Application Retirement Options

As new applications and technologies flood the marketplace, organizations are hard-pressed to keep up with the rapidly-changing technological landscape.  Companies often find themselves adding newer, more sophisticated applications to their growing arsenal of tools, while continuing to retain redundant or unused ( legacy) applications for fear of losing access to the data associated with them.  While these applications have long since outlived their original purpose, they continue to absorb valuable time and resources, impact overall organizational agility, and add unnecessary financial burdens to already-strained IT budgets. For most organizations, the solution to the unnecessary financial drain on data centers is obvious-retire unused applications and implement a solution that retains access to the data held within these applications.  But, before such an effort can be undertaken, it is necessary to identify those applications that are suitable for retirement, analyze the needs of various entities who must access the data stored in those applications, and develop a comprehensive plan for ensuring that the data in the applications can be accessed and leveraged as necessary, while retaining the original data in order to meet compliance standards.

Published: August 18, 2011

Introduction

As new applications and technologies flood the marketplace, organizations are hard-pressed to keep up with the rapidly-changing technological landscape.  Companies often find themselves adding newer, more sophisticated applications to their growing arsenal of tools, while continuing to retain redundant or unused ( legacy) applications for fear of losing access to the data associated with them.  While these applications have long since outlived their original purpose, they continue to absorb valuable time and resources, impact overall organizational agility, and add unnecessary financial burdens to already-strained IT budgets.

According to a recent poll, ESG found that 86% of all enterprise organizations currently run legacy applications within their data centers (see Figure 1).[1]

Figure 1. Number of Legacy Applications Running in Organizations' IT Environments

When those same organizations were asked if they have plans to decommission (retire) these business applications, 50% said yes (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Percentage of Organizations Planning to Retire Applications

For most organizations, the solution to the unnecessary financial drain on data centers is obvious-retire unused applications and implement a solution that retains access to the data held within these applications.  But, before such an effort can be undertaken, it is necessary to identify those applications that are suitable for retirement, analyze the needs of various entities who must access the data stored in those applications, and develop a comprehensive plan for ensuring that the data in the applications can be accessed and leveraged as necessary, while retaining the original data in order to meet compliance standards.

Identifying Legacy Applications for Retirement

A legacy application can be thought of as any application in a data center that is no longer necessary to support day-to-day operations.  This could mean an application that does not support any current business activities, or one whose data has been transferred to a newer application while the older application lies dormant, causing unnecessary strain on resources, storage, and manpower.  While most organizations are well aware of the dangers involved in allowing unused legacy applications to continue to clog organizational databases, the question is how do organizations arrive at this situation in the first place?

How Do Applications Become 'Legacy' Applications?

Applications become 'legacy' applications for a variety of reasons, although this evolution typically occurs due to:

  • Application replacements or upgrades.
  • Consolidation projects.
  • Mergers or acquisitions.

Application Replacements

As applications are replaced by newer, more robust ones, older, legacy systems are often no longer considered mission-critical, and are left unmanaged and/or abandoned, introducing a new source of risk and financial strain on IT budgets.  Over time, ownership/assigned responsibility for the management of these applications becomes ambiguous, and the dormant, 'orphaned' applications are left to absorb valuable time and resources in the form of expensive backup, file management, and storage costs.  Although the data within the application may need to be retained for regulatory or compliance purposes, the application itself is redundant.

Consolidation Projects

As part of broader initiatives, many organizations are consolidating data centers and the applications that reside within them. It is not unusual for organizations to extend consolidation projects to combine individual business processes and existing   IT systems into enterprise-wide applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems.  While these initiatives offer enhanced capabilities to an organization, without careful planning, they can backfire in terms of actual cost savings.  If data is simply duplicated from one application to a new, more robust application while leaving the original application intact, the end result can double the maintenance workload, thereby defeating the purpose of the entire consolidation initiative.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Legacy applications are often created as the result of corporate mergers and acquisitions, as organizations seek to resolve application redundancies and standardize organizational procedures.   Although such an approach is necessary  in order to create a unified corporate identity,  merged organizations often find it difficult to let go of the 'old way' of doing things and, as a consequence,  continue to maintain 'backup' systems and applications as a safeguard from losing any of their original company data.  Again, this duplication of data adds even more strain on already-taxed data centers.

Why Do Organizations Retain Outdated Applications?

