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What is application modernisation?

It's the process of updating current apps and data to a cloud-first model to align with business needs. This may involve migrating to the cloud.

What does modernisation mean?

Modernisation is the act of updating organisational processes, systems and tools to the most current versions or best practices. In the context of cloud computing, modernisation is the process of transitioning an organisation's applications, processes and data management to a cloud-first approach. The goal is to improve organisational and technological performance, enhance the quality of customer and employee experiences, and accelerate time to market for new offerings and updates.

What is application modernisation?

Application modernisation is the process of updating an organisation's existing apps to a cloud-first model – sometimes called legacy modernisation. If an organisation uses on-premises apps, modernisation may involve migrating those apps to a public, private or hybrid cloud. Commonly modernised apps and data include:

  • .NET apps
  • Linux web apps
  • Java apps
  • SAP apps
  • SQL databases

An organisation's current software systems and programmes might have been great when they were first implemented, but they may not be able to keep pace with the latest (or future) technology. One approach to tackling this challenge is to start again from scratch – building or buying new apps that are compatible with the most current technology stack available. (While the most current stack is always evolving, some of the most recent drivers of modernisation include new security best practices, scalability requirements and advancements in AI, virtualisation, IoT, containers.) However, this approach can be both costly and time-consuming. And the challenge will persist: Even the most current app can be outpaced by its technology ecosystem.

Instead of starting from scratch by building completely new apps, organisations can modernise the apps that they already have. It's also important to note that it's often possible, and more practical, to approach modernising apps in stages. For example, many organisations start by simply moving their apps from their on-premises datacentres to the cloud in a "lift and shift" migration, allowing them to take immediate advantage of the most basic benefits of cloud computing. From there, they can move on to more advanced modernisation techniques, such as rebuilding all or some of the parts of their apps to adopt newer capabilities or best practices.

What are the benefits of app modernisation?

Accelerated innovation and time to market. When organisations don't have to devote as much time and resources to maintaining apps and infrastructure, they can spend more time innovating. Cloud-based tools and services further help to streamline the development process, resulting in faster time to market.

Security and reliability. With a cloud-first approach, organisations can use built-in updating and security capabilities to help safeguard their workloads. Other built-in features can include task automation for important things like high availability, disaster recovery, backups and performance monitoring.

Compatibility and agility. The advantage of modernising apps isn't just that they'll be able to work with the most current technology – they'll keep working even as the technology evolves. This seamlessness allows for quick updates and changes to meet current and future business needs. It can also enable automatic scaling so that apps continue to work well when there are sudden increases in demand, and to instantly reduce costs when there are sudden decreases in demand.

Efficiency. When done thoughtfully, it can be easier to modernise existing apps than to create new ones from scratch. That way, organisations can build on existing investments rather than sink time and money into something new. App modernisation also helps to retain many current processes and maintain business continuity compared to plugging completely new apps into existing operations.

Application modernisation steps and strategies

Modernisation pillars

The steps and strategies for successful app modernisation should work towards supporting a framework of organisational goals. For example, the Azure Well-Architected Framework has five architectural pillars geared towards organisational goals – these can be used for app modernisation as well:

  • Reliability: The ability of a system to recover from failures and continue to function.
  • Security: Protecting applications and data from threats.
  • Cost optimisation: Managing costs to maximise the value delivered.
  • Operational excellence: Operations processes that keep a system running in production.
  • Performance efficiency: The ability of a system to adapt to changes in load.

App modernisation steps

The process of modernising an organisation's apps can be broadly defined by three steps.

  1. Planning. This first step requires organisations to think carefully about their app modernisation goals and define their strategy before any action is taken. This is the time to discover and assess existing apps and environments in preparation for change.
  2. Implementation. During this step, organisations build new skills and begin modernising their apps iteratively. An iterative modernisation approach gives organisations the flexibility to change their project scope or strategy as needed.
  3. Operations. App modernisation is not a one-and-done deal. Once organisations move to a cloud-first approach, they can use cloud platform services and tools to help secure, govern, manage and optimise their apps.

App modernisation strategies

These strategies are distinguished by an organisation's modernisation goals and the need for code changes to the apps themselves. An app modernisation strategy is defined during the planning step and put into effect during the implementation step.

Rehost. Sometimes called "lift-and-shift," this modernisation strategy emphasises speed because it requires practically no code changes. Organisations take apps from their previous environment and transition them as-is to their current environment.

Replatform. This approach lies in between rehosting and refactoring. With replatforming, organisations make code changes so that apps can be used with cloud technologies.

Refactor (or repackage). Refactoring prioritises productivity as well as speed. With this strategy, apps need only minimal code changes so that they can connect easily to and make the most of a cloud-first environment.

Rearchitect. If an organisation needs cloud scalability, rearchitecting might be the right approach. With rearchitecting, apps functionality and code get modified and extended to scale better in the cloud.

Rebuild (or rewrite). For recreating an app using cloud solutions, rebuilding is sometimes the right option. It's a heavier lift, but it may be essential if existing apps have limited functionality or lifespan.

Replace. If an app won't meet current or future business needs even after rebuilding, replacing it with a ready-made solution may be necessary. This approach can be faster than rebuilding and free up valuable development resources. But replacing apps could pose challenges including interruptions to business processes and limitations to future modernisation initiatives.

