Have Your Cake & Eat it with the Software Defined Mainframe

Raghu Radhakrishnan, CEO, TmaxSoft, India Chicago based TmaxSoft is a global software innovator focused on infrastructure and data modernization, with solutions that offer enterprise CIOs viable alternatives to support their global IT powerhouses and drive competitive advantage.

For decades, the mainframe has reliably provided a home for critical applications whilst processing huge volumes of data. In that three-decade period of dominance, it has managed to garner a large fan base on account of it’s of reliability and performance. With the onset of digital disruption, however, new imperatives have come to the fore in many industries. As a result, the mainframe-centric infrastructure that was once so key to IT and business success is beginning to inhibit big organisations’ capabilities to move rapidly. Moreover, the costs of operating the mainframe are increasingly rapidly as the generation who came of age as mainframe specialists begin to retire. This expertise isn’t being replaced: amongst many junior staff and people coming into the industry, mainframe technology is a regarded as obsolete and there is little interest in investing in training in mainframe programming languages.

As a result of these difficulties, businesses stuck on mainframes are increasingly hampered in their digital transformation projects, and IT teams are looking for new ways to meet these demands.Many are specifically looking for a solution that provides them with the same reliability and performance of a mainframe, but offers a way around the cost and personnel issue and paves the way for the open systems world and digitisation. There are numerous options open to them – but some may not be as easy as they seem.

Mainframe modernisation - standard approaches
Modernising main frame applications seems like the reasonable response to the above issues, and two approaches have emerged as the default options when pursuing this goal. However, in recent years many modernisation projects have failed, casting doubts on these standard options:

• A complete re-engineering process, whereby existing mainframe applications are reprogrammed in order to transfer them to a different environment. However, this approach is very complex and risky, and there are several examples of
decade-long projects that have imposed significant costs without yielding satisfactory results. This approach is therefore only suitable for the modernisation of individual applications.

• Translating programs into more commonly used languages is also an approach used, although it involves a lot of staff effort. Programmers must not only work with mainframe languages such as COBOL and PL/1, but also with modern languages such as JAVA for the new environment. Specialists with this breadth and depth of expertise are not easy to find, nor are they cheap. This approach also involves considerable risk, and a long test phase before reaching ROI.

Relocation to a new system environment is incredibly complex, especially when business-critical applications on the mainframe have a program code in the high double-digit million range, as they do for many large organisations in sectors such as finance or government.

Organisations are specifically looking for a solution that provides them with the same reliability and performance of a mainframe, but offers a way around the cost and personnel issue and paves the way for the open systems world and digitisation

An Alternative Approach to Mainframe Modernisation– 1:1 Migration to a Software-Defined Mainframe
However, there is an alternative approach, which is far faster, less risky, and can be implemented more efficiently – therefore enabling faster ROI. A 1:1 migration to a software-defined mainframe (SDM) eliminates the need for any form of emulation or adaption, meaning a far less invasive approach.

At its core, an SDM is a software solution that simulates the environment of a mainframe. Applications are translated 1:1 and run in a new, multi-layered and open system environment, for instance x86. This means that mainframe specialists can continue to work on a familiar interface, as files, databases, and transaction monitoring and job entry in the new system can be displayed with look and feel of a mainframe. Moreover, by providing a graphical user interface (GUI)for the system, non-specialists can also seamlessly work with applications. This approach therefore enables two generations of developers to work together on the modernisation of enterprise applications.

The Way Forward
What criteria should organisations apply when looking for providers for this kind of solution? Well, the latest and best solutions enable flexibility by providing translation tools (compilers) that translate source code bi-directionally. This means that program code can also be edited in JAVA via the GUI and, if necessary, can be returned to the mainframe, and makes it possible to do partial migrations or to carry out the migration systematically.Additionally, in this age of cloud computing, any solution should be cloud-enabled and support standard cloud vendors such as AWS.

At its heart, an effectively deployed SDM mainframe immediately creates massive cost savings and opens up the mainframe to digitisation and virtualisation. Moreover, to the likely astonishment of old-school mainframe fans, a good SDM will outperform the classic mainframe. The SDM is fighting-fit for a faster moving technological landscape, offering superior scalability - IT teams can therefore make new ideas a reality far quicker. In addition, the open system offers access to a wider range of software, including open source software. Last but not least, the SDM also resolves the shortage of skilled mainframe specialists by enabling these specialists to collaborate with young programmers through a flexible and open platform. So, when looking to modernise the mainframe, why not have your cake and eat it with an SDM?