A Legacy Case – Examining the Evidence

News websites need a high turnover of fresh content to maintain their readership. In the IT world, “Legacy systems”, the age and prevalence thereof, makes for good copy. After all, aren’t we all worried about overworked, out-of-date technology breaking beneath us? It is not an unreasonable opinion. However, this piece in Information Age offers little to justify any of its claims. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Exhibit A

According to the article, the US Navy, NASA, the NHS’s Centralised Blood Supply Management System and a non-specific payment service attributed to the Department of Work and Pensions are “struggling with legacy IT”, relying on “ancient, creaking systems to run vital services”.  But the NHS system has an SLA requirement of 99.9% uptime, the DWP make 2.5m benefit payments every single day and the US Navy are at the forefront of technological breakthroughs and NASA is helping to push back the boundaries of human understanding. Not bad for archaic technology.

Exhibit B

It continues: “why are such crucial services run on systems … launched as far back as the 1960s?” Clearly it is because those systems, and the underlying infrastructure, have been supported and maintained, and still support the organization they serve perfectly well. Who changes reliable, mission-critical technology for its own sake?  Another one: “96 of the world’s top banks run … mainframes processing roughly 30bn transactions per day.” This hardly suggests the necessity to change.

Exhibit C

It seems Sainsbury’s, Tesco and John Lewis are all “running IBM mainframes”. Surely, the quality of these brands promotes, rather than negates, the use of long-established systems? And when did mainframes become synonymous with archaic technology? What about the billions of dollars IBM just spent developing and launching the z13? As for mainframe “issues”, RBS are mentioned and while they have suffered from IT issues, the causes stem from human error and a lack of investment in their technology rather than its sell-by date.

Exhibit D

The piece fails to reveal, as promised,  ‘The true scale of legacy IT’. So allow us. Our December 2013 survey contacted 590 CIOs and IT Directors from nine countries around the globe who all ran mainframes and green screen applications. They were pretty positive about their legacy IT. A more recent global mainframe survey by BMC software showed a similar reluctance to abandon solid technology – no matter what the age.

The article also references an uncited ICC survey which intends looking into how many enterprises are working with these systems, but without explaining why using them should be problematic. If you want references, this IDC whitepaper explains how “enterprises can often modernize these ‘legacy’ applications … to suit changing commercial or technological needs.”

I would contend that the article offers no evidence, why older, COBOL-based mainframe technology is a problem at all. This so-called legacy technology is the backbone of successful organizations, remains fundamentally sound, is as contemporary as any alternative, and can be future-proofed for another 30 years or so.

Safer Ground

The author is on safer ground when asserting that these systems – presumably COBOL applications on IBM mainframes – are so complex that removing, replacing or rewriting them is not an option: but as Kadi Grigg notes in this blog, many organisations are future-proofing complex legacy application systems, such as the DoD’s MOCAS application, by modernizing them.

Why not take the glass-half-full approach? This technology supports, without fuss or drama, the highly-complex, business-critical systems organizations depend on to keep and maintain their business advantage. Anything more recent hasn’t been around long enough to be considered equal.

Case closed

As witnessed at the recent SHARE event, IBM mainframes just keep getting better and, thanks to Micro Focus, COBOL remains relevant: it hit a new high in the influential TIOBE index and e-week offers 10 reasons why COBOL is still kicking.

Visual COBOL is taking COBOL applications to new platforms, supported by our continuous, ongoing and substantial investment. This includes helping students to embrace COBOL – this blog from the SD Times explains why learning COBOL is a good career move – and programmers are harnessing the power of JVM and .NET through Object Oriented Programming (OOP).

Our portable COBOL technology supports 50 leading platforms and we use feedback from high-profile industry events such as SHARE to steer further product development, while the COBOL Developer Days we have planned for Charlotte, Orlando, Brazil and Finland will help to keep ‘COBOL guys’ up to speed with all that it can do.

The evidence in support of core applications that support an organization is compelling. The investments made by suppliers and users continue to bolster the unrivalled value these systems provide. The real news here is just how valuable this technology is. We look forward to reading about it.

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1 Comment

  • This “old technology” description originates at the user interface. Modernizing the connection and external interfaces to the tried and proven business processes is the answer. Micro Focus offers the technology to get this done. Delivering actionable results is key and looking good at the UI eliminates the questions about legacy technology.

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