For nearly a decade, IBM’s z14 family of mainframes have served as a reliable IT workhorse for numerous enterprises. But like all good things, the z14 will eventually come to an end. In July of 2017, IBM announced their scheduled end of life for this family of mainframes, withdrawing the product from marketing as of June 30, 2021.  

In keeping with IBM’s past history, the company will most likely continue to support this product for another five years or so, through 2027. That means if your shop is running a z14 system, now is a good time to start planning for the future.

Yes, there are third-party support options available, – but the clock has started ticking, and as cloud alternatives to the mainframe become more and more attractive, it’s well worth exploring mainframe modernization as an option for your next step.

Benefits of Modernization for z14 Shops

With the right tools and expert guidance, a mainframe-to-cloud migration can be extraordinarily low-risk, with highly predictable results. Modernization routinely generates positive ROI in very short order. Historically, many have been reluctant to launch modernization projects because of the perceived risk and expense involved. Granted, – replacing your most business-critical IT system can be disruptive, but fortunately technology has evolved to the point at which the costs and risks of doing nothing are actually higher than the costs and risks of moving to the cloud.

The economics of the mainframe business dictate that as the number of customers running a particular system declines, the company that sells and maintains it must recoup their costs from a smaller and smaller customer base. Even for IBM, that means pushing higher operating costs down to their customers.

At the same time, the costs of cloud computing and other distributed systems are plummeting. For cloud-based environments especially, the cost/benefit analysis looks more and more attractive every day.

Addressing the Talent Shortage

Modernization solves a key problem that has been growing more and more acute over the past several years. We have all heard about the “great resignation”, – the outflow of people from the workforce which has led to shortages in many key job categories. Unfortunately that has affected IBM shops much more than other companies that are seeking to attract IT personnel.

Mainframe talent was in short supply even before the great resignation, – but the problem has been rendered far worse as experienced mainframe experts continue to reach retirement age.

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IBM and other mainframe vendors have been courting the latest generation of computer science graduates with free training and aggressive recruitment, but few new entrants in the job market are taking any interest in legacy technologies. After all, there’s plenty of demand for new talent in hot technologies like AI, data analytics, IoT, and cloud computing.

That leaves mainframe shops in a tough spot. How can they continue to maintain their current systems, given the shrinking pool of mainframe talent? Currently, there are over 80,000 mainframe positions open worldwide, and that number is growing.

For many, this is a strong signal that it’s time to consider a modernization project.

Building IT Agility

Mainframe modernization isn’t just about addressing the talent shortage, though, – and it isn’t just about cost savings. It’s also about agility and responsiveness.

While IBM systems are powerful workhorses in any IT environment, they also bring with them some technical constraints which are especially challenging in the age of hyperconnected cloud computing.

Despite the efforts of IBM and their ISV partners to build web connectivity and integration hooks for the z14 mainframe, legacy infrastructure continues to exist as a relatively siloed system within the larger IT landscape.

Whether your aim is to build customer-facing mobile apps, web-enable your front end, or perform real-time analytics using one of today’s popular cloud data platforms, – it can be extraordinarily difficult to bridge the chasm between your mainframe systems and everything else.

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The topic of business agility has emerged as a key success factor for all industries. Economic uncertainty, competitive pressures, and the pace of innovation have all been driving that, – and the COVID pandemic especially raised awareness of just how important agility can be. Organizations must be prepared to pivot abruptly, –rolling out new initiatives on relatively short notice and bringing them to market aggressively.

Unfortunately, monolithic IT systems and waterfall development no longer work well in this environment.

Today’s world demands high levels of interoperability, real-time data flows, and a microservices approach to architecture. Today’s world is about object-oriented programming and web services, with mobile-friendly, browser-based UI’s. In other words, today’s businesses need a lot the things that mainframes don’t do very well.

Modernizing your z14 Systems

In the past, there have been two broadly defined approaches to modernizing legacy systems, – replatforming and refactoring. Astadia has introduced a game-changing third approach, the fully automated Migration Factory. The Migration Factory dramatically reduces risk, reduces costs, automates the entire process, and accelerates project completion times.

The replatforming approach involves transitioning to a new operating system, without changing the application code, its structure, or the features and functions of your business applications. Astadia has performed numerous replatforming projects, including IBM mainframe-cloud migrations to Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Oracle.

Refactoring is an automated approach to transforming mainframe source code into a modern object-oriented language such as Java or C#. The goal is to deliver a system that is functionally equivalent to the source application, but which is more open for future development using a broader pool of programming talent, with better integration to modern computing platforms. Astadia has decades of experience with refactoring as well.

The third approach is the FastTrack Migration Factory, which is unique to Astadia. While many vendors offer automation tools, no one else is delivering the full end-to-end automation that the Migration Factory provides. The Astadia Migration Factory enables organizations to redesign, migrate to virtually any relational database platform, transform code to Java or C#, automate test scenarios based on actual user interactions, and validate the results.

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Because it is fully automated, the Migration Factory allows for unlimited iterations of testing and redesign, at virtually zero marginal cost. As a result, our clients can cut over to their new system with complete confidence that it will be functionally equivalent to the legacy system, and it will perform at least as well as (or better than) the mainframe it is replacing.

Astadia can work with your organization to assess your current environment, – whether that’s an IBM z14 or any other legacy system, – and provide you with a list of modernization options. With three decades of experience in legacy modernization, Astadia has seen it all; we’re not limited to one-size-fits-all thinking. Before we present potential solutions, we take the time to learn about your system and understand your technical issues, business requirements, and context. After that, we work with you to tailor a plan that fits your unique needs.

Astadia has successfully migrated over 300 mainframes and hundreds of millions of lines of code over nearly 30 years. From planning and migration, DevOps and testing, to managed services: we can guide you through a successful journey.

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