At Astadia, we often recive inquiries from IT leaders who are grappling with rising operational expenses associated with their current mainframe systems. These organizations  recognize the potential for innovation and the benefits of leveraging cloud technologies, integration, and digital transformation. Upon engaging with these customers, we often uncovers significant opportunities to simplify and streamline their systems. Many of these systems have evolved over time, resulting in a convoluted mix of tools, technologies, and architectures that would not make sense if designed from scratch.

Recently, Astadia successfully completed a project for a major media company based in the United States. This company delivers print magazines to more than 21 million subscribers on a weekly basis. The company operated two separate systems to handle fulfillment to retailers and newsstands, as well as sophisticated operations involving postage, labeling, and bundling to ensure timely delivery of their magazines.

When Two Systems Come Together…

The two major systems were running in distinct environments. The larger system operated on a legacy IBM zCloud mainframe, featuring 425 applications comprising over 400,000 lines of code and more than 1800 JCL batch jobs. This system dated back to the late 1990s and was designed by a company that was later acquired as part of a corporate merger. Its purpose was specifically tailored to the requirements of printing, mailing, and delivering weekly publications.

The parent company involved in the merger previously focused solely on selling and shipping monthly magazines. They had their own system in place to manage the printing and delivery processes, but their business needs differed significantly from the mainframe system inherited through the acquisition. This second system operated in a separate Linux environment and employed a different set of technologies.

The company managed to combine the two systems to fulfill their entire range of business requirements. However, the resulting architecture was complex, and integrating the two systems posed challenges. Each system had its own dedicated database.

The zCloud system, written in COBOL, ran on IBM DB2, while the Linux system utilized Java and C++ and operated with a Sybase database. A replication process ran on a set of virtual machines to synchronize the two databases, with larger files being transferred from the zCloud application to Sybase through IBM's MQ Series (WebSphere MQ) middleware.

This data replication process was slow and prone to multiple potential points of failure. Regular manual intervention was necessary to address problems, which occurred frequently.

Aside from the integration challenges, the mainframe environment presented additional pain points. Load balancing the company's operations imposed significant time constraints on critical jobs, some of which took up to 15 hours to execute. To support these overnight jobs, two shifts were required, employing a total of four full-time personnel to operate the mainframe system.

Operating costs for the IBM mainframe system soared to over $1 million annually, rendering it excessively expensive to maintain. Additionally, like many other organizations, the print media company faced concerns about the diminishing pool of skilled mainframe experts.

Astadia proposed a replatforming approach that involved migrating both systems to AWS (Amazon Web Services) and standardizing them around a unified technology stack. The resulting environment would center around a shared Aurora PostGres relational database, eliminating the need for separate IBM DB2 and Sybase databases and the associated database replication processes that had been problematic.

The Linux-based system, previously operating on-premises, was migrated to its dedicated AWS cloud instance. Simultaneously, the mainframe system was replatformed on AWS, with Micro Focus COBOL enabling the continued use of existing legacy code in the new environment.

The client organization set an aggressive timeline for the project due to the impending end date of their mainframe contract. In order to avoid another full-year contract costing over $1 million, they aimed to have the new system up and running in just over nine months. Through collaborative efforts, Astadia and their client successfully completed the project on time and within budget.

Streamlined Systems

As the project unfolded, the company initially approached it as a necessary cost-saving measure. However, they soon realized that substantial benefits could be gained by rationalizing the two disparate systems, eliminating points of failure, and transitioning to a scalable cloud infrastructure. The load balancing issue on the mainframe was resolved, and if additional capacity is required, the AWS cloud can easily be scaled to accommodate the company's needs.

The company's operating costs for the system, which previously exceeded $1 million annually, dropped to less than $100,000 per year. Notably, there was a significant improvement in performance, with tasks that used to take up to 15 hours now completed in less than half that time. By eliminating load balancing and reducing processing time, the organization was able to eliminate the second shift, resulting in substantial savings in personnel costs.

Through this legacy modernization project, the large print media company achieved its initial goal of cost savings. Despite initial skepticism regarding the potential for 90% savings, the actual savings in operating costs alone exceeded the target. An IT professional at the media company emphasized that this project "saved this application because you couldn't justify paying a million dollars a year for this one application."

Rather than embarking on a risky and prolonged project to rebuild their critical business applications from scratch, this prominent print media giant preserved their existing IT investments while streamlining and rationalizing their key business systems. As a result, they significantly simplified their landscape, making it more cost-efficient and easier to maintain. Equally important, the company now possesses a system that can easily scale and evolve to meet changing needs over time.

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