you’ll have to replace the hardware as well.

Meanwhile, your software apps may be dependent on a particular OS, which can only run on a certain version of hardware. If vendor support for that hardware has ceased, you must check that the app can run on an upgraded platform.

Legacy system migration types

There are a couple of different ways to carry out a legacy system migration, and your choice will depend on how comprehensive you want the migration to be.

Lift and shift migration

This method is also known as rehosting. It’s when you migrate your system and its data to a cloud platform without making significant changes to the application architecture. By simply copying everything to the cloud, you avoid the time and expense of a full business transformation.

Typically, you’d choose a lift and shift migration to address a technical bottleneck in IT operational activities, rather than a problem that’s affecting the whole business.

Example of lift and shift system migration

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Business transformation

If your legacy system is causing wider inefficiencies, a business transformation is the more complete option. For instance, you might want to swap monolithic software architecture for a more scalable solution. This type of migration requires rebuilding or replacing the original system. It’s likely to have a bigger upfront cost, but with lift and shift you’ll be paying ongoing fees to the host.


Facilitate your business’s legacy systems migration seamlessly with OpenLegacy

OpenLegacy is a cloud-native platform for legacy modernization, designed to build bridges between your old and new systems. You can easily standardize, reuse, or create digital services to meet modern business needs, while reducing the complexity, time, cost, and risk of a migration.

The hybrid integrations strategy makes the legacy systems migration process as smooth as possible, quickly generating and deploying digital services from legacy assets with no changes or special skills required. You can manage those services as cloud-native applications and deploy them to any cloud or hybrid cloud.

No matter whether you’re modernizing in place, replatforming, or replacing the entire legacy application, OpenLegacy meets all the challenges we discussed earlier. It connects directly to on-premises legacy and core systems. OpenLegacy automatically generates digital-ready code and deploys it as standard microservices or serverless functions. Continuous development means your mission-critical systems remain stable—and with reduced reliance on ESB middleware, overall costs and maintenance are lower. 



FAQs on legacy systems migration

How do you modernize a legacy system?

Modernization is the process of updating, migrating, or optimizing a legacy system to include modern platform infrastructure, architecture, and features. This may include rehosting applications in the cloud, using containers or Kubernetes, or switching to microservices instead of monolithic systems.

Start by evaluating your legacy system to see how it measures up in terms of flexibility, cost, and risk. If it’s too expensive, no longer able to meet business needs, or poses a security risk, you can take the decision to modernize. Define the nature of these problems and set your objectives.

There may be elements of the system that still work well, so decide what you want to keep. Then choose a modernization strategy based on timeframe, cost, security, and scalability—ensuring that it will meet your company’s future needs. Your choices are as follows:

  • Retain/encapsulate (retain or reuse components within a new architecture)
  • Rehost (“lift and shift” application components to other infrastructure)
  • Replatform (move the existing code to a new platform)
  • Refactor (optimize the code and make changes to its structure)
  • Re Architect (significantly alter the code to shift it to a new architecture)
  • Rebuild (redesign or rewrite the application from scratch)
  • Replace (find a completely new product).

Whichever option is right for you, make sure you choose the right partner to help you through the modernization process. And, while the transition is in progress, carry out iterative testing to spot any problems with hosting, software licensing, or connectivity to other services.

What is the limitation of legacy systems?

Image depicting the limitations of legacy systems. 

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There are many limitations to legacy systems, including low efficiency, poor connectivity, and a lack of visibility into data flows.

They’re often unable to run or integrate the latest software programs unless you can find a workaround—and the need for manual intervention takes time and costs money. Meanwhile, you’re stuck with redundant features or functions that don’t do what they’re supposed to.

As legacy systems get older, the maintenance costs get higher, and there are fewer people with the skill set to manage them. Vendor support may become obsolete, which means you won’t automatically receive updates and bug fixes. This leads to security issues, leaving you at risk of malware attacks.

Outdated systems also lack stability and are prone to failures and outages, causing disruption to the business. As well as hindering staff productivity, this provides a bad user experience for customers, which can damage your company’s reputation.

Are legacy systems flexible?

In a word, no. Legacy systems suffer from inherent inflexibility, which makes them difficult or even impossible to adapt or customize. Your existing system may not be able to handle any changes in your workflow and processes. It probably won’t be able to connect to new applications or let you access data from mobile devices.

Because legacy systems can’t keep up with the pace of technological change or adapt to the modern business environment, they are holding many companies back. For example, if you wanted to start offering online insurance services to your customers, you couldn’t do it without an insurance legacy system transformation.

Legacy systems migration gives you almost endless flexibility. Your upgraded or replacement solution will be able to handle updates, integrate with other applications, and adapt to process changes without disrupting your business operations.

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