As we talk to our clients, the opportunities to reduce IT spend across an organization are at an all time high, from the advent of Cloud computing, to easily transitioning legacy workloads to new platforms. Migrating rapid, low-risk mainframes to distributed environments are becoming the norm. Thousands of MIPS (Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages) are being moved to modernized X86 platforms. They are running on Windows and Linux through low risk and rapid migration projects, and mainframes that are being decommissioned with accelerating frequency. That said –  although these migrations are becoming increasingly common, rapid, and low risk – the modernization project must be given due respect. Avoid minimizing the value of strong project management, product ownership (Cambria’s Chris Reed wrote a good blog on this), and solution architecture support to make them successful.

Strong project management starts with a methodology that results in a road map to success. The methodology should encompass a clear understanding of the goals, a definition of scope and define the success criteria as a start.  From there, the current environment should be assessed including the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).  These initial steps set the road map for the solution architect to create the optimal approach to the migration. There are several, including Re-Platforming or Porting, Code Migration and Re-Engineering, and Code Emulation. Each have their own limitations and challenges.

  • Re-Platforming or Porting is moving the code over to a platform that supports it, without change, at the operating system layer.  Some code rewrite may be necessary based on the assessment.
  • Code Migration and Re-Engineering is converting the code from one code base to another while changing the functionality.  Generally, this is the most hands-on approach and can be lengthy. It also creates delivery risk as changing code bases and re-engineering applications while re-platforming to a new infrastructure involves a ton of moving parts.
  • Code Emulation is moving the code and functionality while utilizing emulators to mimic the operations of the mainframe.  Generally this is the lowest risk and fastest of the methods.

Regardless of the method of migration selected, establishing ownership for each of the major components in the mainframe environment is critical to the success of the project. There should be owners for areas such as:

  • Primary programming languages (like COBOL, PL/I and Natural)
  • Secondary programming languages (like Easytrieve and Assembler)
  • Data infrastructure and data stored in files and relational databases
  • Batch application infrastructure (including JCL, Supporting Utilities, and Job Scheduler)
  • Online application infrastructure (including TP System and User Interface Screens)
  • Application and system level security (like RACF, TopSecret, and ACF2)
  • Output, content and report management (like CA-View//Deliver, ASG-Mobius, and IBM FileNet)
  • Development, test, and QA infrastructure
  • Production, failover, and disaster recovery infrastructure

The technical solution is only half of the equation. Project teams must address internal support processes and other operational considerations during project planning and solution design to assist in developing a realistic delivery schedule and minimize rework or unexpected delays.  It is important for the delivery team(s) to understand the internal processes, lead times, change windows, lockdown schedules, and other constraints.

From a technical implementation perspective, it is important to segregate “input files” from other file types and gather all associated record layouts. Only input files (VSAM, QSAM, etc.) require conversion. Therefore, it’s important to identify which are the input files vs. temporary files vs. output files. Data migration can be a significant part of the project, so putting in effort up-front saves on budget and time.

At the end of the day, the results are well worth it.  It is like cutting the cord on a technology boat anchor which frees an organization to move forward with innovation and ultimately deliver a more robust customer experience.  Who knows, maybe someday there will be skeletons of AS/400’s in the natural history museum and future generations can marvel at their simplicity and tiny brains.

Until next time!