Most people like to upgrade their phone every couple of years to be able to access newer features. Remember when edge phones were the thing to have? And now we’re waiting for phones with flexible (well, folding rather than completely bendy) screens. Unless you have a classic vehicle, every few years you’ll want to upgrade your car. So,why wouldn’t you want to modernize your mainframe – the thing that’s probably kept your organization in business for the past few decades.
Micro Focus has recently published the results of a survey that was conducted with Vanson Bourne. Their survey focused on COBOL, which is still the bedrock of so many mainframe applications, and digital transformation. The survey asked COBOL-connected architects, software engineers, developers, development managers, and IT executives from 40 different countries about the strategic importance of COBOL applications to their business, future application road-maps and planning, as well as their development tool-chains and resources.
So, what did the survey find?
Modernization continues to drive strategic business change. Modernization as a vehicle for IT transformation and critical business change can take many forms with 53 percent of respondents planning to pursue initiatives aligned to application modernization and integration of COBOL systems. This was followed by 37 percent pursuing process modernization efforts, and another 38 percent investing in infrastructure modernization activities.
COBOL is at the heart of a modernization strategy. Modernization was favoured over the replacing and retiring of older systems with 63 percent of respondents choosing to improve their existing COBOL systems in 2020. Additionally, 92 percent of respondents felt as though their organization’s COBOL applications are strategic.
IT and business synergy remain strong for COBOL. Senior tech-focused roles are most likely to be seen as leading or influencing application modernization initiatives with 36 percent for CTOs and 33 percent for CIOs. Senior non-tech roles also play a role in a significant number of organizations with 27 percent for CEOs and 9 percent for CFOs. Paired with IT’s focus on supporting the business and driving competitive advantage (46 percent of responses), the relationship between COBOL development teams and the business has evolved and strengthened.
The IT ecosystem continues to evolve. Continued change is shown by the strategic alignment of COBOL systems through modern-day technology with 42 percent seeing cloud as a core and viable platform to support the business agenda. As the IT landscape evolves, COBOL remains vital in new ecosystems and its continued evolution is a foundational element of IT and business change.
COBOL-based systems are strategic and growing. When asked about their company’s plans for COBOL in 2020, 63 percent of the survey’s respondents stated that they are planning to modernize their system/applications with a focus on functionality and process.
The big takeaway from the results is that 70 percent of enterprises favour modernization as an approach for implementing strategic change compared to the replacing/retiring of key COBOL applications because it continues to offer a low-risk and effective means of transforming IT to support digital business initiatives.
It’s an interesting result to see that venerable COBOL programs are still viewed as taking the mainframe into the future. But what else do people talk about when they’re discussing mainframe modernization? Some companies idea of mainframe modernization is to take all those mainframe applications and recode them in Java (or whatever) and then run them on a cheaper platform. I guess they’ve never tried rewriting an old IMS application! Other people are using the word hybrid a lot. These are people who recognize that, while the mainframe is brilliant at what it does, it may not be the best platform for some applications. It might make sense to back-up to the cloud and run analytics there and feed back to the mainframe the results. And this is in many ways because of the cost of using a mainframe.
The rolling four-hour average (R4HA), which impacts on the monthly license charge (MLC), results in many sites restricting what they can do or when they can do it in order not to impact on their R4HA monthly peak. It makes sense to use other platforms when those platforms are cheaper or, dare I say it, better at performing a particular task than the mainframe. On the plus side, it’s still more cost-effective to run distributed Linux on a mainframe. You don’t need lots of servers (and air condition systems etc) and you don’t need so many people to support them. It’s important to take the big view to work out how an organization can save money with its computing platforms – so that’s multi-platform or hybrid modernization.
Apart from mainframe costs, the next big issue that many mainframe sites are facing is experienced staff retiring. That means the majority of the experienced IT people in an organization will be more familiar with open source tools and tools more-often associated with other platforms. As a consequence, tools like Zowe will be needed to allow people with no in-depth mainframe experience to access and control the mainframe. It also means that much beloved green screens will become a thing of the past and newer interfaces will be used by the new staff.
Modernization will also involve using the mainframe for connecting to Edge computing as well as phones and tablets. Systems, like Liberty, will be improved and used more-and-more to allow data to be sent from a mobile phone to a mainframe subsystem like IMS and CICS, and the database to be searched or updated, and results sent back to the user’s phone. And all this using REST and JSON or whatever replaces them as the preferred methods.
The other big area of modernization is that application programs will be written like apps, using DevOps and Agile techniques. The code will be regularly updated (eg every quarter or even more often than that) and it will be produced to fit the changing needs of the users of the application. Clearly there are a number of DevOps tools currently out there, and I can only assume that they will be simplified and combined to make the whole process simpler and easier to use.
Lastly, mainframe modernization will involve improved security. IBM’s latest mainframe, z15, introduced a number of security enhancements with its data privacy passports. If quantum computers really are able to work as expected, then security such as that using prime numbers, will have to be improved because it’s anticipated that quantum computing will be able to crack the existing encryption.
It’s good to see that COBOL has a future, but there are many other aspects to mainframe modernization.
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