Java-Based Enterprise Application Modernization

May 22, 2023  |  Yury Chakatouski

For the last two decades, Java has been a popular go-to programming language. Now, of course, it’s still widely used, particularly for programming enterprise applications, but it’s common to see businesses still relying on older versions of the language.

When an older version of Java becomes outdated and can no longer meet the demands of your company’s enterprise applications, it’s important to modernize and update. Here’s what you need to know if your company is ready to take the next steps forward in modernizing your Java-based applications.

At IBA Group, we’ve taken many companies through the application modernization process. No matter where you are in the process, we’re happy to assess your needs and help you find the best approach to securely updating your enterprise systems.

So, if your company is facing the realization that it’s time to update your enterprise apps, we recommend taking the following steps for a smooth and seamless modernization plan.

Prior to launching the modernization of Java-based enterprise applications, it is necessary to assess the current state. How well are the enterprise applications serving the needs of your company and customers? Are they secure and working smoothly? The assessment process is not linear but iterative and largely depends on the modernization strategy you choose afterwards. In any case, it should lead to the creation of a modernization roadmap.

A typical assessment will involve a review of the codebase. Your IT team will need to identify any outdated components. They should assess and inventory your organization’s entire portfolio of Java applications and prioritize the areas of highest need first. Generally, security is the biggest concern when using legacy systems. Other considerations may include resilience, maintenance, and scalability.

The 5 Steps for Updating and Modernizing Java-Based Legacy Apps

Choose your modernization strategy.

After assessing the current state of your enterprise applications and determining which applications have the most urgent update requirements (or greatest areas of security risk), it’s time to choose your modernization strategy. There are several options available, including re-hosting, re-platforming, and refactoring.

  • For re-hosting, a typical example is putting an application into containers, ideally without changes to the existing architecture. Nevertheless, some challenges might happen on the way, such as JVM optimization, middleware adaptation, infrastructure tuning and other.

You should determine your approach by deciding on your end goals.

  • Re-platforming means moving the application to a new platform—typically to a cloud environment. Re-platforming doesn’t necessarily mean significantly changing the architecture or functionality of the legacy application’s code, but it involves minor changes that improve its performance in the cloud environment. Re-platforming is designed to support the advanced concepts  of cloud-native applications, such as containers, microservices, and serverless computing.
  • Refactoring of the legacy code involves making small, incremental changes to the codebase. Refactoring is a deliberately measured update process that doesn’t involve functional changes to the app and minimizes the possibility of disruption. Refactoring may result in architecture changes as well.

These changes mean the application will better align with modern application design principles, often improving areas like scalability and performance. If your business requires additional functionality within your legacy application, re-factoring allows you to make those updates without completely starting from the ground up.

Based on the modernization strategy you choose, we work out the actions that the modernization requires. The typical activities may include:

1. Update the codebase for your enterprise application

No matter the modernization strategy you’ve decided on for the enterprise application, your next step will be updating the codebase. If you currently employ a legacy application using an older version of Java, you should update to the latest release.

Your team will also need to replace any deprecated (dead code) components and improve the overall code quality. They’ll need to use dependency mapping to ensure that each change or improvement doesn’t damage or eliminate functionality. The updated codebase must be backward compatible with older Java versions to minimize application disruption during the process.

2. Re-factor/re-architecture the code

In many cases, modernization involves re-factoring, that is code redesign or revision. Re-factoring involves transformation of algorithms without affecting the external behavior of the application. The primary goal is to improve the consistency and clarity of the application’s internal structure. These changes do not affect the core architecture. If re-architecting is required, we assist our clients with the redesign of the application’s architecture.

3. Test the updates (and test again). Tests include unit testing, system testing, and integration testing. Typically, tests are automated 

As with any technology update, testing is a critical factor in assuring a successful rollout and update process. After updating the codebase, your team will need to perform thorough testing to ensure that the updates to the application are functioning correctly and performing as expected.

It’s also imperative that the process includes thorough security testing of all application components. Any time a legacy application uses an older Java script, your application faces security gaps and risks, so shoring up those holes is vital to the safety of your users.

4. Deploy the updated application.

You’ve made the updates, and testing is complete. Now it’s time for the rubber to hit the road. Once you’ve performed all necessary testing processes, you can deploy the application in your production (a.k.a. “deployment”) environment. Typically deployment is containerized.

A deployment environment is a critical intermediary step that allows you to ensure that the final deployment process will be smooth. The production environment also provides time for your team to create any necessary training and documentation guidelines for users.

5. Keep up ongoing maintenance. 

Once you’ve modernized your Java-based enterprise application, it’s time to kick back, relax, and pour yourself a glass… No, wait. Unfortunately, you can’t “set it and forget it” when it comes to enterprise applications. Ongoing maintenance is necessary to ensure that the application continues to perform well and meet the needs of your business.

What does ongoing maintenance entail? Maintaining enterprise applications means regular code updates, bug fixes, and security patches. Realize that as soon as an update is performed, maintenance will be required to ensure the application remains current.

This is the first part of this blog article, where we discuss modernization strategies and the steps you need to take to modernize your legacy Java-based apps. In the second part, I give an example of a real Java-based modernization project

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