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Mainframe abandonment issues: How to save your legacy apps

It’s 2020, a year so full of change, upheaval, and strangeness that it’s hard to believe that anything can endure. Yet, throughout the pandemic, wild market swings, social change, work-from-home, and murder hornets, one thing has remained constant. Mainframes—most of them IBM System Z—are still running the applications critical to more than 60% of enterprises.

A vast majority of these mainframes are running decades old applications, and at one time it was believed that they would go the way of the dinosaur, thanks to distributed systems and the cloud. Yet, IBM’s earnings report for the second quarter of 2020 showed an increase in mainframe revenue, fueled by a 69% increase in IBM Z mainframe revenue. On the other hand, sales for its transaction processing software, which covers the mission-critical software that often runs on mainframes, fell 16%. This is good news for Big Blue shareholders, but it signals bad news for those IT executives who are tasked with controlling their mainframe strategy in comparison to the legacy applications still running on z/OS. Let’s look at why and what can be done about it.

The platform-of-the-future can be a cold one

IBM says that most industries need processes and transactions that can't fail, and IBM Z is a preferred solution. The company’s aim is to reimagine IBM Z as the platform of the future so it can compete with applications and software that run on distributed, open, and cloud systems. To that end, IBM has been shedding key Z software (such as development, scheduling, and CICS tools), by selling it off. All signs point to IBM’s eventual separating from z/OS as it ups its Linux game, using Z architecture but executing Linux applications.

Then there’s the z15 mainframe, introduced in fall 2019, which has a hardware architecture that fits into any data center instead of data centers build specifically for mainframes. For companies with deep pockets or new disruptors who want the reliability and availability of a mainframe, z15 is ideal. These companies can license new applications for this architecture and bask in the warmth of the platform of the future.

For those companies with existing, aging mainframes, z15 and LinuxONE represent an unwelcome investment of massive proportions. Their future is more like the one depicted in the 2013 film, Snowpiercer, which depicts a frozen wasteland created by a failed attempt to end global warming. IBM is no longer offering options for maintaining business-as-usual. New IBM mainframes can’t run applications written with any version of COBOL other than v6.3. Re-architecting older business applications for z15 is another high-risk, high-cost proposition.

From frozen dystopia to utopia

If you have a mainframe and business-critical applications that still run on z/OS, what can you do? And doesn’t it also get more difficult to justify the cost of running non-business-critical applications as well year over year?

IBM’s answer is either to keep running your batch and transactional systems while adding mainframe capacity to follow the company’s organic growth or to switch to LinuxONE. Neither is a very satisfactory solution and requires a serious outlay of cash and human resources, both of which are in short supply for most enterprises.

If you now feel like you’re on the endless train to nowhere in Snowpiercer, doomed to a segregated car with a star-studded cast (your applications), we have good news. You do not have to replace your mainframe and applications with newer models and go through the headache of data and software inventory and code conversions. Nor do you to add unnecessary mainframe capacity. What you can do instead is use application migration software to move legacy mainframe applications from an IBM z/OS environment to an open Linux or UNIX environment in your data centers or in the cloud.

Application migration software takes legacy source code and recompiles programs in a new environment without changes to any business logic. You then migrate mainframe data into a new, more modern database environment. Your existing security profiles, online and batch configurations and definitions, and data set system management profiles may all be reused. In a span of less than a year, you are off the IBM z train to nowhere and back on track.

Trust your legacy to a solution that won’t abandon you

The application migration software best able to address z/OS abandonment issues is OpenFrame by TmaxSoft. OpenFrame runs on standard hardware on-premises or in the cloud. It supports all the major public cloud vendors, and organizations can virtualize and containerize the software. From the top down, end user experiences remain the same with a consistent user interface to maintain the look and feel of your legacy applications.

Take SC Data Center, Inc., for example. This affiliate of Colony Brands used OpenFrame to move all its legacy System z apps to the cloud without a major rewrite. The result was an annual cost reduction of about 75% and performance that meets expectations. And, the company can re-architect and develop apps in the new environment. Recently, the company’s developers built a fully integrated automation solution to streamline customer data management in just days. More details about how SC Data Center, Inc., plus two other venerable companies, avoided mainframe freezeout are in this article.

OpenFrame really is ideal for addressing the legacy applications left out in the cold by IBM’s platform for the future. It has a 100% project success rate. Migrations are low risk and driven by proven software that responds quickly to change. Most projects or phases are completed in 6 to 12 months. In the end, you have the satisfaction of knowing you control the destiny of your legacy applications and the business they run.

Want to learn more about the future of the mainframe and what it means for you?

For more information about IBM’s plans for System z and what you can do about it, check out our whitepaper, Mainframe at a crossroads: Why Application Migration is the Way Forward.

Bruno Sahinoglu is the Technical Director of Western Europe for TmaxSoft. He has more than 10 years of mainframe software experience working for global companies. Bruno joined TmaxSoft in 2017 from IBM where he worked first as a pre-sales engineer before eventually moving into an EMEA Swat Team role evangelizing the latest z/OS solutions. He received his master's degree in information technology from SUPINFO International University.