Like clockwork, an exaggerated report of the mainframe’s inevitable demise will crop up from time to time. Detractors like to talk about the Z-machine like a dinosaur headed for extinction. So, why do hundreds of companies keep their mainframes year after year?
As with anything, it’s a complicated answer. Many companies are afraid to touch their mainframe. Legacy applications are tightly coupled with the infrastructure. Imagine pulling the wrong block in a Jenga puzzle. The whole tower topples over, except the tower is your company. What’s more, established businesses with legacy technology are already heavily invested in the mainframe. They don’t want to lose that investment, nor do they want to scrap and rebuild every core application.
However, fear does not motivate every company. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with the hardware of the mainframe. They provide a high level of security and reliability that is critical to the 24/7 business cycle. Companies developing cloud strategies are finding it easier to keep the mainframe and its core applications at the center of their business while building new capabilities around it. If ripping and replacing your infrastructure doesn’t sound too appealing, you have options.
Keeping Critical Applications on the Mainframe
In fact, it’s possible to keep the best of both worlds. Instead of committing to an expensive and risky full-on migration, start with a partial one. IDC calls this approach the “connected mainframe.” With a connected mainframe, companies can continue to benefit from the unsurpassed levels of availability, scalability, and performance. Connected mainframes utilize middleware to build a bridge between legacy systems and modern cloud-based infrastructures. Squeeze out more value from the legacy investments you’ve already made and extend the life of your mainframe environment by a magnitude of years.
In other words, keep the parts of the mainframe that you like and gain all the advantages of cloud applications that you need. This means you can integrate the applications that make sense to move while leaving the mission-critical apps alone until you’re ready. Save money by keeping the hardest-moved parts in place, and building rapidly deployable connections to newer applications. The reality is that there’s no need to move entirely off of your legacy systems.
Companies Using Connected Mainframes
For example, a large domestic air carrier in the midst of a merger realized that it would be maintaining two different legacy IT systems for aircraft maintenance. To combine these disparate systems would be a monumental task—expensive, risky, and time-consuming. To add to the confusion, some processes were still completed manually on paper.
Instead of starting from scratch, the carrier used APIs to create an integration layer. This allowed them to build a modern tablet-based interface with direct access to the legacy back-end systems. In addition to building a common interface for the mechanics, they also tapped into the parts inventory and supply chain to ensure all aspects of a repair order are in one place. Mechanics can now wirelessly attach information to the back-end systems on a tablet rather than inputting information for the paperwork orders into a green screen terminal back at the hangar. Automating and modernizing manual processes significantly streamlined operations, reduced costs, and minimized gate delays and aircraft downtime.
For a connected mainframe, organizations largely agree that the API model provides the ultimate level of scalability and flexibility. APIs give you the flexibility to integrate to whatever level of detail and complexity makes sense for you. A translation layer between the two can do all the work. Now, disparate systems can call on one another automatically. It’s hard to overstate the value of the accumulated years of mainframe investment suddenly unlocked and given access to and from cloud applications.
Choosing Best-of-Breed Middleware
However, it’s not a decision that should be rushed into. Using generic tools without considering your actual mainframe needs could do more harm than good. Tools without the proper ease of use could lead to extensive retraining.
In the end, your API middleware tool set should have the best-of-breed characteristics to create and maintain your connected mainframe effectively. At a minimum, your middleware should provide programmable access to mainframe applications, basic orchestration to execute API calls spanning multiple components, and wrappers or adapters for a standard invocation interface. Best-in-breed applications should make deployment, operations, and flexibility into consideration. It’s critically important to choose the right partner to connect your legacy systems.
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Don Spoerke is the Director of Product Evangelism at GT Software. He is a 25-year veteran in the enterprise modernization space and has collaborated with an impressive list of FORTUNE companies to intelligently integrate legacy mainframe assets to scale for new business application initiatives.