What it Means in Today's World?
With today's solutions consisting of various specialized vendor products and platforms to run on, keeping the technology stack current has never been as challenging as today. There is an exponential level of dependencies between these products and the solution, which sits on a complex architecture.
Unlike the early 2000s, today's enterprise applications are built using various specialized products for specific functions. The granularity of specialized work by multiple products in the application ecosystem has grown considerably. Many more products are involved in today's enterprise application landscape than in the past, which can be attributed to ever-increasing data for which complex computing and large storage demands have increased. All this has pushed enterprises to keep up with various compatibility and EOL challenges and the risks which comes with them.
Modern systems increasingly rely on a multi-product architecture for each specialized feature. It's a scenario where clients continue to use vendor products way past end-of-life. So, let's look at the risks of an outdated tech stack and the best practices to overcome such risks.
Risks of an Outdated Tech Stack
When a product is past its end-of-life, the support from the vendor to make any changes to the EOL version ceases to continue. So, no new features, bug fixes, or patches are applied to the EOL version making it much riskier for an enterprise. In addition, special deals need to be made with the vendor to have an Extended Support Agreement which usually comes at a higher cost. However, it still does not result in full software support.
2. Security Vulnerabilities
Such products in the EOL stage are a weak link and create an incentive for hackers to identify vulnerabilities to get into the network or system to run malicious pieces of code and steal confidential data. Vendors provide patches for the supported versions, and the clients who continue to use the EOL version are recommended to migrate to a supported version. It takes time for clients to migrate to the supported version and this window raises risk levels for clients.
3. Compatibility Gridlocks
When a vulnerability is identified in a complex architectural system, it's not an easy task for the team to upgrade to a supported version. Various parameters must be considered, including compatibility with all the other products used in the system. Sometimes these lead to a compatibility gridlock if other products in the application ecosystem do not support the version you want to upgrade at the last moment.
4. Functional Enhancements
Vendors continuously upgrade products and add new functionality and features. But such enhancements are only applied on the supported or the latest versions of the products. The EOL versions are left out without any new functionality. So, the application or the business teams cannot leverage such new features even though the product license does include them.
5. Performance Challenges
The performance of the applications plays a crucial role in grabbing business opportunities. Older versions of the products usually do not get performance improvements, which are usually part of the latest version. This leads to missed opportunities for consumers of the applications and the overall business.
Best Practices to Elevate your Technology Stack
1. Keep Track of End of Life (EOL)
Keep a close tab on the end-of-life of the entire technology stack of the application or portfolio of applications. Usually, these EOLs are published by the vendors on their portals which can be reviewed periodically. It's advised to assign a person from the support team to keep track of the EOL of the technology stack.
2. Keep Minor Versions Upto Date
Create a practice to keep any minor versions up-to-date with all the vendors. It is best practice to cross-check with all the vendors, even if it is a minor version change to ensure all the ecosystem's products are compatible with the minor version change. Keeping minor versions up to date helps when a major upgrade needs to be applied, in addition to getting any fixes as part of the minor versions.
3. Look out for Shared Infrastructure Updates
A common team manages shared infrastructure in an enterprise offering its services and/or software as a platform for applications. Periodically there are minor and major version changes for these platform products as well. Work with the shared infrastructure teams to ensure the platform software is kept up-to-date for any minor and major versions. It is essential to confirm from other vendors of any such platform version changes from compatibility standpoints.
4. Work on Cross-Product Support
Having a sound working relationship with all the vendors and periodic sync-up meetings, preferably once a month, is essential. Such sync-ups play a key role in ensuring that any version change from one product is cross-verified by other product vendors before applying it in the application environments. There will be cases where the latest version of one product is not compatible with another product. In such cases, depending on the criticality of the product with version change, negotiate with other vendors to establish compatibility; usually, it comes in the form of a patch for compatibility.
5. Cloud Migration
The applications on Cloud with Vendor Managed SaaS simplify the maintenance of the latest versions. However, the compatibility grid-lick still needs to be addressed. But if the Cloud is used for PaaS, it still does not help to keep up with the versions, as there is still a manual upgrade required after resolving compatibility with other vendors. Where possible, it is advised to move to SaaS as it reduces the overall effort to keep the versions up to date, reducing any risks related to security and vulnerability challenges.
6. Advocate for a Continued Budget
One of the significant challenges that application or portfolio managers experience is budgeting to keep the technology stack current, as it requires additional dollars under Operational Expenses. In cases where teams are not used to having such periodic technology stack updates, it is advised to have open communication with the management explaining the risks and the importance of such continuous activity.