Legacy Modernization: a continuum of (visible) impact levels using the SDM

19 February 2019

Modernization of legacy applications is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach: LzLabs Software-Defined Mainframe® offers a wide palette of solutions for a business application, usually both critical and strategic, to leverage new technologies in order to better serve changing business needs.

A key dimension for the design of a modernization journey is, for many of our customers, the visible impact this modernization has on both corporate organization and business efficiency. Why? Because CIOs and IT teams typically prefer the outcome of a rehosting project to drive perceptible and tangible business benefit. They want to demonstrate to non-IT peers how well they serve the business in material ways … and receive corresponding recognition for such achievements!

Step 1: modernizing infrastructure with minimal risk

Of course, with LzLabs, the modernization journey starts with re-hosting mainframe applications on x86 and the cloud, allowing a quick, smooth and risk-mitigated transition to a modern and open platform [link]. The initial impact of this move is significant: up to 70% savings are typically achieved and the applications, still in their original mainframe binary form and without recompilation or data changes, are now hosted on a technologically up-to-date platform (Linux & OSS [link], x86, cloud, etc.). This unleashes massive potential for innovation and transformation on the business side but is merely the first step in the process.

Typically, CIOs want to go beyond this – step 1 - of the modernization journey. At this stage the IT operations team now manages the rehosted mission-critical applications on state-of-the-art technology, and the CFO and CEO see significant savings achieved in the IT budget. But this population remains small compared to the entire enterprise, which still sees the application in the exact shape and form as before. From perspective of a regular employee, rehosting has not yet impacted his daily activities nor improved his productivity.

Step 2: introducing DevOps Toolchains to legacy applications and data

The CIO will therefore seek to increase the positive impact of such a project. Typically, they want to improve the application development processes: in companies with large mainframes, the development workforce is usually much larger (sometimes up to one order of magnitude) than the IT operations crew. In step 2 of the modernization journey, development tooling is changed: “green screen” mainframe source code editors are replaced by modern IDEs (Integrated Development Environment: Eclipse, etc. - [link]) where developers can enjoy vast improvements in productivity using on-the-fly compilers, assisted source code, etc. plus shorter time-to-production for code changes brought by CI / CD and continuous testing approaches fostered by DevOps best practices. With applications rehosted, these processes are now much more straightforward. Source code transformation (Cobol to Java – [link]) can also be achieved at this stage through automated tooling allow to work efficiently at scale where hundreds or even thousands of programs are involved.

Step 3: modernizing applications for the end user

During step 2 (which can in fact be skipped or postponed to jump to step 3), the modernization journey remains still quite internal to IT: the technology folks directly serve their own purposes, and consequently only indirectly serve those of the entire company. For this reason, the most visible impacts of a rehosting project come in step 3, when an application is visibly changed for the regular end-user. A concrete example is the web terminal that LzLabs provides: this component transforms old “green screen” (3270) terminals into a browser-based, feature-rich interface. This UI is much friendlier to employees, who are typically familiar with internet browsers across all platforms.

Using this browser-based and user-friendly terminal, legacy applications can leverage all the graphical goodies (tooltips, charts, buttons, selection lists, etc..) of browser / html technology, often without any changes to legacy source code. Additionally, legacy applications and modern services can be hyperlinked, boosting productivity since legacy is now tightly integrated with other IT services (EDM, CRM, etc.) - 1-click interactions are enabled between different corporate applications, rather than tedious manual switches between them. A browser-based interface may look benign for modern applications but is a key feature in legacy modernization: it represents the “visible tip of the iceberg” for standard users, who will derive the success of rehosting and modernization only to direct improvements in their own roles. Even if it is not the hardest thing to achieve, UI transformation is key to making IT rehosting achievements visible to the entire organization.

Step 2.5: improve business agility through containerization and microservices

We can further increase the granularity of impact by introducing step 2.5: this level doesn’t improve the business in a directly visible manner, rather it changes the structure of an application to enable faster improvements. Examples include faster delivery of new software versions - a key to innovation for any business. That’s why, at LzLabs, we propose an approach to restructure rehosted strategic applications toward container (Docker, Kubernetes) and microservice deployment [link]. In this way, the application is broken down, without initial source code changes and using automated tools, into much smaller and independent chunks, removing the fear of breaking the “big monolith” when updating a program. These chunks can then evolve faster because of their much smaller and well-understood functional perimeters. This “urbanization” of strategic applications, although not directly visible to end-users, contributes to much faster functionality improvements for the entire organization.

All we’ve demonstrated above, an initial binary rehosting project, fostered by LzLabs Software-Defined Mainframe® [link] is not the end of the journey for legacy applications but a first step on modernization roads that drive a range of business objectives. CIOs, IT teams and end users can all reap massive rewards and benefits along the way. Which road is best for your organization? Get in touch with us: we’ll be happy to discuss where our map and compass can take you and how modernization-focused pieces of technology developed by LzLabs, will be your companions on this journey!

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