September 9, 2020 By Aparna Sharma 3 min read

For over a half century, mainframe computing has been the workhorse that powers mission-critical industries crucial to the world’s economy, including retail, banking, airline, healthcare and government. The mainframe platform is integral to running business transactions. For example, mainframe machines process 87 percent of all credit card transactions and close to $8 trillion in payments per year. Within the travel industry, mainframes handle four billion passenger flights annually. A survey by the National Association of State Technology Directors (NASTD) found 95 percent of respondents said legacy application support was the prime reason for retaining mainframe computing power. Additionally, 92 percent indicated that mainframe operations were fully integrated into their state’s disaster recovery plan or part of a standalone mainframe disaster recovery plan.

These statistics show just how inextricably mainframe computing is woven into critical infrastructure and operations. Given the essential nature of mainframe computing, enterprises must adapt their mainframe investments and strategy to successfully meet the ever-changing demands of their business and customers.

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Addressing legacy mainframe challenges head-on

Succeeding today requires businesses to be agile and innovative. Legacy mainframe applications aren’t designed for this. They were not built for adaptability or speed to meet increasingly customer-centric business requirements. Consequently, large enterprises seek to modernize their mainframe applications.

Download the IBM Modernize on the Mainframe Field Guide 

As businesses implement modernization plans, three overarching attributes of mainframe computing must be addressed to achieve their desired outcomes.

  • Rigidity. Agility is critical to business success. Mainframe applications and data are complex and tightly coupled. This makes it difficult to continuously improve development quality, velocity and efficiency. Legacy back office systems lack business agility but must be made adaptable to launch new services in increasingly customer-centric environments.
  • Risk. Mainframe systems are often mission critical and integrate with distributed workloads. Modernization requires risk mitigation to ensure no systems are disrupted. Knowledge continuity is an additional risk, which arises from limited staff with mainframe skills.
  • Cost. Enterprise workloads have increased exponentially since the arrival of mainframe computing. There is a need to prioritize and distribute workloads optimally and easily pinpoint inefficiencies that cause overruns of service level agreements. This leads to sometimes difficult investment decisions when choosing between a mainframe refresh versus cloud migration versus an off-platform migration.

Modernizing mainframe environments

Enterprises are taking various approaches to modernizing mainframe applications. Some have adopted DevOps and Agile practices that integrate traditional mainframe systems with new cloud-based systems and practices, working towards an enterprise-grade hybrid multicloud. Others are integrating mainframe applications with new systems of engagement through APIs.

Another approach is refactoring applications for a microservices architecture to optimize the portfolio and mitigate risk. This approach puts the right applications on the right platform, improving mainframe performance and reducing the cost to process critical workloads.

Another successful approach has been to leverage hybrid cloud strategies that unify mainframe and cloud investments for seamless innovation and new ways of working and acquiring new skills for sustained growth and success. Companies that follow this path have been able to generate new revenue streams by modernizing and virtualizing data access and improving system integration.

Every organization presents different workloads. Each requires a tailored approach to create its own optimal modernization strategy. Changing core mission-critical applications is daunting and comes with risk. However, unlocking data from mission-critical applications across traditional and cloud environments is central to success.

Optimizing a modernization project

There are three keys to successful modernization:

  1. The mainframe must continue to support core transactional systems.
  2. Workloads must be reengineered to run natively in high-performance cloud environments.
  3. Workloads must integrate with other distributed workloads running on any infrastructure.

To develop a strategy for modernization, the organization must factor in workload attributes (such as security, performance, integration and data volume) and optimal workload placement.An incremental approach to modernization—that is aligned to business goals—will deliver value through APIs and data access while modernizing legacy components that yield a more effective and efficient end state.

Firms actively modernizing their mainframe environments using an incremental approach are already reaping significant benefits:

  • Optimized workloads yielding cost reduction and processing performance improvement.
  • Faster time-to-market for new services delivered through improved mainframe data access and visualization.
  • Faster ROI.
  • New and broader employee skill development and satisfaction.

A successful modernization plan can yield a lower total cost of ownership, improved agility and speed and unlock value by optimizing the mainframe for the most critical applications and building new capabilities to power the world’s economy for decades to come.

Learn more about how IBM mainframes can help you modernize your mission-critical systems

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