Bringing DevOps Automation to Legacy Systems

A critical step toward adopting automation for legacy applications is to change your organization’s mindset about legacy systems.

Applying automation to operations isn’t always straightforward, especially with older systems that don’t easily fit into typical DevOps automation tools and strategies. However, legacy systems don’t have to sit on the sidelines of your DevOps automation strategy. Using the right tools and methodologies, it’s possible to integrate legacy system requirements with modern automation techniques.

Most organizations that adopt DevOps for conventional applications use automation tools and techniques, including Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) and Configuration-as-Code (CaC), automated testing, release automation and application orchestration. If you’ve been paying attention to DevOps for any length of time, you probably are familiar with the concepts.

However, those DevOps automation solutions aren’t always straightforward to implement with legacy systems made up of hardware or software deployed long before modern, DevOps-friendly application architectures and deployment strategies existed.

For example, IaC tools may not support the configuration languages or management tools that the systems require. Most current systems are configured using languages like YAML, but legacy systems may depend on proprietary configuration languages and frameworks.

For similar reasons, test automation can be cumbersome. Today’s automation frameworks are designed for browser-based or mobile apps. Legacy systems may run locally and often use proprietary user interfaces, making automating testing using standard frameworks more difficult.

Likewise, many release automation and application orchestration platforms are designed for applications deployed using containers. Because containers didn’t become popular until the release of Docker in 2013, most legacy systems have limited native support for application containerization.

Bringing Automation to Legacy Systems

Fortunately, these obstacles are possible to overcome. Addressing these challenges requires adopting innovative practices that enable the integration of automation with legacy systems:
Migrate to the cloud: Legacy system vendors now offer cloud-based hosting platforms. While transferring legacy workloads from on-premises to the Cloud doesn’t automatically enable all DevOps automation features, it does significantly facilitate the use of automatically scalable infrastructure. Organizations can move workloads between cloud data centers to mitigate failures in a single location.
Containerize legacy workloads: In certain situations, it’s possible to get a legacy application to run in a container. That allows businesses to manage the older software using orchestration solutions like Kubernetes, bringing much greater agility and scalability to legacy application management.
Use machine learning: Incorporating machine learning into monitoring and management operations for legacy systems helps to detect issues effectively in contexts where conventional automation is not feasible. For example, if you can’t run automated tests for a legacy application because Selenium won’t support it, advanced ML techniques might help you identify bugs based on how the application behaves.
Change your mindset: Instead of classifying legacy systems as outdated and inefficient environments, treat them with equal respect to all the other applications within your IT estate. When your team approaches legacy systems from a perspective that values them, it becomes much easier to refine a corporate culture toward collaboration and innovation that extends to those legacy systems as well.

To Optimize DevOps Automation, Don’t Ignore Legacy Environments

There’s no denying that automating the management of legacy apps for DevOps teams is often more challenging than implementing automation for modern apps. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Many organizations successfully adopt automation as a strategy for improving the flexibility and quality of legacy apps, while also reducing the costs of building and deploying them. But to achieve this, it’s necessary to think beyond the conventional approaches of DevOps.

Kausik Chaudhuri

Kausik Chaudhuri is the CIO of Lemongrass.

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