Re-evaluating legacy: Should you leave Adabas (and Natural) behind?

* The death of foundational legacy technologies is greatly exaggerated, while leaping unquestioningly into modernisation hides many loss-causing risks.
* "Despite efforts to brand 'legacy' as a form of weakness, there are compelling reasons to keep them."
* "Many enterprise leaders push for re-platforming because they think it's the only viable option."

Johannesburg, 30 May 2024
Re-evaluating legacy.
Re-evaluating legacy.

In an era dominated by the latest technological advancements, it's easy to be swept away by the allure of the new. However, legacy technologies often offer unmatched stability and reliability for many businesses. Despite efforts to brand 'legacy' systems as weakness or failure in an enterprise's technology estate, there are compelling reasons to keep them in play – especially when they continue to enjoy the support and modernisation of leading vendors and their partners.

Still, it's a debate that continues to rage. For example, migration away from Adabas is an issue that garners significant attention within large corporations. Should your organisation leave behind Adabas and its companion programming language, Natural? Let's explore the options.

The case for migration

Adabas and Natural have been around a few times. First released in the 1970s, the pair provides high performance, scalability and reliability for mission-critical applications. Adabas handles large transaction volumes and complex data structures that are difficult to replicate with newer technologies.

Natural allows rapid development of business applications with an intuitive syntax, and the language is well-suited for building the types of customised systems many enterprises require.

Still, at face value, there are alternatives that seem like a better option. Some modernisation advocates want to shift their applications from Adabas to more contemporary platforms like Java, developing sophisticated Java frameworks capable of transforming Natural language code into Java and converting Adabas data into formats suitable for relational databases.

Migration seems attractive from the vantage that an enterprise should always use the best and brightest new technologies. However, that philosophy creates new issues, especially when the efforts are not motivated by a clear business case. Even with a relevant case, newer does not always translate to simpler or cheaper.

Re-evaluating legacy.
Re-evaluating legacy.

Added complexity: The generated code from such frameworks often proves challenging to decipher due to the automated generation of variable names and complex data access constructs. Ongoing maintenance becomes cumbersome and can necessitate a complete rewrite of the codebase. Consequently, the timelines for such projects frequently extend far beyond initial estimates, complicating and elaborating any customisation.

Re-evaluating legacy.
Re-evaluating legacy.

Loss of independence: Clients might find themselves trapped by the proprietary nature of new frameworks. This dependency can resemble an inescapable contract, limiting the organisation’s flexibility and control over its software infrastructure. Destabilising well-established database and programming foundations unravels user confidence and shifts skill requirements, often leading to much heavier dependence on third parties to provide the necessary skills and maintenance. Though this problem could also apply to legacy systems, at least those systems have established familiarity and predictability.

The case for retainment and integration

On the other hand, arguments in favour of retaining Adabas and Natural are compelling. Companies leveraging their existing Adabas and Natural applications can secure substantial benefits in their transformation efforts. By building on Adabas and Natural's established reliable infrastructure, organisations can achieve quick wins that accelerate the modernisation process without those substantial costs and risks associated with re-platforming.

Re-evaluating legacy.
Re-evaluating legacy.

Utilising existing systems allows companies to enhance functionality and integrate new technologies incrementally. This approach reduces the disruption typically associated with migrating to entirely new platforms. By avoiding full-scale re-platforming, companies can also allocate resources more effectively, focusing on strategic innovations rather than on re-engineering solutions that are already effective.

Modern development with high performance: While one can label Adabas and Natural as legacy systems, they are not outdated. Software AG, the creator of these systems, continues to invest in aligning them to modern technology opportunities. For example, Natural's integration into the Eclipse IDE via the NaturalONE plugin offers a modern development environment while maintaining the robust performance characteristics of Adabas, which often surpasses relational databases.

Modernisation without disruption: Modernisation efforts can be very disruptive and lead to more problems than gains. Moving away from Natural could disrupt existing integrations handled through EntireX and ApplinX, destabilising established business processes. Natural’s capability to interface with SQL for data integration demonstrates its adaptability, and ConnX facilitates the presentation of Adabas as a relational dataset, thus preventing the need for full migration.

Continued support: As mentioned, Software AG remains committed to supporting Adabas, a commitment it has extended to 2050. The vendor also provides a Java toolkit for Adabas access code development, underscoring the platform's continued viability. This point punctures the very argument that legacy, by its nature, is outdated. The truth is that many modern technologies stand on the shoulders of the innovations that blazed trails before them. As long as vendors improve those 'legacy' technologies, they retain their foundational roles. Legacy technology is only really a concern when it becomes abandoned or neglected.

Re-evaluating legacy.
Re-evaluating legacy.

Integrate before you migrate

The robustness and efficiency of Adabas as a database system and the versatility of Natural as a programming language provide a strong foundation for gradual modernisation. This includes integrating with modern interfaces and applications, thus extending the life and relevance of existing IT investments.

Despite these advantages, many enterprise leaders push for re-platforming because they think it's the only viable and sensible option. Many technology providers focus more on vendor quotas than sensible business strategies and will feed those narratives and exaggerate legacy issues. They often overlook or avoid questions about the comparative costs of Adabas and Natural licences versus those for relational databases and web application servers.

One must consider whether the momentum towards re-platforming is driven by actual business needs or merely by a desire to conform to prevailing industry trends. This scenario presents organisations with a critical decision: follow the technological trends or maintain their existing, proven systems? The choice carries significant implications for both short-term operations and long-term strategic direction. As companies navigate these decisions, they must carefully weigh the benefits of innovation against the risks and costs associated with transitioning to new technologies.

In conclusion, companies save on costs and minimise risks by capitalising on their current Adabas and Natural applications. They ensure a smoother and more cost-effective transformation journey. This strategy empowers them to maintain operational continuity while strategically positioning themselves for future technological advancements.

For inquiries about modernisation services, feel free to contact middleware technologies, an authorised sales and delivery partner of Software AG.

Re-evaluating legacy.
Re-evaluating legacy.