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What is Legacy System Modernization?

This article was written by Kayleah Son, Digital Content Specialist at MuleSoft.

Legacy systems are the backbone of the modern organization. However, their continued use prevents businesses from innovating with the latest technologies that can provide enhanced customer, employee, and partner experiences.

Many organizations make the mistake of connecting new systems to their legacy databases and software — usually with point-to-point integrations — in an attempt to quickly modernize their existing systems. This approach results in tight dependencies between systems and creates a fragile, costly, and hard-to-maintain infrastructure. 

To achieve a grounded legacy modernization plan, organizations must shift away from point-to-point integration and embrace an API-based integration strategy, known as API-led connectivity. 

In an era where change is the only constant, quickly adapting to new needs in the market to create new products, services, and experiences is crucial. With API-led connectivity, not only can organizations unlock their legacy systems’ potential, they can modernize, extend, and augment these systems with APIs to become more nimble and better respond to emerging technologies and other changes. 

What are common approaches to legacy modernization?

How does the legacy modernization journey begin? Here are some common migration strategies that organizations take when dealing with legacy systems:

  1. Rip and replace old systems with entirely new systems wholesale
  2. Enable web functionality within existing systems through custom code
  3. Utilize APIs to secure and govern access to legacy system data

The first two approaches have their drawbacks. With a rip-and-replace approach, it’s difficult to justify the time and expense necessary to simply scrap an entire system — and for businesses that have to pivot quickly, it’s difficult to keep business operations afloat.

In the second approach, most of the data and systems are linked through point-to-point integration. This means that with every new project that involves data from a legacy system, they have to write new point-to-point code, again and again, to connect these systems and expose any relevant data.

While point-to-point integrations may be suitable for organizations with relatively small infrastructures, the typical enterprise organization uses an average of 1,061 different applications – up from 976 in 2022. This creates a dependence on specialized teams, increases maintenance costs, and reduces the budget for innovation.

Ultimately, point-to-point integration creates architectural brittleness over time, rendering organizations less flexible and adaptable to change. This leads organizations to the third option: APIs.

APIs enable secure and governed access to legacy system data, protecting the integrity of the system, accelerating developer productivity, and increasing an organization's ability to adopt new technologies. 

While there is a pressing need for organizations to strategically modernize their legacy systems to meet the evolving needs of IT, there’s also the problem of building a future-proof architecture that supports change. The solution? Embracing API-led connectivity.

An API-led connectivity approach provides a foundation for that change, enabling organizations to better adapt to technology and customer shifts in the future.

Future-proof your infrastructure with API-led connectivity.

API-led connectivity is a methodical way to connect data to applications through reusable and purposeful APIs. With this approach, APIs are designed and productized for a specific purpose and play one of these roles within specific API layers: unlocking data from systems (System APIs), composing data into processes (Process APIs), or delivering an experience (Experience APIs). 

APIs must be reusable and discoverable across the organization to enable API-led connectivity, which allows teams to compose, recompose, and adapt them to meet changing business needs. This API infrastructure, known as an application network, allows the extension of old legacy systems through APIs and easy integration of new systems into the network. 

With API-led connectivity, organizations can better realize their business initiatives –– whether it is building a mobile app or improving the partner experience. 

How are businesses modernizing legacy systems without disruption?

An implementation for a legacy modernization use case typically involves the following 5 core integration principles, namely:

  • Orchestration: Composing several fine-grained legacy components into a single higher-order composite service, done to achieve appropriate granularity of services and promote reuse and manageability.
  • Data transformation: Transformation between legacy system formats and standards-based data formats.
  • Transport protocol negotiation: Transport protocol negotiation between legacy transports such as file-based applications, FTP, traditional email (SMTP) or proprietary messaging formats, and contemporary internet-based HTTP protocols. 
  • Mediation: Providing support for multiple interfaces for a) supporting multiple versions of a service for backward compatibility, or b) allowing for multiple channels to the same underlying component implementation. The second requirement may involve providing multiple interfaces to the same component-one legacy interface (fat file) and one standards-compliant (REST, SOAP/XML) interface.
  • Non-functional consistency: In legacy modernization projects, this can involve providing a new secure channel (including authentication and authorization) for external consumers of legacy components that were originally designed with only internal consumers in mind.

MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform modernizes legacy systems with API-led connectivity.

With Anypoint Platform, organizations can move away from point-to-point custom integrations and reap the benefits of API-led connectivity. This platform is the only unified solution in the market for full API lifecycle management — from designing and building to testing and deploying. Anypoint Platform increases speed and helps lower the cost of maintaining APIs, integrations, and applications because it is a single management platform. 

Innovation is crucial for business success in an era where change is the only constant. By employing an API-led strategy for legacy modernization, organizations can enhance their adaptability to change, enabling them to rapidly introduce new products, services, and experiences to customers.

Read our whitepaper on how APIs can modernize legacy systems to learn more.