Things CIOs Must Know About Mainframe Modernization

1. Mainframe shops have to make decisions: whether to migrate to other platforms, add service-oriented architecture (SOA) interfaces or rewrite applications. With a half-baked strategy, IT winds up "bolting on all sorts of unusual, often architecturally inelegant" work-arounds, argues John B. Rabon, manager of legacy modernization at Aflac. "We saw this happening. You hit this wall of unintended consequences." Aflac is now 60 percent finished with a major conversion initiative.

2. Your strategy should include a road map. Rabon recommends formulating a clear target architecture that guides all modernization efforts. You also need to define what you will modernize. Aflac targets software that is too hard to maintain or that fails to meet requirements for real-time or continuous operation. Gartner analyst Dale Vecchio says the process should also include a portfolio analysis of applications that can be eliminated or combined.

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3. The best solution may be to migrate, says Vecchio, especially if you don't use much mainframe capacity. Major users should, however, commit fully to modernization. "The guys in the middle are conflicted," Vecchio adds, meaning they're too big to easily migrate off the mainframe, but too small to enjoy large-scale efficiencies. CIOs should consider that distributed Unix and Windows platforms are becoming more capable of matching mainframe performance.

4. It's popular to avoid tinkering with mainframe code any more than necessary. "A lot of our clients are pretty risk averse," says Karl Freund, vice president of strategy and marketing in IBM's systems and technology group. Vecchio says that two-thirds of the mainframe customers he talks to have no intention of implementing technologies like Java. But that may be a mistake, given the need to appeal to younger IT workers as those with traditional mainframe skills retire.

5. The transition is as much about people as technology. Aflac is converting mainframe applications written in Assembly language to Java (for real-time operations) or Cobol (for batch jobs), Rabon says. Some mainframe functions will be unaltered, except for the addition of a SOA interface for easier integration. Rabon trains Java developers to work on mainframes, then asks mainframe developers to write the specifications to replicate Assembly functionality.

This story, "Things CIOs Must Know About Mainframe Modernization" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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