Mainframe development and support skill gaps continue to grow, putting a lot of pressure on firms to think they need to move away from the technology. Retiring, experienced IT workers do take their tacit knowledge with them, making it hard to train and enable younger workers that received little to no exposure to legacy mainframe computing (e.g. COBOL).
Mainframes remain mission-critical for large enterprises, even in the midst of pressures to embrace digital transformation. Businesses continue to use mainframes for cost-effective data storage, information-sensitive, large-scale processing and resource-intensive applications. Large sectors of the economy, including banking, healthcare and government, have yet to move away from mainframes for much of their mission-critical processing needs.
Need proof? A recent study of 250 IT professionals found that nearly half of those surveyed run core business functions on the mainframe today.
Many may believe the path to digital transformation solely runs through the cloud. However, with increasing privacy regulations, security concerns and growing amounts of data volumes supporting AI solutions, the path looks to be more hybrid than cloud. Mainframe computing will remain relevant for modern, digital computing needs and firms need to address modernization challenges as a part of their digital transformation efforts.
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Why mainframe modernization is the answer
Hybrid infrastructures spanning mainframe to the cloud will be the default for most large, complex enterprises for the foreseeable future. Hybrid demands firms modernize their mainframe and scale best practices across their infrastructure in line with the skills of today’s workforce. Enterprises embracing modernization can accelerate their digital transformations and attract new IT development, administration and support talent.
Mainframe modernization demands enterprises look at how they modernize both their legacy systems and applications, and their support of mainframe infrastructure. Legacy applications that can be modernized and moved to cloud infrastructures should, but that doesn’t always mean the entire stack needs to move off the mainframe. Data and information that demands high performance, security and encryption likely should remain on the mainframe with teams building out new service layers, leveraging agile and DevOps practices, to the mainframe.
Legacy experiences for how administrators and teams manage mainframe performance and capacity can be modernized, too. New visualization models and APIs can now make it easier for administrators to manage mainframe and distributed systems from a single tool.
Modernization can be intimidating, but it can also be more cost-effective and less disruptive to the business as the enterprises embraces digital transformation. Embracing a few best practices and approaches can enable IT leaders and their teams to modernize and accelerate to a digital future.
Leverage hybrid infrastructure
The rise of cloud systems has opened up the world of modern computing for all types of businesses. The cloud enables remote collaboration, provides on-demand scalability and also makes AI/ML more accessible than ever.
At the same time, cloud and distributed systems are not sufficient for the large-scale processing, memory storage and resource-intensive applications that many large enterprises depend on today. In other words, the cloud is not a one-for-one replacement for mainframes, but it does offer some benefits. Therefore, companies should consider a hybrid infrastructure approach that involves both mainframes and the cloud.
Many IT leaders have taken steps in this direction already. They are migrating commodity workloads and apps to the cloud, while keeping heavier workloads on the mainframe, such as those involving customer data or mission-critical IP.
Companies are also employing layer architecture and following an API-first approach to simplify the process of exchanging data between mainframes and cloud systems. With today’s data streaming technologies, it is possible to expose real-time data and assets to non-z systems, enabling customers to access information across multiple systems. Making these updates is paramount for building efficient hybrid architectures.
There are also numerous tools available to optimize both mainframe and cloud performance. IT professionals should conduct research and invest in these tools to empower developers when it comes to digital automation, value stream management, application management and more.
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Scale DevOps and refactor incrementally
Although DevOps is often discussed in the context of distributed and cloud-based software delivery, the approach is also invaluable in mainframe development. Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the survey referenced previously have already implemented DevOps on the mainframe and 30 percent aim to in the future.
IT leaders should incorporate DevOps tools and practices into their mainframe processes and increase development agility with automation. It’s also important to use open-source tools, like BitBucket and Jenkins, for mainframes, and transform IT culture to embrace collaboration across numerous teams.
For many organizations, it makes sense today to refactor legacy mainframe applications incrementally so that they comply with modern constructs. Rewriting applications in modern languages is another way to ensure younger developers can support existing mainframes.
Rather than stick with assembler coding, expand into other well-known programming languages, like Python, and implement Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) that simplify the process of editing source code outside of the mainframe system.
Federate content access and governance
Many banking, insurance, healthcare and government enterprises have massive amounts of content captured and archived on their mainframes. Mainframe modernization of this information doesn’t demand a full lift and shift of this content to distributed or cloud platforms. Enterprises can modernize and offload workstreams from the mainframe while still using it to store policies, statements, reports and more content.
Using federation capability from content services platforms enables enterprises to keep that content on the mainframe while federating access to it from other applications and user experiences. Enterprises can also use federation capabilities to migrate content off the mainframe over time to lower-cost storage options.
Modern federation capabilities also enable enterprises to federate governance policies governing access, retention and usage of content on the mainframe and other repositories. Embracing this approach can help unlock underutilized information, potentially creating new sources of value using AI and machine learning.
Mainframe modernization comes first
Until quantum computing arrives at scale, the mainframe will remain mission-critical for enterprises demanding secure, high-performance computing power. The cloud remains a great answer for many applications, but the future is hybrid. IT leaders need to ensure their digital transformation strategies embrace a hybrid infrastructure model and seek to modernize their mainframe infrastructures.
Modernizing using the approaches described above will enable organizations to minimize business disruption while accelerating digital transformation outcomes. Legacy mainframe skill gaps will continue to exist but making mainframe modernization part of the transformation will help attract and retain next-gen IT talent looking for a challenge that does not simply focus on legacy mainframe conversion. Modernizing, building and supporting mission-critical applications and solutions running on hybrid infrastructures is a future all can embrace.
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Kyle McNabb, SVP of Product Marketing, ASG Technologies