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Software architects struggle with relational database legacy

Legacy relational database management systems were originally designed as systems of record, but they don’t work as well in modern, cloud-native designs

Legacy databases are a bottleneck to digital transformation, a Vanson Bourne survey of 450 heads of digital transformation in organisations with 1,000 employees has found.

The survey, which is published in Couchbase’s Can architects meet the demands of the digital age? report, found that IT architects have scaled back their digital transformation ambitions.

When asked about their confidence in delivering digital transformation initiatives, the survey reported that 41% of architects say they are under “high” or “extremely high” pressure, while a further 44% say the pressure they are under is “manageable”.

However, this pressure is set to get more intense, with 40% of IT architects admitting they had experienced an increasing amount of pressure over the last year, while 28% said they expect pressure to increase over the next year. More than two-thirds (68%) agree that getting the right technologies in place for digital transformation can seem an insurmountable task.

According to Couchbase, regardless of an organisation’s specific digital transformation strategy and goals, connected devices are a core component of many digital transformation strategies: from tracking performance on a manufacturing line, to giving consumers a seamless experience on their smartphones.

However, the survey reported that 80% of architects have had to scale back ambitions for new internet of things (IoT) or mobile applications and services because of challenges in using data. Unless they can understand the reasons behind this, and address them, transformation will continue to seem an overwhelming challenge, Couchbase warned.

It argued that one reason for these data challenges could be a reliance on legacy relational databases. The survey found that 90% of organisations rely on them. Many (38%) consider themselves as heavily reliant on these relational database systems. Only 2% said they do not use relational database technologies in their organisations.

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While relational database systems are designed to perform core functions for system of record applications, Couchbase said it has not been engineered to support newer applications or the cloud. The survey found that while these databases still have a significant presence in the enterprise, 72% of IT executives who took part in the survey believe their reliance on these systems limits their ability to implement digital transformation projects.

According to Couchbase, legacy databases are so tied into the fabric of many enterprises that moving away from them is difficult, and progress is slow.

The survey reported that 39% of relational database users say they have been unable to migrate from these systems because they have built other architecture around it. Almost a third (30%) say they have invested in the necessary skills and don’t want to have to retrain or upskill their staff, while 29% say it would be too complex to rip up and replace their legacy database system.

The survey reported that 80% of enterprises have had to scale back their ambitions for IoT or mobile applications due to the restrictive nature of relying on legacy relational database systems.

Ravi Mayuram, senior vice-president of engineering and chief technology officer at Couchbase, said: “In this new era of utility computing powered by the cloud, the architect’s role is even more critical. Realising the full potential of modern databases; microservices, AI technologies and edge computing – such as in mobile apps and IOT – to name a few, requires serious thinking.

“Architects are tasked with making the right technology choices and picking the right suppliers that will guarantee their initiatives’ success. In this developer-driven economy, architects will lead this digital transformation by evolving the application and system architectures in a responsible manner, whereby businesses can make a quantum leap with minimum disruption.”

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