Trace Id is missing
Skip to main content
Two coworkers looking at a desktop monitor together

What is application modernization?

Application modernization is 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 modernization mean?

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

Four people in a meeting while other join remotely over a Teams call being displayed in the room
People working and walking around an office

Understanding app modernization

Application modernization is the process of updating an organization's existing apps to a cloud-first model—sometimes called legacy modernization. If an organization uses on-premises apps, modernization may involve migrating those apps to a public, private, or hybrid cloud. Five types of commonly modernized apps and data include:

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

An organization's current software systems and programs 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 modernization include new security best practices, scalability requirements, and advancements in AI, virtualization, 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, organizations can modernize the apps that they already have. It's also important to note that it's often possible—and more practical—to approach modernizing apps in stages. For example, many organizations start by simply moving their apps from their on-premises datacenters to the cloud in a "lift and shift" application migration, allowing them to take immediate advantage of the most basic benefits of cloud computing. From there, they can move on to more advanced modernization 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 modernization?

  • Accelerated innovation and time to market. When organizations 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, organizations 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 modernizing 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 modernize existing apps than to create new ones from scratch. That way, organizations can build on existing investments rather than sink time and money into something new. App modernization also helps to retain many current processes and maintain business continuity compared to plugging completely new apps into existing operations.

Building an application modernization strategy

App modernization pillars

A successful application modernization strategy should work towards supporting a framework of organizational goals. For example, the Azure Well-Architected Framework has five architectural pillars geared towards organizational goals—these can be used for app modernization as well:

  • Reliability: The ability of a system to recover from failures and continue to function.
  • Security: Protecting applications and data from threats.
  • Cost optimization: Managing costs to maximize 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.
People sitting and standing in a meeting room

App modernization steps

The process of modernizing an organization's apps can be broadly defined by three steps.

  1. Planning. This first step requires organizations to think carefully about their app modernization 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, organizations build new skills and begin modernizing their apps iteratively. An iterative application modernization strategy gives organizations the flexibility to change their project scope or strategy as needed.
  3. Operations. App modernization is not a one-and-done deal. Once organizations move to a cloud-first approach, they can use cloud platform services and tools to help secure, govern, manage, and optimize their apps.

App modernization strategies

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

People viewing data on a tablet
Rehost. Sometimes called "lift-and-shift," this modernization strategy emphasizes speed because it requires practically no code changes. Organizations 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, organizations make code changes so that apps can be used with cloud technologies.
Refactor (or repackage). Refactoring prioritizes 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 organization 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 modernization initiatives.
A person working in Azure at their desk across a laptop and two desktop monitors

Modernizing the app development process

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

Tools and services

Organizations looking to modernize their applications have many ways to go about it. Technologies that support organizations in optimizing 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 optimize application deployment, management, and diagnostics.

AI and machine learning

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

Application modernization services

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

Azure Cosmos DB
Azure Monitor
Azure Virtual Desktop
Azure API Management
Azure DevOps
Azure Spring Apps
Azure VMware Solution
Azure App Service
Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS)
Azure SQL Database
Azure Web Application Firewall
Azure Arc
Azure Machine Learning
Azure SQL Managed Instance

Application modernization tools

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

A person smiling and wearing a headset

Microsoft Azure offers the following resources to help enterprises begin modernizing at their own pace:

E-book: Cloud Migration and Modernization with Microsoft Azure

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

Azure Migrate

Explore a clearinghouse of Azure migration tools for almost any modernization scenario.

Azure Migration and Modernization Program

Get expert help, technical training, and resources that you can use to confidently set up your cloud environment.

Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework for Azure

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

Azure App Service migration tools

Quickly assess your web apps and migrate them to Azure with the help of these free, intuitive tools.

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

Get 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)

Gauge how ready you are to migrate you applications to Azure with this assessment tool.

Application and Data Modernization Readiness Tool

Start evaluating your business strategies for modernizing your apps and data with this assessment tool.

Cloud Migration and Modernization: Trends for 2023

Get this report to learn key insights about the global trajectory of cloud migration and modernization.

Training: Accelerate your cloud migration and modernization journey

Dive into best practices for planning, migrating, and modernizing applications and databases with managed services.


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

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

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

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

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

    There are four broad modernization strategies, each distinguished by the level of code changes that an organization 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 organization's apps for a completely different one to meet current business needs.

  • There are a wide variety of application modernization tools and services available depending on what an organization needs. For example, if an organization wants to optimize 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.

AI-powered assistant