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Thinking about Generational Systems


Every week I meet with people struggling to decide what to do with aging platforms. We offhandedly refer to these as “legacy” which offends some vendors. They feel it is an epithet pointing out their age and frailty. I have more recently come to believe though this is a poor description because the term assumes there is some intrinsic value in keeping them around in the first place. There is no register for historic software holding you back. Why do we pretend there is? These are applications not monuments.

It is not personal. It is not emotional. But it is hard. These systems are truly generational in nature. They have run for decades on platforms created from outdated practices against requirement landscapes that often no longer even exist. None of these were built in a single budget cycle and they won’t be replaced within one either. But you have to start somewhere.

Just like public infrastructure, aging systems are expensive to maintain and replacing them becomes more not less difficult over time. Despite the great efforts of underfunded engineering teams, these products will eventually reach a point where challenges in supporting them creates an unsustainable level of risk and cost for both you and the vendor. Maybe not today or next week but it is coming. Sinkholes are forming and eventually your business is swallowed by them.

The decisions that you make with these systems do have generational impact and are not to be taken lightly. Inaction is not an option. Neither is migration masquerading as progress. What is often presented as simple lift and shift to the cloud is never simple. At the heart of the issue is that everything being called a cloud solution isn’t. More often than not it is the same venerable code base just managed by someone else. Re-hosting is a tremendous amount of effort for questionable benefits. Costs rarely go down but rather move around on the ledger. Worse yet when they just migrate to next year’s budget. The mess remains, it’s just been flushed into a polluted ocean of managed infrastructure.

Start somewhere. Don’t just move the mess. Clean it up.

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