Modernising the app development process

In addition to modernising apps themselves, a critical element of any organisation's long-term strategy should be to modernise its approach to app development, also known as Developer Velocity. This includes modernising developer teams' tools and processes to maximise their productivity, collaboration and work quality. There are tools, analyst studies and other resources to help organisations assess and improve their Developer Velocity.

Tools and services

Organisations looking to modernise their applications have many ways to go about it. Technologies that support organisations in optimising their IT assets include:

Cloud computing

Internet-based cloud services can increase application performance, efficiency, and scale.


These packages of software bundle together application code, which enables seamless deployment across multiple environments.


This architectural approach makes application development more agile by allowing each core function—also known as a service—to be built independently.


Third-party services that automatically perform common tasks can help optimise application deployment, management and diagnostics.

AI and machine learning

Intelligent services and solutions help companies mine richer insights from their applications and data.

Application modernisation services

Fully managed services can help companies accelerate application development, improve customer and employee experiences, and increase application security and reliability.

Azure Cosmos DB

Modernise scalable, high-performance apps with a fully managed NoSQL database service

Azure Monitor

Get full observability into your app, infrastructure, and network

Azure Virtual Desktop

Enable a secure remote desktop experience from virtually anywhere

Azure API Management

Move faster with unified API management across multicloud and hybrid environments

Azure DevOps

Plan smarter, collaborate better, and ship faster than before with a set of modern dev services

Azure Spring Apps

Build and deploy Spring Boot apps with a fully managed service from Microsoft and VMware

Azure VMware Solution

Move or extend on-premises VMware environments to Azure

Azure App Service

Quickly and easily create enterprise-ready web and mobile apps for any platform or device

Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS)

Deploy and scale containers on managed Kubernetes

Azure SQL Database

Build scalable apps with managed and intelligent SQL in the cloud

Azure Web Application Firewall

Help protect apps with a powerful cloud-native web app firewall service

Azure Arc

Secure, develop, and operate infrastructure, apps, and Azure services anywhere

Azure Machine Learning

Build business-critical machine learning models at scale

Azure SQL Managed Instance

Modernise existing apps at scale with familiar tools, skills and resources


Deliver personalised, relevant experiences for customers

Application modernisation tools

Modernising existing IT systems may seem daunting at first. But organisations that want to update their technology investments don't have to go it alone. Cloud providers offer many assessment tools, methodologies and programmes designed to help enterprises update their systems.

For example, Microsoft Azure offers the following resources to help enterprises begin modernising at their own pace:

E-book: Cloud Migration and Modernisation with Microsoft Azure

an overview of migration and modernisation insights, strategies and tips for getting started.

Azure Migrate

a clearinghouse of Azure migration tools for almost any modernisation scenario.

Azure Migration and Modernisation Programme

expert help, technical training, and resources that enterprises can use to confidently set up their cloud environment.

Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework for Azure

a proven collection of documentation, guidance, best practices and tools designed to accelerate cloud adoption.

Azure App Service migration tools

free, intuitive tools to help businesses quickly assess their web apps and migrate them to Azure.

Documentation: ASP.NET app containerization and migration to Azure App Service

step-by-step guidance on containerizing and moving ASP.NET apps to Azure using the Azure Migrate App Containerization tool.

Strategic Migration Assessment and Readiness Tool (SMART)

an assessment tool that helps companies gauge how ready they are to migrate their applications to Azure.

Application and Data Modernisation Readiness Tool

an assessment tool that helps companies evaluate their business strategies for modernising their apps and data.


  • Through application modernisation, organisations transition their apps to a cloud-first model. This may involve migration if they are using on-premises apps.

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  • "Legacy modernisation" is another way of saying "application modernisation." However, both older and newer apps can be modernised with cloud technology to achieve greater agility, stability and innovation.

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  • Application modernisation offers a variety of benefits both for the apps themselves and the organisation modernising them. Key benefits can include increased efficiency, compatibility with cloud technology, improved security, higher availability and accelerated time to market.

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  • There are three overarching steps for application modernisation: planning, implementation and operations. Planning includes defining a modernisation strategy. Implementation involves skill-building and modernising apps. Operations covers ongoing governance, management and optimisation.

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  • App modernisation strategies should be designed to support an organisation's modernisation goals. The Azure Well-Architected Framework lays out five pillars that work towards those goals: Reliability, security, cost optimisation, operational excellence and performance efficiency.

    There are four broad modernisation strategies, each distinguished by the level of code changes that an organisation wants to make to their apps. Rehosting moves the app as-is from an older environment to a newer one. Replatforming entails some code changes to connect apps to the cloud. Similarly, refactoring also calls for some code changes so apps get the most out of a cloud-first environment. Rearchitecting involves significant modifications to apps for cloud scalability. Rebuilding requires recreating apps using cloud-native solutions. Replacing swaps an organisation's apps for a completely different one to meet current business needs.

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  • There are a wide variety of application modernisation tools and services available depending on what an organisation needs. For example, if an organisation wants to optimise costs, operate confidently and ship features faster by bringing apps and data to the cloud, a fully managed service like Azure App Service could be a good fit.

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