5 Proven Approaches To Successfully Carry Out Mainframe Modernization

Apr 19, 2023
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Many firms depend on mainframes for data analysis and crucial applications, but outdated applications are costly, hard to integrate, and pose security risks. Gartner reports that many I&O leaders focused on modernization struggle to identify the mainframe's role in a hybrid environment. Improper handling of this matter may lead to suboptimal utilization of available resources, inefficient expenses, operational breakdowns, or noncompliance due to inadequate allocation of crucial workloads.
This article will examine the rationale for mainframe modernization and how businesses can make this happen.
Rohit Dhall
Rohit Dhall

Principal Architect


Understanding the existing challenges with mainframe applications
Mainframes have been reliable and efficient, serving critical functions for large organizations, including banks, insurance companies, and governments. However, as the IT landscape evolves rapidly, mainframe applications face several challenges.
1. High cost of hardware/storage
One of the primary challenges of mainframes is the high cost of hardware and storage. Mainframes are designed for high performance and reliability, which requires specialized hardware and storage devices. These devices can be costly, and as data storage needs increase, so does the cost. Additionally, mainframes often require expensive software licenses and maintenance fees, making it difficult for businesses to justify the cost.
2. Shrinking talent pool of mainframe expertise
Many experts who have mastered this technology are aging and retiring, leaving a gap in the workforce. Finding new talent with the skills to maintain and enhance mainframe applications is becoming increasingly difficult, creating a shortage of mainframe experts that can impact the ability of companies to keep up with evolving technology and business needs.
3. Lack of business agility
Mainframes are known for their stability and reliability but are not typically associated with agility. Updating or changing mainframe applications can be time-consuming and complex. This can slow down a company's ability to respond to changing business needs or market trends. Mainframes tend to use older programming languages and software development practices, making integrating with newer technologies and platforms difficult.
4. Difficult maintainability
Maintaining mainframe applications can be complex and time-consuming, requiring specialized knowledge and expertise. With the complexity of modern business environments, keeping up with the maintenance and updates needed can be challenging, particularly when companies have limited access to mainframe expertise. The lack of standardization in mainframe applications also makes maintenance and updates more challenging.
5. Lack of documentation
Many mainframe applications have been operating for decades, and the original document may have been lost or outdated. This can make it difficult for new developers or IT staff to understand how the system works, leading to more extended learning curves and potentially costly errors. Maintaining and updating mainframe applications can become even more challenging without adequate documentation.
6. Outdated programming language
Mainframe applications often use programming languages that are no longer in widespread use, making it difficult to find developers with the required expertise. Additionally, it can be challenging to integrate mainframe applications with modern applications and platforms. Using outdated programming languages can also make adopting newer software development practices, such as Agile and DevOps, challenging.
7. Lack of Agile and DevOps processes
Mainframe development has historically followed a waterfall approach, with long development cycles and extensive testing. This can make it challenging to keep up with the fast pace of modern software development. Adopting Agile and DevOps processes can help organizations to deliver more value to their customers faster, but integrating these processes with existing mainframe applications can be challenging. The lack of standardization and documentation in mainframe applications can make it difficult to automate testing and deployment processes, slowing the adoption of Agile and DevOps.
Making a solid case for Mainframe Modernization
As businesses grow and evolve, so must their technology infrastructure. This is particularly true for legacy mainframe applications, which have been the backbone of business operations for decades. However, as technology evolves rapidly, these legacy systems are becoming expensive and challenging to maintain.
According to a report by Gartner, many enterprises struggle to determine the appropriate placement of their mainframe in their overall IT strategy. As a result, they may keep the mainframe without fully utilizing its capabilities or fail to allocate workloads to other platforms where they are better suited. This can lead to both inertia and hindrance of digital initiatives.
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7 reasons why companies should consider mainframe modernization
1. Cost Savings
According to Gartner, the cost of maintaining legacy mainframe applications can be as high as 70% of an organization's IT budget. By modernizing mainframe applications, businesses can significantly reduce costs associated with hardware, software, and personnel. For example, modernizing mainframes can help companies use newer technologies, such as cloud computing, which can significantly reduce infrastructure costs.
