Building Legacy Systems Today
Capgemini Australia vice president technology Bradley Freeman says the real danger is that legacy thinking is still leading to monolithic developments, which will result in future legacy platforms certain to cause the same sorts of problems in 10 years time as those organizations are experiencing now. He says organizations across all industry sectors, including financial institutions and big government agencies, are failing to take advantage of adaptive architectures and adaptive techniques while continuing to build on another layer of legacy for the future rather than trying to produce something more nimble.
"A classic example is the continuing implementation of old-style ERP systems," he says. "We are seeing a huge wave of that out of Europe again. While the software is fresh it's still implemented in the old-style ERP ways. There are massive layers of software architecture in there. What we would like to see is recognition that an architecture is multiple layers, multiple pieces, so we need to look at the best way of filling each block rather than filling the whole thing in one go."
Analysts might be able to show moving to an SOA leads to lower costs of ownership long-term, Freeman says, but many organizations still find it difficult to come to terms with the new environment, which requires high levels of abstract thinking.
"I think it is just a fundamentally different way of thinking," Freeman says. "There has been such a huge leap in the quality of software tools the past few years it's probably gone ahead of some of the thinking. People rushed into Y2K, they rushed out of the dotcom . . . they did not have a chance to do a lot of thinking. Now we are seeing that again. A lot of those systems are up for refreshing now, and a new style of thinking is coming into play. There are a lot of companies playing with server architectures but it's more playing than delivering right now."
However, sometimes it is only when they stop playing that the real difficulties begin. A November 2004 Gartner research note forecasts service-oriented architecture will create demand for programmers who can design, assemble and configure component services, while demand for coders will soften.
Compounding the problems of balancing the maintenance of legacy systems with the need to avoid creating new ones is what Andrew McNeil, a senior product consultant at Cincom Systems of Australia, sees as a herd mentality.
"While legacy thinking may be a problem, 'herd thinking' may be an even greater contributor to problems in IT organizations," McNeil says. "This thinking leads to a silver bullet mentality, which causes technologies to be over-hyped then subsequently [creates] a backlash."
McNeil points out that service-oriented architecture is not even a technology per se, and does not necessarily require Java and .Net technologies, even though many people may not be able to disassociate the technology from the architecture.
"SOA has many merits, but those merits include the ability to integrate so called 'legacy' systems. IBM recently extended Web services support for CICS for example," he says..
"New technologies are often subject to hype beyond their material benefits, resulting in costly rewrites from one technology base to another without gaining any functional benefit. A so-called new technology, Java is 10 years old, and its syntax derives heavily from its direct ancestors C and C++ and it continues to borrow concepts from alternatives like Smalltalk or LISP. There is no question that it is a step forward from C++, but it is not the whole answer. Analysts such as Gartner report high failure rates using these technologies, yet ironically the same analysts continue to promote the practice."
Restricting such analyses to just Java and .Net, McNeil argues, ignores modern dynamic languages such as Ruby and Python, which itself represents legacy thinking.
"New technologies come to the fore due to a confluence of factors including marketing and random circumstance," he says. "The age of a technology does not automatically confine it to the recycle bin. Many technologies are introduced well ahead of their time. If we fail to build on these technologies, we may well continue to reinvent the wheel every few years."
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