Object Management Group's legacy modernization work focuses on developing ADM standards

Legacy modernization provides a way out for IT organizations that are running out of ways to extend the capabilities of legacy systems to meet business needs. Object Management Group's ADM Task Force is developing standards to facilitate an architecture-driven modernization approach to legacy modernization.

Think you can put off your legacy modernization efforts any longer? Not if you're running out of ways to extend your legacy systems to meet current business needs, and William M. Ulrich argues that most IT organizations are. Ulrich is president of TSG Inc., a business and IT consulting firm in Soquel, Calif. He is also leading the effort toward standards-based Architecture-Driven Modernization (ADM), co-chairing the Object Management...

Group's ADM Task Force along with Djenana Campara, CEO of KDM Analytics Inc.

From my perspective, IT is running into walls it can't find ways over anymore […] We've already tried all the tricks in our bag, and now there's not a lot of things left, but one is modernization.
William M. Ulrich
Co-chair of Object Management Group's ADM Task Force

"From my perspective, IT is running into walls it can't find ways over anymore," Ulrich said. "Business is pushing very hard to get IT organizations to realign their architecture to accommodate the value stream and the business streamlining going on right now. [IT has] already shipped a bunch of code offshore, set up some SOA structure, wrapped and rewrapped, and they still have all this spaghetti architecture. We've already tried all the tricks in our bag, and now there's not a lot of things left, but one is modernization. There is both business pressure and IT desire to get the architecture cleaned up."

ADM standards

To help IT organizations with modernization, the ADM Task Force has been working since 2003 to develop a set of standards, and has to date addressed three of them on its roadmap.

The first is the Knowledge Discovery Meta-Model (KDM), which allows modernization tools to exchange application meta-data across applications, languages, platforms and environments. KDM was adopted in 2006. According to Ulrich, KDM is "out there and in use," and provides a "broad-based view of the current state of the system." Campara said KDM is on the "fast track" to ISO, submitted as ISO 19506.

The second standard, Abstract Syntax Tree Meta-Model (ASTM), allows the KDM to represent software below the procedural level, to facilitate the exchange of granular meta-data across languages. "ASTM is done, but it's a more standalone standard, used for more automatic system transformation, more program to program transformation," Ulrich said. "There is a smaller number of vendors using it."

A third standard for pattern recognition is in the early stages, Ulrich said, and the task force hopes to fast track it. The ability to represent patterns and anti-patterns across software systems will help organizations with refactoring and transformation, according to the task force. "Two pieces that go with those standards are a repository of metrics and a library of patterns, and we're starting to build those out," Ulrich said.

Systems consolidation

Using the KDM, patterns and metrics will help IT organizations "pinpoint places in the system to consolidate into one service," Campara said. For example, a company that has a billing system may have a customer's name spelled three different ways in 12 different places. Or there may be numerous definitions of how to calculate an account balance.

"If you're looking at patterns, for example, one pattern may be I want every piece of software in my organization that follows a certain definition," Ulrich said. "The pattern recognition approach would identify them and allow you to bring them together, and the metric would tell you you've got 40 definitions of how to calculate an account balance. If I want to put that into a service, I have to identify the different ways I do it, and then have to decouple it from the current system, create a service and activate the service."

Inconsistency and redundancy in legacy systems "is a huge problem," Ulrich said. "A lot of times new development teams don't understand that. They build new things but they don't know how to link in old pieces. That's where modernization comes in."

AMD standards and SOA

The end game for the ADM effort is, typically, a service-oriented architecture. "In terms of going to SOA, that's very much a given target," Ulrich said. "If you're assuming that you're going into an appropriate environment and what you're trying to get to is a new architecture, the assumption is using ADM you would land within an SOA environment.

You don't have to, but a best practice would say if not, you better have good reason why not. That's ultimately the target in most cases, although transformation itself doesn't limit you to going to services. The reason we're focusing on metrics and patterns is we believe those are essential for doing widespread ADM to services, from a bigger perspective."

"Architecture is the key," Campara said. "That's why it's called Architecture-Driven Modernization. If you're not looking at this from an architectural point of view, what you're left with is a tactical translation."

Interoperability

The necessity of standards for legacy modernization, Campara said, "is because a lot of these systems contain different technologies and programming languages. One vendor or one tool really cannot address that big mess. Organizations need solutions; tools are just one part of the solution, but there is a lot of manual work as well involved. To put that all into one solution you need a standard way to communicate between tools and humans, so you get an end-to-end solution to perform modernization. Without that, you have no chance whatsoever."

At the OMG's upcoming technical meeting in Cambridge, Mass., in September, the ADM Task Force will be putting on an interoperability demonstration with four companies utilizing the KDM, pattern recognition and metrics.

The balance of the ADM roadmap is still in early stages, Ulrich said, but the group has been working closely with the OMG's Software Assurance Task Force, which Campara co-chairs, and a group outside of the OMG, the Consortium for IT Software

Quality (CISQ). "That has been driving a lot of the energy in the [ADM] group regarding metrics and patterns," Ulrich said.

Security concerns

Addressing security is an important element of modernization, Campara said. "Some legacy systems had very lenient security. The whole point is you cannot retrofit security; you have to do a transformation. You need to understand the system as it is, by deploying the knowledge discovery methodology to understand the system and see the components, and those components need to be transformed."

While Campara said all the big modernization vendors were actively involved with the development of the KDM, other work of the ADM Task Force is moving more slowly, Ulrich said. However, he said the software assurance and software quality work is driving more interest among vendors.

And, he noted, transformation is now top-of-mind for most organizations. "Five years ago, I don't think that was true. Today you go into most big shops, and most have some strategy and plans, and most include getting to SOA among other things. The concept of refactoring and transforming systems is on people's minds. It's written down, it's planned for, it's on the radar screen."

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