Very often, potential customers contact Astadia because they are faced with increasing operating costs on their current mainframe systems. In addition, they see opportunities to innovate and take greater advantage of cloud technologies, integration, and digital transformation. As we engage with many of these customers, though, we frequently discover significant opportunities to simplify and streamline their systems as well. Very often, these systems have evolved over a number of years, resulting in an odd mix of tools and technologies and an architecture that simply would never make sense if you were setting out to build it from scratch.
Not long ago, Astadia completed a project with a major US-based media company that delivers print magazines to over 21 million subscribers every week. The company operated two distinct systems to support fulfillment to retailers and newsstands, as well as managing sophisticated postage, labeling, and bundling operations to ensure regular on-time delivery of the company’s magazines to subscribers.
Those two major systems were running in separate environments. The larger system was operating on a legacy IBM zCloud mainframe, with 425 applications consisting of over 400,000 lines of code and over 1800 JCL batch jobs. It dated back to the late 1990’s, and was designed by a predecessor company which was subsequently acquired as part of a corporate merger. That system was specifically designed to address requirements for printing, mailing, and delivering weekly publications.
The parent company in that merger had previously focused solely on selling and shipping monthly magazines. They had their own system for managing those printing and delivery processes; but their business requirements were much different from the mainframe system they had inherited in the acquisition. That second system ran in a separate Linux environment and was built using a very different set of technologies.
The company managed to combine the two systems in such a way that together, they could meet the organization’s full range of business requirements. The resulting architecture was unwieldy, though, and the two systems were difficult to integrate. Each of the two systems had its own database.
The zCloud system was written in COBOL and was running on IBM DB2. The Linux system was written in Java and C++ and operated with a Sybase database. A replication process ran on a set of virtual machines, synchronizing the two databases, and larger files were pushed from the zCloud application to Sybase using IBM’s MQ Series (WebSphere MQ) middleware.
The resulting data replication process was slow, and it had multiple points of potential failure. Manual intervention was often required to resolve problems, which happened on a very frequent basis.
Other challenges arose from the mainframe environment itself. Load-balancing of the company’s operations placed severe time constraints on their mission-critical jobs, which often required as long as 15 hours each to execute. Two shifts were needed to support overnight jobs, requiring a total of four full-time personnel to operate the mainframe system.
Operating costs for the IBM mainframe system had increased to over $1 million per year, making it prohibitively expensive to run. Like many other organizations, this print media company was also concerned about a declining talent pool of experienced mainframe experts.
Astadia recommended a replatforming approach in which both systems would be migrated to AWS and standardized around a single unified technology stack. The resulting environment will be built around a shared Aurora PostGres relational database, eliminating the separate IBM DB2 and Sybase databases and the resulting database replication processes that had been so problematic.
The Linux-based system, formerly running on-premise, was moved to its own dedicated AWS cloud instance. The mainframe system was also re-platformed to AWS, with Micro Focus COBOL enabling the company to continue running its existing legacy code in the new environment.
The client organization had set an aggressive timeline for the project, due in large part to the pending end-date on the company’s mainframe contract. To avoid another full-year contract which would cost the company over $1 million, they set an ambitious goal of having the new system up and running in just over nine months. Working together, Astadia and their client completed the job on time and within budget.
Initially, the company undertook this project as a necessary cost saving measure. As the project unfolded, however, they soon realized that there were substantial benefits to be found in rationalizing these two disparate systems, eliminating the points of failure, and moving to a scalable cloud of infrastructure. The problem of load-balancing on the mainframe has been eliminated. If additional capacity is required, the AWS cloud can easily be scaled up to suit the company’s needs.
The company’s system operating costs, which had exceeded $1 million per year, dropped to less than $100,000 annually. Another very noticeable benefit has been the dramatic increase in performance, more than double what they had achieved with their legacy systems. Jobs that used to take up to 15 hours are now completed in less than half that time. By eliminating load-balancing and cutting processing time in half, the organization was able to eliminate their second shift, generating significant personnel savings as well.
By completing this legacy modernization project, this large print media company succeeded in its initial goal of saving on operating costs. While they were initially skeptical about potential savings of 90%, their actual savings (in operating costs alone, not including reduced personnel costs) actually exceeded that target. A long time IT professional at the media company stated that this project “saved this application, because you couldn’t justify paying a million dollars a year for this one application.”
Instead of embarking on a risky and protracted project to rebuild their critical business applications from scratch, this print media giant was able to preserve their existing IT investments while streamlining and rationalizing these key business systems. As a result, they vastly simplified their landscape, making it far more cost-efficient and easier to maintain. Just as importantly, the company now has a system that can scale easily and evolve as the company’s needs change over time.
Many of the software engineers who have maintained mainframe COBOL applications over the years have recently retired.
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