2. Improved Agility
Modernizing mainframe applications can improve businesses’ agility by enabling them to respond quickly to changing business needs. As enterprises adopt newer technologies, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence, modernized mainframes can integrate seamlessly with these technologies. This, in turn, allows businesses to improve their agility and respond more quickly to changing market conditions.
3. Enhanced Scalability
Mainframe modernization can help businesses scale their systems to meet increasing demands for data processing. With the growth of big data, businesses need to process vast amounts of information quickly and efficiently. Modernized mainframes can provide the scalability required to handle these demands, improving overall system performance.
4. Improved Security
Mainframe applications have always been known for their security and reliability. However, as cyber threats become more sophisticated, it is essential to maintain the safety of these systems. Modernized mainframes can integrate with newer security technologies, such as encryption and biometric authentication, providing businesses additional protection against cyber threats.
5. Access to New Features and Capabilities
Modernizing mainframes can provide businesses with access to new features and capabilities that were previously unavailable. For example, modern mainframe applications can take advantage of newer programming languages and technologies, improving the maintainability of applications. Additionally, modern mainframes can integrate with newer technologies, such as machine learning, allowing businesses to take advantage of the latest advancements in the data processing.
6. Improved Customer Experience
Modernizing mainframes can improve the customer experience by enabling businesses to process customer data more efficiently. For example, modernized mainframes can provide faster access to customer information, improving overall customer satisfaction. Additionally, modern mainframes can allow businesses to personalize customer experiences, tailoring services to individual customer needs.
7. Retaining Critical Business Knowledge
The qualified talent pool is shrinking as the workforce responsible for maintaining mainframes ages and retires. Modernized mainframes can provide better documentation and automated processes, improving knowledge retention across the organization.
Deep diving into mainframe modernization approaches
Mainframe applications have been the backbone of large-scale enterprise computing for decades, but the need for modernization becomes more apparent as technology evolves. Legacy systems can impede an organization's agility, efficiency, and competitiveness. Mainframe modernization is a strategic process of updating these legacy systems to meet current business needs.
Different approaches to mainframe modernization include APIfication, Native Microservices Development, Re-Platform, Re-Factor, and Rebuild/Re-Write/Re-Imagine. Each approach has its own advantages and problems, and organizations must carefully consider their goals and resources before choosing a modernization approach.
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1. APIfication
APIfication exposes mainframe data and functions as APIs that other systems can access and consume. This approach enables organizations to unlock the value of their mainframe applications without needing a full-scale modernization effort. By APIfying mainframe applications, organizations can leverage existing systems and reduce the complexity and cost of integration with modern systems.
  • APIfication allows organizations to integrate mainframe applications with modern tools and technologies, such as cloud services and mobile applications, while maintaining the integrity and security of the mainframe data.
  • APIs provide a standardized interface that allows different systems to communicate effectively and can be developed quickly and efficiently.
  • This approach can be less disruptive than other modernization approaches as it does not require significant changes to the mainframe system.
  • APIfication may not be suitable for all types of mainframe applications, as some legacy systems may be unable to provide data and functions in a modern, API-friendly format.
  • Additionally, this approach may not address underlying issues with the mainframe system, such as outdated programming languages or difficult maintainability.
2. Native Microservices Development
Native Microservices Development is a modernization approach that involves re-architecting mainframe applications to adopt a microservices-based architecture. This approach provides more agility and flexibility in development and deployment, allowing organizations to respond more quickly to changing business needs. It breaks down monolithic mainframe applications into more minor, independent services, which can be developed and deployed independently.
  • Native Microservices Development can improve the agility and scalability of mainframe applications, allowing organizations to respond more quickly to changing business needs.
  • It can also enable modern development tools, such as containerization and orchestration technologies, which can increase development speed and reduce costs.
  • This approach can be less disruptive than other modernization approaches as it can be done incrementally, with individual services migrated over time.
  • Native Microservices Development requires significant expertise in modern development technologies and mainframe applications, making it a more challenging approach for some organizations.
  • It may also require changes to the mainframe system's architecture, which can be difficult and time-consuming.
