When people mention mainframe application modernization often it is a code word for moving applications off the System z and landing them on another platform, usually a set of distributed Linux blade or rack servers. They conveniently ignore Linux on z because their goal for modernization is not getting to Linux but getting off the System z.
There is no doubt that many mainframe applications need modernization. IBM Rational lays out many of the complaints here along with IBM’s recommended corrections, which typically entail buying one or another IBM product.
The modernization problem usually is not about the core functionality. Where modernization is needed is in how users and other applications get to mainframe functionality and data and what they can do with it when they get it. That means integration and adding capabilities that extend the mainframe, like SOA or Web 2.0 or BI or cross-platform management.
IBM reports that it is 5x cheaper to reuse and revitalize a mainframe application than to move it to another platform and rewrite it. The obvious conclusion: it is better to modernize mainframe applications than try to take them someplace else. That’s essentially what IDC found in a recent study titled Mainframe Directions in the Multiplatform Datacenter, 2009–2013: Today’s Workloads and Future Outlook. In short: companies are planning to invest in modernizing and extending their mainframe environments, not abandon them.
To jumpstart this kind application modernization IBM introduced a System z solutions edition package for application development. It bundles together a System z10 BC machine with the various software, middleware, and compiler technology needed to get going at a deeply discounted price. One critical omission: Rational Developer for z (RDz), although IBM hints that may be thrown in later too.
To capitalize on the mainframe modernization interest, Rational introduced a slew of new products around mainframe application development and lifecycle management. The goal, as Rational sees it, is to lower the cost of owning and operating a mainframe by:
- Reducing the cost of developing and maintaining existing legacy applications
- Reducing the use of manual maintenance processes
- Reducing the complexity of the application portfolio
- Leveraging of less expensive programming skills while lessening dependency on difficult-to-train-and-retain skills
- Making applications more flexible and reusable to better support changing business requirements
To do this, IBM is offering updated tools like RDz, Rational Team Concert for z, a slew of portfolio management tools, HOST and the HOST client access package, and a variety of SOA tools. The last two in particular, HOST, which lets you turn green screen apps into something resembling a GUI, and SOA tools like RDz are critical to any application modernization effort. As much as SOA has fallen out of favor in some circles, System z shops are effectively using it to extend their z applications to broader audiences and integrate z applications and data with other systems and environments, including Facebook and mobile phones–how much more modernized can the mainframe get.
Others have jumped on the mainframe modernization bandwagon as well. CA, for example, announced the integration of CA Endevor SCM, its change management tool, with RDz v7.6. According to CA, the integration is intended to simplify the development and management of mainframe software by streamlining application updates, reducing change-related programming errors, and facilitating compliance audits.
CA also is slapping a GUI on its mainframe testing tools, CA InterTest for CICS r8.5 and CA InterTest Batch r8.5. Both tools are based on the Eclipse Platform and have attained Ready for IBM Rational software validation and Best Practice Compliance status.
When it comes to modernizing mainframe applications, the GUI has emerged as the litmus test for the modernized z application. Sure, experienced users swear that command line interfaces are faster but the GUI makes it easier for less skilled people to re-use and re-purpose existing mainframe application code, especially in support of SOA implementations. Turns out that the lowly GUI is where you start mainframe modernization.