How to unlock the massive value embedded in your mainframe applications

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Change and innovation is a must in business nowadays. While organizations are looking to innovate, they equally need to leverage their business DNA – the applications and data they use to perform vital business functions – embedded in their legacy systems.

Doing so requires unlocking these assets from legacy systems. This is a process that has been and continues to be complex, in particular when a mainframe is involved, but thanks to modern technological methods, extracting these assets is now a viable route for organizations.

It comes down to choosing the method that unlocks the relevant components for your business.

The CIO’s Dilemma

CIOs are juggling two competing priorities: Keeping the business stable and keeping up with what the business wants. The former means they are risk and change-averse. The latter means there is always the pressure to modernize to keep up with the demands of a competitive landscape. It’s not surprising some methods used to migrate from legacy systems are giving them pause for thought.  

There are essentially three options when you want to unlock and utilize business DNA housed on legacy systems but there are several challenges and pitfalls that businesses could fall into depending on the one they choose. 

Option 1: Staying put

This involves keeping applications where they are and trying to enhance them. The mainframe can work quite happily at 99% load after all. But just because it can, doesn’t mean it should. There’s a reason Amazon and Google didn’t build their businesses on the mainframe platform – it is far easier to build and develop in modern environments and the opportunities for innovation and flexibility are simply greater, too.  

With innovation pursued on other platforms nowadays, the issue with staying put and modernizing in situ is that you’re making things complex and limiting the benefits when you don’t need to. It’s like choosing a manual car when automatics are available. There’s a reason the number of automatic vehicles sold in Europe has more than tripled in the last three years and why 96% of Americans opt to drive automatic cars. They’re easier to use and more efficient. Ultimately, staying put doesn’t allow for true innovation.

Option 2: Traditional migration methods like rewriting applications 

Whilst it may sound attractive to you and you might be able to migrate this way, it is traditional approaches to migration that underpin many of the concerns CIOs have; they are risky, will take time to catch up with what your legacy applications already cover, involve significant change, are expensive, and sometimes simply impossible. They almost always result in a “big bang” migration, thus significantly increasing risk because of the amount of change you must implement at once while still playing catch up.  

Think of it like your laptop. When it was brand new, it was so well organized. As time goes by things get muddled and it is hard to locate things. The same is true for processes and data embedded in legacy applications, especially if they are decades old like mainframe applications.

Recompiling, or rewriting applications as they are is a time-consuming, high risk project just to get back to the same functionality you had on the mainframe. 

Option 3: Wrapping and containerization 

Here, you’re identifying and moving selected applications and workloads in their original form, initially with no application or data changes, to modern environments. The process of containerizing mainframe workloads allows for a more incremental approach to migration. This is like going from a monolithic single block to having lots of LEGO bricks you can place, re-use and re-assemble where they will be most valuable. All without the risk of the original structure collapsing.

This is the only option that addresses the ‘CIO’s dilemma’ mentioned earlier. It provides flexibility and the opportunity for much faster testing and development, reduces the moving parts, delivers agility and improves time to market, all whilst leveraging the embedded value in your business DNA. This approach vastly reduces the risk associated with traditional migration outlined in Options 1 and 2. With legacy applications running alongside modern ones, the possibilities for further modernization and interoperability are endless. That LEGO brick just turned from a roof slate to a solar panel.

Enabling freedom of choice

Migration based on containerization, and the incremental options it offers, addresses the big challenges the IT world previously associated with “unlocking” legacy assets. It lets you keep things stable and keep up with innovation. In fact, by focusing on innovation you can lead rather than play catch up. Limiting complex rewriting and recompilation means you can keep up with business demands whilst minimizing the moving parts within each step of the process.

There’s no one size fits all approach, so the more you break migration into smaller chunks the less risk of big issues when you do change something, and the more flexibility you have to choose what to leave alone and what to modernize. A good IT service provider shouldn’t dictate the path your business must take but demonstrate what can be made possible through your unique modernization journey

The future path  

Of course, an initial containerization of a legacy application is not the end point. It is a steppingstone and an enabler for future and continuous innovation and modernization. 

When data and applications have been unlocked, IT can deliver to the business what it wants, when it wants it. And once you’re off the mainframe you can do things cheaper and reduce complexity with real-time data that you can utilize immediately. By unlocking mainframe data and making it accessible by modern analytics platforms, for example, a retail business can make real-time decisions based on better insights into what their customers are buying and when. Banks can test and deploy new updates to their core banking platforms continuously thanks to applications residing in modern DevOps environments. The list goes on.

In the end everything we’re talking about is just 0’s and 1’s, whether it’s on the mainframe or in the Cloud – there is value everywhere you look. Whichever approach you take to legacy modernization, it’s about making this value as accessible as possible and enabling your most critical assets to work harder for your business.