Any time an organization continues to maintain applications that are no longer used in day-to-day operations, the underlying factor is usually the fear of losing access to important data by closing down the legacy application.  In earlier years, that was a valid fear.  When some older applications were shut down, the data contained in those applications was no longer accessible.  Formats were incompatible with newer applications, and valuable data was lost.  In today's technology, however, literally hundreds of technology companies spend countless hours developing faster, newer, easier ways of accessing valuable data through industry standard reporting tools.  Today, regardless of the original application in which data was created, these reporting tools enable users to access and view the data in a user-friendly manner.

Planning for Application Retirement

Application retirement solutions offer a cost-effective way to migrate data from archaic or unsupported formats to a supported format, while maintaining business context and some level of end-user access.  These solutions are similar to database archiving solutions in that they have options for how database data is stored in an archive, but differ in that the original, legacy  application is replaced by a comparable user interface and can be completely retired.

When defining an application retirement project, it is vital that all business users (end-users, IT operations, and legal/compliance) provide input in order to choose the most appropriate retirement solution.

Gathering End User Data Access Requirements

When determining your approach for retiring an application, several key questions must be asked of the end-users who must access this data:

  • How long does the data need to be retained to support business / operation processes? The longer the retention period, the more the solution architecture needs to account for potentially significant data volumes and technology upgrades or obsolescence.  This will help analysts determine whether to keep the data online in a database or move it an archive and media options such as online, nearline, or offline.
  • Does the application data need to be accessed in the context of the original business application? If data has to be kept for an extended period of time, does it need to be accessed with the original application, and is the format  relevant? Consider the implications if the application is retired or upgraded. Will the data still need to be viewed? If so, this may have an impact on whether your organization has the option of archiving the data to a non-database format.

Technology Obsolesence

When determining the approach for retiring an application, several key questions must be asked of the IT groups who must provide infrastructure for this data.  It is also important to understand the underlying technology containing the stored information and to consider that physical media, operating systems, and proprietary platforms have a definitive shelf life.

  • How often will the data be accessed over time, and what are the related performance expectations? Migrating or archiving less- frequently accessed database data to lower cost infrastructure for storage is an excellent option for reducing the overall cost of managing the data. If the number of users and the frequency of accessing the archive data will be relatively high, IO will need to be factored in when selecting the target architecture for the archive data. It is typical to limit access to the archive data to a smaller set of super users or administrators. If few users will be accessing the data and the number of times the data will be accessed is limited, it is a good candidate for lower cost storage with lower performance characteristics. Even if access is expected to be minimal-to-none with practically no users, the data may need to be accessed during e-discovery-online access or searchability may drive the target architecture.

Gathering Records Retention Regulations/ Compliance Requirements

Legal and Records Management departments have a stake in application retirement projects.  Retaining application data beyond legal requirements introduces risk just as much as not retaining data when it is legally required to.

  • What compliance/regulation policies are driving extended retention periods for the legacy application? Corporate records managers often maintain a records retention schedule that lists the corporate records types, information owners and custodians, regulations that lists the retention statues, and the retention period definition.  In any application retirement project, it is essential that data that needs to be retained is not deleted, and that data that does not  legally need to be retained is deleted.When both the business stakeholders and IT staff have a solid understanding of the regulations or compliance requirements, policies and procedures for retiring legacy applications can be defined in a way that makes it easier for architects to design a solution that can be standardized across the enterprise. Without this common approach, organizations may miss out on bigger cost-cutting opportunities and introduce unnecessary complexity, which opposes the overall goal of an application retirement project.

Choosing the Appropriate Application Retirement Solution

Based on the usage/retention requirements provided by the business user community, your organization can pinpoint the most appropriate application retirement solution.  Several approaches can be used, and different vendors offer different archive data storage options, including:

  • Migrating the legacy data to a separate database.
  • Storing the data in an online proprietary file.
  • Storing the data in an open standard file.

Migrating to a Separate Database

Archiving legacy data to a common online database repository allows organizations to manage this data by using existing skilled DBA resources and technology available in the data center. End-user access to the data is minimally impacted and data retains its structure and format when moved from the legacy source to a target database and is the most commonly deployed approach in application retirement projects[2].

This approach requires understanding the data model, creating an exact replica of the data in the target database environment, and either creating a new application to access the data or leverage an existing reporting tool.  The level of effort needs to be carefully considered.

With this solution, organizations should consider that they will still need to manage the legacy data in the target database using data center technology.  It may require purchasing another database license,  or additional storage and compute resources.   Because the data is stored in a database, the database file itself is not in a read-only format.  The data can be stored in a read-only table, but the physical storage prevents writing to write-once, read-many (WORM) type media.  If the regulatory requirements specifyWORM-type media storage requirements, this approach is not an option.

