Cloud Proponents Unclear on the Meaning of “Legacy"

In reading business software news and articles on a daily basis, and in speaking with software vendors, I have noticed that vendors of cloud-based applications, analysts, as well as other professionals have recently begun referring to all solutions other than cloud-based applications as legacy solutions. Here are a few examples of what I have come across:
Not convinced about the relevance and appropriateness of such a terminology, I wanted to investigate a bit deeper and understand whether there is a certifiable basis for such a statement.

First of all, what does the term “legacy system” stand for?

Unfortunately, Wikipedia provides with a quite vague and nonspecific description of the term, outlining it as basically “an old method, technology, computer system, or application program” that “may or may not remain in use.”

Technopedia is a bit better with its definition: “Legacy, in the context of computing, refers to outdated computer systems, programming languages or application software that are used instead of available upgraded versions. Legacy systems also may be associated with terminology or processes that are no longer applicable to current contexts or content, thus creating confusion.”

If I can summarize, there are few common-sense criteria that relegate a system or technology to this legacy class of software:
  • The software is no longer available for sale on the market and development of the technology had been discontinued.
  • Maintenance and support of such systems is impeded or absent due to lack of technology providers.
  • Learning and research of the technology is problematic.
  • It’s hard to find a professional in the area, as they are no more available on the market.
  • The software requires obsolete hardware, which is difficult to find and expensive to purchase.
  • Integration with newer technologies is problematic owing to the age of the technology.
Overall, the use of “legacy systems” implies that the technology is associated with more problems than benefits, primarily owing to their age.

Now, let’s see if these criteria can be applied to differentiate cloud and non-cloud categories of solutions—and if we can define on-premise or hosted solutions as legacy.
  • Availability on the market: I am not aware of any category of business software that would be available strictly in the cloud. Even in human resources (HR) or customer relationship management (CRM) segments, where the penetration of cloud systems is the deepest, there are multiple vendors that have product offerings available as on-premise or hosted applications.
  • Maintenance and support: While on-premise or hosted products are available on the market, their vendors certainly provide with their maintenance and support.
  • Learning and research: Although some vendors are outcompeted and naturally disappear from the market, there is no impedance or discontinuation of certification courses and learning about software products simply because they are non-cloud. It sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
  • Hiring professionals: Again, the same story here, with a few exceptions. There is usually no shortage of on-premise business software specialists to hire. Moreover, I guess that the number of cloud applications professionals is still even fewer.
  • Obsolete hardware: This is a moot point—this is not difficult to find and purchase at all.
  • Integration with newer technologies (read “cloud applications”): This can be problematic, but the nature of the problems encountered has nothing to do with the software’s age or newness, in my opinion. It is usually a matter of compatibility or simply a question of agreeability of certain business software partners.
So, as we can see, there is no reasonable or logical foundation to accuse non-cloud software developers and the vendor community and make them look worse in potential customers’ eyes based on the sole measure that they do not belong to the circle of cloud solutions providers.

In fact, I have nothing against the cloud—it is indeed a forward-looking and often innovative software delivery method, which will probably be the dominant option for many businesses and organizations in the future. As with any other innovation, it is associated with pros and cons. Cloud software can be applicable to some market niches, and can be prohibitive to others. It all depends on a large number of factors, from an organization’s needs to Internet availability in certain regions. But I think that labeling all market players as “legacy technology” providers based on the single criterion of not belonging to the “cloud class” appears to be premature and quite assumptive.

Traditional on-premise, hosted, and other business software systems are still in full power and will be commanding a large portion of the business clientele for a long time to come. You may call them partners, competitors, or what you will—but not legacy systems. To me, it’s too early. Unless the definition of legacy is already a legacy too.
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