Expanding legacy apps

A trend dubbed "legacy evolution" offers hope if you work at one of the estimated 10,000 major organizations still using a hierarchical or flat file database running Cobol applications. Or, for that matter, if your company continues to run a 1990s client/server application on a mini or Windows-based system.

As with any legacy, old systems retain intrinsic value that you don't want to lose, even though they may be functionally obsolete.

Typically, the workflows and business logic built into legacy apps are timeless, even if the legacy hardware and software need modernizing. That's why the emphasis is on "evolution", not "legacy". Whether you want to transition from IBM VSAM to DB2 or simply put a Web front end on a Sybase PowerBuilder client/server application, you can't merely throw away the old stuff because the workflows and business processes hold core business value. What you really want is to enhance the current system, make it easier to maintain, and possibly integrate it with additional processes.

One provider of legacy evolution products is BluePhoenix Solutions which focuses most of its attention on transitioning from flat file databases and the thousands of applications that run on them to relational databases.

One BluePhoenix customer, Lawson Products, is making a transition from an IBM VSE mainframe system using an IDMS flat file database over to DB2 on an MVS IBM mainframe. The company will be converting about 2000 programs.

This conversion will give Lawson the ability to perform database field expansion -- and position the company for future growth toward an SOA development environment, according to Karen Larson, senior director of applications at Lawson.

Seagull has a different approach. It is, as Seagull CIO Andre den Haan says, noninvasive, where a Web services layer wraps around existing applications and components, enabling customers to create composite applications out of legacy systems without altering legacy code.

"With Sarbanes-Oxley, many customers need to do additional processes. You can't just enter a PO as you do in a legacy system. There needs to be a business process in front of that for compliance," Den Haan says.

BluePhoenix's Kilman says 90 percent of the companies that are using ageing systems could be forced off them within the next five years. If they don't evolve those systems, "they will disappear. It is that simple", Kilmen tells me.

Words to live by, if you ask me.

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