Z, are you ready? 2019 is asking….

As the bedrock of many major organizations, the IBM mainframe is a consistent, constant force in enterprise computing. But can its performance and durability match the relentless change demanded by the digital age?  Here’s a look ahead to the fortunes of Z14 in the coming 12 months.


In their recent whitepaper, Modernization: A Flexible Approach to Digital Transformation, IDC asserted that “Businesses … are engaged in platform modernization initiatives to position their organizations for an era of business transformation, much of which is driven by digital transformation.”

And that pace of change is accelerating. It took the internet 12 years to gather its first billion users, and just a third of that time to amass its third billion. And that’s changing attitudes to investment. A recent Micro Focus survey discovered that “IT budgets are being explicitly diverted toward newer digital systems…in just four years, the proportion of IT budgets invested in [them] has climbed from 20 to 55 percent.”  One bank proudly announced half of its customer interaction is now digital. This is happening, folks.

CIOs in many of the world’s most successful organizations know their System Z run the core systems underpinning the business. That this is where the applications, often COBOL or PL/I, and by extension the unique business value of their organization is held. So how to “go digital” with the mainframe?

The practical solution is to harness the mainframe’s benefits; its reliability, dependability – the values that IT people (and the business leaders in their organization) really appreciate – and add to them to make a true asset of the digital age. In other words, modernizing those key applications and data to ensure they go with the transformation flow.

And at a time when the pace of change is accelerating, failure is not an option. So pragmatic CIO’s are moving away from risky “rip and replace” projects (we’ve all heard the stories, I won’t belabour the point) towards modernization strategies that are aimed at gaining significant business value in the form of agility, new business capabilities, and a reduction in TCO and risk.

A Micro Focus survey among IT managers and influencers reported that 85 percent see core apps as ‘strategic’ and ‘business critical’, with 90 percent planning for a five-plus year lifetime. Crucially, they see the need to take those applications forward, with 55 percent planning to modernize in the next 24 months.

But how? Well, Modernization means change, and change has to mean progress. It has to create or enhance a business advantage. The objectives, and means, however, can vary significantly.

A Pragmatic Modernization Model

But if the “why” of modernization is clear enough, then the remaining details are the why, how and where. As such, mainframe modernization can be filtered into three component parts. The Application, the Process and the Infrastructure. What does modernization mean for each?

Application Modernization

What does it mean to unlock application value for the digital age? From a customer perspective, application modernization must include an innovative user experience as well as appropriate functionality and quality. The business will, of course, want to leverage trusted core processes and secure transactions. Of course this means uncovering the underpinning business logic, application code, potentially designing API models and service-based architectures – and delivering them, as required, to an ever-demanding customer base, securely, without fail. This needs tooling that is smart, flexible and comprehensive.

Process Modernization

How that application is being delivered is often the question, because the amount of time it takes is the driver here. It’s the digital age. The business has to respond to market needs faster. So IT needs to deliver more quickly. Distributed, agile teams are more flexible than the world of TSO/ISPF. But revisiting the mainframe with Agile and DevOps methods and tooling will also enable faster delivery of better applications, but at the speed required by the forces of digital transformation.

Infrastructure Modernization

The power of mainframe can be a launch-pad for innovation, especially if a wider look at platform requirements and flexibility is taken. A 2017 IBM Systems Magazine reader survey recorded 50 percent of all mainframe shops running LinuxONE or Linux on Z to enable wider deployment, with a growing number of organizations looking at future-focused options, like the hybrid cloud. Meanwhile, 92 percent of respondents to the well-regarded BMC mainframe survey of IT stakeholders predict a ‘long term viability’ for their mainframe – the third straight year of increases, with more than two-thirds of increasing their mainframe capacity. In infrastructure terms, modernization will doubtless involve leveraging the power of Z but in a way that is more connected and diverse than ever.

Mainframe and COBOL. Digital Ready.

Everything I’ve said above is possible today. Today’s mainframe modernization solution offers robust technology to support the entire lifecycle of application delivery – from analysis through development, unit testing, debugging, system testing and through release management to delivery. It provides capabilities to enable secure application integration and access between mainframe and functionality elsewhere in the IT infrastructure. And it enables all this to happen fast. So the mainframe is at the centre of your IT universe, just as it has been for many years. As one modernization client put it, “Modernizing without having to lose either our critical business logic or the power of the mainframe was a strong driver…Time to value with this innovative approach is months not years.”

Many in the industry agree: smart mainframe organizations see continued and future value as big iron plays its part in the digital revolution.  As long-time proponents of the mainframe (and supporters of mainframedebate.com of course!), Micro Focus will be making our case for mainframe modernization at various events across the globe in 2019, including our own #DevDay Events, IBM THINK and SHARE. Stay in the debate via Twitter in the meantime and see you soon.

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