To Z, or not to Z! That is the question that I work with customers to answer. What excites me most about my role and work at Astadia is that there is no single "right answer." There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mainframe modernization. This is particularly true for larger mainframe customers. Often, business units may have differing objectives, requirements, and target technologies.
For one division, remaining in COBOL might be a good proposition because their average programmer is 45 years old. For another division, they may have just lost their last programmer, or they want to do business in new ways and are finding that legacy technologies are holding them back from being able to achieve their objectives.
At Astadia, we recognize the need to be pattern agnostic. We're working with more and more mainframe customers who want to remain on the mainframe but take action to reduce costs, improve performance, and future-proof their mainframe applications.
With more and more customers making concrete plans for their mainframe modernization strategy, the mainframe's role in the future of enterprise computing is often called into question. In some cases, for a good reason – clients are routinely able to achieve significant cost savings while maintaining the high levels of security, performance, and reliability they are accustomed to on their mainframe platform in a public cloud environment.
However, there is no single best approach for mainframe migration and modernization strategies. In fact, for a number of customers, the mainframe is the best platform for their organization and will deliver superior results than any alternatives.
With IBM's latest launch of the z16 mainframe, IBM has shown that the mainframe is anything but legacy and has an important role to play in the largest enterprise IT environments.
Despite the impressive mainframe technology, this does not forgo the need for application modernization. The beauty of the mainframe has also become its curse – the mainframe has served so reliably and consistently that many organizations have made minimal changes to their applications over the previous decades. With much of the mainframe workforce retiring, this lack of progressive modernization is coming to a tipping point, and clients are scrambling to find solutions as their staff is walking out the door.
However, this talent shortage and the imperative to move away from legacy programming languages does not mean that every company should migrate its mainframe workloads to the cloud. The real answer is more nuanced than that, and clients need to consider all options to address their technical debt.
For some clients, modernizing on the mainframe is the best approach. In the context of Astadia's services, we are partnering with clients to migrate third-party technologies such as CA IDMS/ADS, Natural/Adabas, and CA Datacom/Ideal to standard COBOL and DB2. This provides significant benefits to customers who are able to avoid restrictive and costly licensing fees and move to a more mainstream technology stack.
However, the journey cannot stop at COBOL and DB2, with some customers struggling to find resources to support these technologies. Java presents one option for organizations that wish to remain on the mainframe but want to leverage contemporary programming languages.
For example, clients are able to leverage Astadia's solution to migrate mainframe applications to Java on Linux OS on IBM Z.
Many large clients are also pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy. Some customers are choosing to migrate workloads that make sense to migrate while keeping select workloads on the mainframe. This is often pursued by large customers who are seeking to reduce MIPS while modernizing key applications to address talent shortages and technical debt while pursuing cost savings. However, not every customer will be able to achieve cost savings by leveraging this approach.
This is an option that should not be taken lightly and requires careful consideration of the impacts on performance and cost and a detailed analysis of the integrations and complexities involved.
Astadia has also developed a tool called CobolBridge. CobolBridge is a software tool that allows organizations to combine maintaining COBOL code with executing Java/C#. This makes it possible for developers to transition to object-oriented languages such as Java or C# gradually over time. CobolBridge integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio Code: a popular, modern, open-source IDE that is developed by Microsoft and that can be used and extended for working with many different programming languages.
This provides two main benefits for organizations transitioning to Java/C#; first, their current COBOL programmers, who may have decades of business expertise, have no need to learn Java or C#, only the new toolset. Secondly, applications are able to benefit from the features and functionality offered by the Java and .NET ecosystems, such as modern development tools and lower costs.
Astadia recognizes that mainframe customers are faced with unique challenges and complexities specific to their technical and business requirements. There is no silver bullet in the mainframe modernization industry. Despite the positioning from most vendors in this space, the mainframe will continue to play a critical role for years to come. As organizations evaluate options to modernize and migrate, all patterns should be considered.
There is no one right answer to modernization, but there remains one wrong answer: "Do nothing" is no longer an acceptable approach for mainframe customers, and inaction has become the highest-risk plan.
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Mainframe modernization offers opportunities to clear roadblocks and re-engineer legacy processes, allowing organizations to keep up with the demands of the digital economy.
Will mainframe systems begin to show up as significant business risks on auditors’ reports? If they haven’t been modernized, yes. In fact, it’s already happening.
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