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Mainframe modernization is key: How to make it happen in your organization

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Derek Britton, Director of Application Modernization and Connectivity Strategy , Micro Focus

In today's era of digital transformation, the mainframe's continuity stands out against a backdrop of near-constant change in global enterprise IT. But in 2019 it will also be key to your organization's transformation—as long as you take full advantage of the opportunity.

To achieve digital transformation, businesses need to build from a position of strength. And as the bedrock of some of the world's most successful businesses, the mainframe environment proves the adage that it's often better to start with what already works.

The mainframe environment has high response times, is uniquely resilient, and can scale in line with business need. But mainframe applications can't stay static. Organizations are constantly growing and developing, and their needs are ever changing. Consequently, mission-critical mainframe applications must be kept up to date to address modern business demands.

And many customers are doing just that. According to a 2017 Micro Focus customer survey, plans are in place to maintain or modernize 84% of mainframe applications in the near future. 

Here's why mainframe modernization should be top of your to-do list, and how to make it happen.

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Use what you have

Modernizing existing core systems by incrementally improving or adding capabilities—rather than attempting a radical overhaul—is a lower-risk option for businesses. Ongoing modernization is less costly than replacement, since it preserves the function in the current systems. And certain kinds of modernization, such as embracing automated testing and deployment, can reduce overall costs and improve application quality.

To ensure that modernization occurs successfully, IT teams should build on their existing mainframe-based COBOL systems. Sometimes referred to as legacy systems, these have the advantage of adding value to a business over a period of time.

Making modernization work 

To modernize means to "adapt (something) to modern needs or habits, typically by installing modern equipment or adopting modern ideas or methods." Yet the term often has different meanings to different people, particularly in the IT industry. The disparity between companies' needs, as well as the variance in what change is required, means the modernization of mainframe needs to be flexible.

Mainframes can support modern business demands in many ways. Here are just a few examples.

Updating applications doesn't have to be difficult

Updating or extending business functionality through a fresh user experience or capability can often be done more quickly, with less risk and reduced costs, than starting from scratch. This reuse can include updating mainframe applications alongside web service-based interfaces, or as part of composite application architectures.

Users can methodically modernize existing business-critical COBOL applications and connect them with mobile and cloud applications. More than 65% of enterprise software and 70% of business transaction processing is powered by COBOL applications, according to Accenture. For banking, insurance, manufacturing, retail, government, and many other industries, these mission-critical applications deliver a unique competitive advantage.

In today's mainframe world, application modernization is at a developer's fingertips. Enterprise COBOL can now work directly with Java, JSON, and XML. JSON is a lightweight data exchange format for mobile applications. It provides mobile applications with easy access to data and the host-based processing they need.

High-end systems can be the core of a connected infrastructure

To achieve a connected ecosystem, there needs to be an IT infrastructure with seamless integration across all parts of an organization. Businesses need to be able to apply the correct resources in the right places. Modern mainframe systems have the flexibility to exist in either a virtualized or hybrid IT environment.

In fact, many of our customers are investing in additional capacity across all environments, from the mainframe to cloud. Organizations want their mainframe and cloud systems to work with one another, ensuring connectivity isn't compromised.

Put DevOps on the mainframe

Multi-platform DevOps is a viable approach to the mainframe. By combining agile and DevOps with a unified and collaborative development and delivery environment, mainframe technology can become part of the new generation of rapid application delivery.

Customers appear to be heading in this direction; the consultancy Arcati reported in its 2018 mainframe yearbook that two-thirds of the mainframe world is using DevOps. This explains why it is such a popular track at the SHARE mainframe community gatherings.

[ Webinar: 5 Things Every SecOps Team Wants Their NetOps Team to Know (Feb 20, 10 am PST) ]

Preparing the next-generation IT team

Ensuring that your workforce is mainframe-ready is essential. After all, technology can do only what it is instructed to do by a human team.

To help develop the next generation of digital and IT skills, some mainframe vendors have called for, and advocated, an approach that unifies disparate IT skills with modern technology. This approach allows the next generation of IT workers to acquire technical skills across the board, working with all systems, including the mainframe.

Mainframes: A secure future

IBM has invested in pervasive encryption technology, to ensure that the z14 is secure straight from the box. When combined with other mainframe software innovations, a heightened level of security can be achieved—whether that's using multi-factor authentication or security solutions that integrate social, cloud, and back-end data.

Modernizing a trusted, valuable mainframe-based IT system is a sure-fire route to success. It delivers a variety of viable options, irrespective of the drivers for change within an organization.

Looking at all of the benefits of mainframe technology, it's easy to see why enterprises continue to rely on one of the most trusted elements of the IT team's arsenal. Little wonder that recent market research suggests a resurgence in the popularity of the mainframe. At the end of the day, the mainframe is here to stay.