“DevOps” can feel like another world as compared to legacy systems. Countless organisations still use – and depend on – legacy applications and dated operating systems.
There’s lots of reasons why these systems have yet to be updated. It’s perfectly possible that whoever built it in the first place has left, or the original merchant doesn’t support it anymore, or the (often high) cost of maintenance, manual fixes and lengthy workarounds seems simpler than deeper, organisation-wide change.
But the cost of not acting can be much steeper. Modernising legacy systems brings a raft of benefits:
- Reducing cost of maintenance and time
- Improving user experiences
- Gleaning data-driven insights across the system
- Flexibility and scalability
- Competitive edge and quicker time-to-market
So how can DevOps, a set of practises normally thought of as part of brand new projects, bridge the gap between legacy systems and mould them into valuable components of a modern IT environment?
DNA of DevOps
To recap from our previous blog on DevOps, DevOps is a set of development practises that seamlessly links development and IT operations, avoiding the pitfalls of siloed teams and lack of communication with continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD.)
The benefits of DevOps cannot be understated, no matter the project in question.
Security: security threats continue to grow, with the costs rising in turn. With DevOps, security can be coded in and tested throughout the application lifecycle.
Resilience: by synchronising development, deployment, scaling, security, monitoring and management with a collaborative, communicative culture, points of failure are minimised. Potential issues can be flagged pre-emptively. The release process can be made repeatable for continuous improvements.
Time to market: software ships faster with a mature, high-performing DevOps practise, making frequent updates (and subsequent faster delivery) possible.
Recovery: sometimes code breaks, no matter how high-performing the delivery team is. DevOps is built on collaboration, and by collaborating they can rapidly trace and fix points of failure, facilitating the iterative release process.
Customer satisfaction: the best DevOps engineers are continuously learning. This mindset works brilliantly with CI/CD and Agile development methodologies, meaning teams can quickly respond, tweak and fix software, and release bug fixes to ensure the end-user is happy. Responding to customer feedback isn’t just about problem-solving – it’s about creating software that gives high customer satisfaction.
DevOps teams deploy code more frequently, have much shorter lead times and recover from downtime faster. Ultimately, successful DevOps significantly raises the likelihood of a system being adopted positively by an organisation, and reaping the rewards that follow.
DevOps vs legacy systems – common challenges in adoption
The fact is that legacy systems often break. In today’s world that can mean crippling inefficiencies, serious security breaches and bringing business as usual to a grinding halt. DevOps can be the solution, but that doesn’t mean the process will be entirely wrinkle-free.
Common challenges facing DevOps teams in modernising legacy systems include:
Mindset: before creating a line of code, challenges can often arise in changing the minds of the teams using the old system. The cliché often rings true – people don’t like change, despite the delays and costs legacy systems incur. Understand that this resistance often stems from fear of the unknown more than attachment to the current status quo.
Siloed tools and methods: legacy systems are notoriously buggy, and individual teams will often develop their own workarounds and tricks for using it that aren’t shared across the organisation. Unpicking these siloed ways of working is challenging, but essential to organisation-wide positive adoption of new systems.
Dated technology and architecture: legacy systems can be surprisingly old, the technology they’re built on can be outdated and unsupported and they’ve often been customised – again and again – over the years. These modified systems can be difficult to break down and remodel.
Data access: traditional legacy systems aren’t built to integrate and data access problems are common.
But the very nature of DevOps means these challenges can be overcome and legacy systems can be dramatically improved, enabling their organisations to become modern and competitive.
How DevOps breathes new life into legacy systems
It is rarely feasible to shuck out legacy systems completely because organisations depend on them, no matter how dated, to run business as usual. Old hardware, data access, flimsy codebases and technical debt make transitioning difficult.
But with four key principles of DevOps, legacy systems can be automated and modernised to great effect without needing to turn everything off.
Principle #1: automation
Avoiding the pitfalls of legacy systems with automation is key to realising the benefits of modernisation. Automation supports continuous integration and minimises manual errors. Furthermore, continuous integration brings individual development work into a central repository to speed up bug fixes and accelerate delivery for overall better software.
Principle #2: standardisation
Using standard processes across the organisation enables the organisation to onboard the system seamlessly across teams, enabling strong governance and improving clarity around processes and responsibilities.
Principle #3: shift-left
The “shift-left” DevOps practise involves automating testing – that is, automating testing much earlier in the software development process. This means bugs are caught and fixed faster so developers can focus on the quality of the build instead of waiting for errors to occur. Furthermore, they can issue feedback and make iterative changes as soon as possible, side-stepping larger delays.
Principle #4: communication and culture
As previously mentioned, the mindset and culture of the team that will be using the improved system can be a roadblock or an asset, depending on how well DevOps has been used. Cultural change needs to be fully embraced for modernised systems to properly bed in and maximise business benefits. Helping these teams to fully understand how much time, effort and resource they’ll get back with the new system, and ensuring everyone is fully trained and supported in learning how to use it, will dramatically improve employee experience and how well the improved system can perform its function.
Teaching legacy systems new tricks for business growth
DevOps more commonly springs to mind in the context of new applications rather than old ones, but the value of DevOps in improving and modernising legacy applications is clear. DevOps can take your legacy system into the modern world in a (relatively) seamless and productive way, bringing your team on the journey and helping realise business benefits that have previously been out of reach.