Storing Data in a Proprietary File

This option entails storing legacy data in an online accessible, secure archive proprietary file format.  This option potentially offers significant storage reduction through high data compression rates. Most vendors with a file-based archive solution provide open-standard database connectivity drivers, such as ODBC/JDBC, allowing end-users to maintain access to the data using existing reporting tools.  Once data is archived to the file format, the legacy application and database can be retired, eliminating the cost and maintenance previously required.

This approach also requires an understanding of the data model, a process for copying the data to the archive file, and a new or existing application to access the data.  Because the data is stored in a closed file, regulatory requirements that specify WORM-type storage media can be met using this option.

Read and write performance varies among solution providers that archive database data to a file.  End-user access requirements should be considered and weighed when evalulating this solution approach.  Additionally, access performance may be significantly deteriorated if the data is stored on slower storage media.  Administrators  will need to extend database security policies to data residing in a file and because the file format is proprietary, there is an added cost associated with vendor  maintenance contracts for data access driver updates.

Storing Data in an Open Standard File

To eliminate any technology dependency, another approach involves archiving legacy data to an open standard format for long-term readability that is vendor-agnostic.  Formats such as comma-separated values (CSV) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) are commonly used for this reason.  With the plethora of tools available in the market that can read CSV and XML file documents, organizations can sunset archaic, legacy systems and access the archived data using open-standard technology.

In some cases, such as with XML, the storage requirements may increase significantly.  When archiving to XML files, each data element is tagged with metadata and should be considered when the data volumes are large.  However, organizations can take advantage of new application development environments that allow the rapid deployment of end-user reporting interfaces with minimal effort.

Another consideration is that access performance may be  significantly deteriorated and administrators will need to extend security policies to data residing in a file.

Additional Application Retirement Options

The benefit IT organizations seek from retiring legacy applications is to reduce or eliminate the cost and effort of maintaining systems that are no longer needed to support day to day activities.  As a result, the options listed above are just a subset of what has been implemented to achieve this goal.  Below is a list of options that organizations have deployed with varying success:

  • Data will be archived to tape.

Pros: Minimal maintenance cost will be associated with storing the legacy data for extended timeframes.  Cons: End-user access is limited and data migration should be planned if the the retention period extends beyond the tape media's shelf life.

  • The entire application and data set will be archived as a virtual machine.

Pros: Data can be accessed in the native application, retaining business context by simply starting the virtual server application.

Cons: This approach is limited to operating systems supported by the virtual server vendor technology.

  • Shrink wrap the physical hardware and store it in a closet.

Pros: Data can be accessed in the native application, retaining business context by starting the server hardware and software application.

Cons: This approach depends on the working condition of the physical hardware and requires a specialized skillset in the legacy technology platform.

  • Migrate to a Software as a Service Model.

Pros: Data will be made available when needed, eliminating the cost and risk of physically storing the data on premises.

Cons: This approach introduces a dependency on a third party to maintain technology and skillsets required to keep the data available based on pre-defined service level agreements that have a corresponding cost associated with the effort.

The Bigger Truth

Organizations today rapidly change technologies, and applications can quickly become 'legacy' systems (systems that no longer support day-to-day business activities) during events such as mergers and acquisitions, application upgrades and migrations, and data center modernization initiatives.  However, because of compliance and regulatory standards that govern many organizations, these unused legacy applications often are allowed to remain within the organization's system,  inhabiting valuable storage space and tying up resources that could be better utilized in other areas,  while providing no intrinsic value to the organization.

Rather than continuing to maintain these unused legacy applications, organizations are now realizing the financial viability of deploying application retirement solutions as soon as any system is no longer used in day-to-day operations,  solutions that enable them to compress and archive the related data and retire the unneeded applications .

Numerous hardware, software, and service providers now offer entire business suites devoted solely to retiring unused applications while enabling easy access to the related data via standard reporting tools. Such an approach means that end-users gain significant efficiencies by having both old and new data available, ensures that the data remains in the proper format to support ongoing business processes, and fulfills regulatory and compliance requirements.

However, in order to select the most appropriate means of retiring an application, the application's business users (end-users, IT, and legal/compliance teams) must work together to accurately categorize this data, define data access requirements, retention/compliance requirements, and identify any relevant SLAs.  Armed with this information, an informed decision can be made as to the type of application retirement solution most appropriate for the organization's unique needs.


[1] Source:  ESG Research Report, 2011 IT Spending Intentions Survey, January 2011. All research references are taken from this report unless otherwise stated.

[2] Source: ESG Research, Application Retirement, Report coming August 2011
 

 

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