5 Best Practices for Connecting Legacy Apps to the Cloud

How to avoid the most common and costly mistakes businesses make when integrating legacy systems with cloud apps.

By Glenn Johnson, Senior Vice President, Magic Software Enterprises Americas

There are plenty of incentives for IT teams to pursue integration between legacy and cloud-based applications. Lack of integration creates daily challenges, significant expenses, and threats to the agility of an organization. How enterprises pursue that integration can make the difference between pitfalls and positive possibilities.

Five Mistakes Businesses Make

Integrating legacy systems with cloud-based applications is a complex matter with ample room for error. The most frequent, overpriced, poorly functioning and even damaging mistakes businesses make include:

Mistake #1. Replacing the whole system.

Some enterprises choose to avoid the challenges of integration by creating a new system that replaces the full functionality of the old one. This is the most costly, difficult, and risk-prone option, but it does offer a long-term solution and may provide a system that is sufficiently agile to respond to changing business needs. Despite that potential pay-off, complete replacement requires a large, up-front investment for development, poses difficulties in duplicating behavior of the legacy system, and increases the risk of complete software project failure.

Mistake #2. Wrapping existing legacy applications.

Often, organizations decide to wrap their legacy assets in shiny, more modern interfaces. These interfaces allow the use of a more flexible service-orientated architecture (SOA) approach, but they do not actually help make the system more flexible or easier to maintain. Certainly, wrapping allows increased access to the legacy system by other systems and the potential to replace individual parts on a piecemeal basis.

Although wrapping presents a modest up-front cost and relatively low risk, it fails to solve the core problem of legacy systems; enterprises still need to maintain outdated assets and still suffer from a lack of agility. To make matters worse, the look and feel of the wrappers are rarely elegant and quickly become dated themselves.

Mistake #3. Giving up and living with what you have.

Integration is difficult, and perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that so many IT leaders go down this road. Despite the appearance of avoiding risk by avoiding change, giving up does not offer any hope of alleviating the legacy problem and provides only stagnation. Living with what you have frees you from up-front costs, but it denies you the ability to reduce maintenance expenses, increase operational efficiencies, or increase business agility that could boost your enterprise’s competitive advantage.

Mistake #4. Having the IT team create the utilities necessary to link individual applications.

This scenario occurs frequently but generally for a short time. Enterprises quickly discover that manually writing interfaces to accommodate obsolete platforms and programming languages is resource-intensive and prone to error.

Mistake #5: Implementing highly complex middleware solutions.

When considering a cloud integration platform, be sure there are not too many moving parts. If the middleware platform itself is so complex that you have to choose from among dozens of different products and then integrate the middleware to itself first before you can even begin to integrate your legacy applications to the cloud, you have a problem.

If middleware requires the use of one or more programming or scripting language, you have another problem. A unified integration platform will simplify legacy application integration with the cloud.

Five Best Practices for Legacy App Integration

Just as there are multiple ways to stumble during legacy and cloud integration, there are multiple ways to succeed. An integration platform can enable IT to automatically apply mission-critical data changes to every system, saving manpower, reducing human error and improving productivity. When seeking out such a platform, consider the following best practices:

Best Practice #1: Avoid manual coding.

Instead, use one tool capable of connecting to and from the cloud and all legacy applications and instantly integrating them without the need for the manual coding that strains internal teams.

Best Practice #2: Look for true integration without gaps.

Share data and processes with other applications via built-in support for different environments and platforms that bridge the gap between them. To accomplish integration with legacy systems, a full complement of adapters to technologies such as message queues, FTP, databases, and legacy application logic may be needed.

Best Practice #3: Insist on automation.

An integration platform should allow legacy systems to easily connect and consume newly created Web services. Integration platforms make this possible by orchestrating and monitoring each instance of a business process with automated error-handling and exceptions management. This effectively integrates legacy applications and cloud-based applications, including those on and off site.

Best Practice #4: Find and use future-proof expertise.

Minimize risk, foster innovation and identify mobile and cloud-ready architecture that can take you forward. Future-proof developing business processes by reducing the influence of underlying technology.

Best Practice #5: Don’t cede control to outsiders.

Retain control over proprietary business processes by calling on outside assistance at the start of your integration project while you build integration expertise in-house. Insist on partners who have a collaborative way of working with you and training you every step along the way and who do not simply build black box solutions for you.

The Time is Right for Modernization

Never before has it been so important to research and pursue best practices in legacy application integration with the cloud. Consumer requirements and business models are rapidly changing, and reliance on legacy systems can stand in the way of a business incorporating the richly interactive (Web-based) and mobile experiences users demand. Furthermore, holding fast to legacy systems can threaten regulation and reporting compliance, and asking staff to integrate manually with the cloud can be grueling if not impossible.

Understandably, businesses want to synchronize their data exchange between legacy investments and new applications and processes. This is a critical capability when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, process definition and monitoring, compliance processes, and connection to modern messaging systems.

There is a clear mandate from within the enterprise and without to accomplish integration faster, more reliably and more easily. By following several best practices and avoiding some common mistakes, enterprises can develop its service-oriented architecture, including legacy applications.

Glenn Johnson is senior vice president at Magic Software Enterprises Americas, where he is responsible for evangelizing cloud architecture, mobile application platforms, and integration solutions. You can contact the author at gjohnson@magicsoftware.com
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