  • Additionally, it may not address underlying issues with the mainframe system, such as outdated programming languages or difficult maintainability.
3. Re-Platforming
Re-platforming is migrating a legacy application to a new platform while retaining its existing functionality. This approach typically involves migrating mainframe applications to a modern server-based infrastructure like Cloud or virtualized environment. It enables organizations to maintain the business logic and processes built into the original mainframe applications while leveraging new technology for better performance, scalability, and cost-effectiveness.
  • Re-platforming is less expensive than other modernization approaches, requiring fewer modifications to the existing application code.
  • Moving to a modern infrastructure can improve the performance of the application.
  • The re-platformed application can be scaled more quickly than the legacy system.
  • Organizations can reduce the maintenance costs associated with a legacy mainframe system by migrating to a modern infrastructure.
  • Re-platforming does not allow for significant innovation in the application. The application's functionality remains unchanged and might miss out on modern business processes.
  • It can be a complex process requiring significant planning and testing to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Compatibility issues may arise when migrating to a new platform. The application may not work as expected, and additional modifications may be necessary.
4. Re-Factoring
Refactoring is the process of restructuring the code combining reverse engineering with forward engineering for enabling better performance and portability making your applications significantly faster in future. The methodology retains the business logic and core functionality, freeing up from mainframe-based Cobol & is predominantly carried out using automated tools that are available for most languages, databases, VMs and platforms.
  • Refactoring can be a cost-effective approach to modernizing legacy mainframe applications. It enables organizations to enhance the performance and reliability of the system without the need to rewrite it entirely.
  • It is a lower-risk approach compared to a complete system rebuild. Since the core business logic of the system remains unchanged, there is less risk of introducing new bugs or issues into the system. This can result in a smoother and less risky modernization process.
  • It reduces organizations’ technical debt. By eliminating unnecessary code and optimizing the existing code, organizations can reduce the complexity and improve the system’s overall quality, making it easier to maintain and upgrade.
  • Refactoring has a limited scope and may not be suitable for all legacy systems. It is only effective in systems where the core business logic remains unchanged, and the system can be improved by optimizing the existing code.
  • Although tools are available for refactoring, readability and code maintainability can be challenging.
  • It can be a time-consuming process, requiring a significant amount of effort and resources to achieve the desired results.
  • Legacy mainframe applications may not have sufficient documentation, making refactoring more challenging and time-consuming. Developers may need to spend additional time understanding the existing system's functionality and design before they can start refactoring.
5. Rebuilding
This approach involves creating a new application that meets the requirements of modern business processes while retaining the functionality of the legacy application. In this article, we will discuss the advantages and challenges of this approach.
  • By starting from scratch, organizations can avoid the limitations and constraints of the legacy system and build a new system better suited to their current and future needs.
  • Rebuilding can also open up opportunities for organizations to leverage broader skill sets and expertise. With modern technologies and development practices, organizations can attract a new generation of developers skilled in the latest programming languages, frameworks, and tools.
  • It can improve the system's user experience (UX) and interface (UI). With a new system, organizations can design and develop an intuitive and user-friendly interface that meets the needs of modern users. Additionally, a new system can be more agile and responsive, enabling organizations to adapt to changing business requirements quickly.
  • It can be the most expensive of all modernization approaches. Developing and testing the new application involves significant resources, time, and investments. The costs of the latest application need to be weighed against the potential benefits to ensure a positive return on investment.
  • Rebuilding a legacy mainframe system from scratch can be complex and time-consuming. It requires significant planning and testing to ensure a smooth transition from the old system to the new one. Additionally, the new application may have compatibility issues with other systems, requiring further modifications to the code.
  • It carries some risk due to potential errors and delays during development. Organizations need to manage this risk by having a robust testing and quality assurance process to ensure that the new application meets the business requirements.
In conclusion, mainframe modernization is critical for organizations that rely on legacy mainframe applications to run their critical business operations. Organizations can reduce costs, improve efficiency, and gain a competitive advantage by modernizing their strategies. The process of mainframe modernization can be complex and challenging, but with careful planning and execution, organizations can successfully migrate to modern platforms and technologies.
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