Mainframe Modernization is the New Business Imperative

By Raghu Radhakrishnan, CEO & President, TmaxSoft India
There’s a mantra in IT that says, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. After all, if it still works, why spend time, money and effort to change it?

However, modernization of core technology is a key concern for today’s businesses. Resistance to modernization doesn’t only come from an “if it isn’t broken” attitude. Change brings risk, so it might appear prudent to delay major infrastructure changes. Also, many large organizations have made sizeable investments in mainframes loaded with years of accumulated data, and that data may have been incorporated into monolithic mainframe software applications.

But sooner or later, “old stuff” in a technology age becomes a liability. Conversion costs rise as competitors with newer technologies eat away at your markets. Qualified support personnel may retire or move on and vendors may no longer be available. You’re left without the needed support for your big iron and COBOL, Assembler and PL1applications. You’re flooded with complaints from unhappy users of applications that run on the mainframe, while upgrade costs grow out of line with available budget.

As Gartner has noted, fast moving trends such as big data, hybrid/cloud data management and the IoT (all offering agility, speed, scaling and high-impact business outcomes), create an incredible amount of strategic and tactical decision making capabilities. With many legacy mainframe architectures being unable to live up to the demands of these trends, they can pose serious headaches for businesses with sluggish and inert technologies looking to remain competitive and agile. Without capable hardware, many companies will lack the performance necessary to take advantage of these new initiatives.

At some point, change is no longer simply an option but an imperative. Maintaining the status quo means accepting mediocre technology and therefore business performance driven by outdated mainframe infrastructures, creating a danger at the heart of your company. The risks associated with this approach will continue to grow until they envelope your enterprise as a whole.

In short, it’s time to modernize. So what are the options for today’s IT leaders?

Mainframe upgrading

Upgrading a mainframe in an attempt to modernize it may seem to be the logical first option for many companies. Adding new system hardware, or switching to a higher capacity mainframe machine, would certainly increase the capacity and performance of an ailing machine.

However, this approach contributes nothing towards the main shortfalls of mainframe systems, namely their inflexibility, high maintenance costs and diminishing pool of skilled labor. When you consider the added licensing and capital costs of upgrading mainframe hardware, this option can be a difficult one to justify.

Re-write the source code

Compared to simply upgrading mainframe hardware, this tactic certainly addresses some of the core problems of legacy mainframes, such as poor scalability and limited expertise in outdated computing languages. However, a major re-write brings its own risks. With existing business logics inherent in each system, redeveloping increases the chances of getting it wrong and requiring extensive user testing – an expensive and time-consuming project. Furthermore, re-writing mainframe source code requires some sort of translation table to bring the data stores to an SQL environment and isolate the data functionality to its own tier, again at significant time and cost.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to ROI. Businesses need to consider which is the true inhibitor in their mainframes: the source code language or the underlying architecture. For many, a more attractive route to mainframe modernization will be through rehosting their applications to entirely new systems rather than going through the lengthy and expensive process of re-writing and re-architecting.

Rehosting

Rehosting is an option whereby existing mainframe applications move unchanged to a modern open system or the Cloud. For many businesses, rehosting can be a very cost-effective way to overhaul their mainframe architectures and, when performed properly, rehosting provides many of the benefits of a re-write with significantly fewer risks and costs.

Rehosting can also act as a beneficial first step to a less complicated and therefore less risky source code re-write. Where mainframes have limited scalability and performance due to their tightly coupled architectures, the loosely coupled architecture of an open system or Cloud platform offers maximized scalability and flexibility. Core safety is also improved, since existing mainframe security is maintained and additional safeguards provided by modern SQL databases can now be employed quickly and easily. Rehosting to an open system also results in lower capital expenditures in the long term, because today’s open systems have lower purchase costs and consume less space, power and cooling requirements over their lifetimes.

Utilizing the Cloud

Mainframe rehosting services usually follow one of two clear paths. The first is an on-premise deployment utilizing industry standard open systems. The second approach is to host the same environment within a cloud provider. This leapfrogs the on-premise modernization directly to the cloud. In either situation, the original mainframe applications are themselves not changed, making testing, deployment, and user acceptance much easier and less risky.

There are a number of advantages to rehosting mainframe applications to cloud-based architectures, chief among them being flexibility. Because they are not limited by hardware, storage and other factors that may be present with an on-premise infrastructure, cloud providers can scale capabilities to match user demand.

Additionally, rehosting and running applications in the cloud opens the door to new services which can further boost your business’ ability to acquire and grow your customers, while competing more successfully in today’s digital marketplace.

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