Microsoft’s Solution Director for Mainframe, Lucas Searle, spoke to a panel of modernisation experts – Managing Director at Advanced, Tim Jones, Director of Solutions Consulting at Micro Focus, Simon Musgrave; and Mainframe Technical Lead at Microsoft, Richard Gamblin - to get their take on whether you should Migrate or Transform when modernising mainframes.
Modernisation providers’ terminology may vary from solution to solution across companies, but the strategies that underpin them are shared. In the context of the “6 Rs of modernisation”, migrate is synonymous with rehost while transform is synonymous with refactor.
Watch the full discussion or keep reading as we pick out some of the panel’s most interesting comments.
How would you describe the way transformation or migration projects should be considered from a technical perspective?
Tim Jones, Advanced: “Migrate is a traditional lift and shift approach but retaining the same language - though nowadays it’s so much more. There are huge benefits from migrating off the mainframe environment into a cloud infrastructure or to a more modern architecture.
Transform is taking your legacy or heritage application off the mainframe. You do a lift and shift again, but as part of that process, you change the language. Advanced solutions are based on an automated approach, so you can take the COBOL that was there before and convert to C# and you can lift it from DB2 on the database and turn it into SQL Server.
Choosing Migrate or Transform really depends on what the organisation’s objective is and its overarching strategy. It is not a case that one size fits all. Clearly you get a great cost benefit from coming off the mainframe into a more efficient, scalable architecture, but it really depends on where the business wants to go.”
Simon Musgrave at Micro Focus: “It's not really a technology-based decision, it's a business-based decision - and I think people make the mistake of not focusing on what the business requirements are.
The philosophy we take is that the faster you get away from the high costs of the existing systems into the agile platforms of the Azure environment, the faster you can reinvest some of those savings to move from the migrate to the transform. So you get the best of both worlds. Working with Advanced, we've done that at several organisations already hosting onto the Azure platform.
Make sure you get those savings and the agility that virtually every single business is after these days.”
Richard Gamblin at Microsoft: “I would underline the key point that there are multiple ways that you can transform. While we often coined the term mainframe, it makes you think of a single platform but in fact it is a massive multi tenanted environment with a suite of applications and data services. Each will be beneficial to different parts of an organisation in different ways, and so you need to treat them as such.”
What trends are you seeing now?
Simon Musgrave at Micro Focus: “The pandemic has changed perspectives and I think businesses are looking at questions such as what their competition are doing, how they can innovate and how they can become more agile. Lower costs and ROI generate modernisation demand.”
Richard Gamblin at Microsoft: “There are lots of different drivers. I think one of the more progressive ends of the spectrum has little to do with mainframe itself. Organisations have said: Owning, running, and managing the infrastructure of a data centre is no longer right for us. So, we're going to step away entirely.” There are organisations who are on that journey and mainframe is just one of several services that needs to move. It's a very multifaceted set of drivers.”
Tim Jones, Advanced: “I agree with both points. Moving to a new architecture or cloud is more cost effective but it's no longer the only driver.
Alongside a shrinking resource pool, I think that organisations are looking to achieve consistency across the business, and platform consolidation forces part of that happen.”
In your experience, what would you advise the starting point to be? Migrate or transform?
Tim Jones, Advanced: “I wouldn't advise to do one before the other – modernisation is a journey.
If you go down the migrate route you can get off more quickly. You can get into modern environments and if you want to replace your COBOL you can do it over time - mix and match in the inside Visual Studio and you can meet C# with the old COBOL code that you've brought across.
Obviously transform may take a little bit longer. Whichever route you take, you need to be clear on the scope. If these projects go bad it's because of not understanding exactly what the requirements are, what you're trying to achieve.
The starting point is to understand what you've got on the mainframe. And as we said before, you know largely it's COBOL and DB2 - but then there are pockets of other technologies that sit there too. How does it all fit together?
And really decide from a business perspective what your overarching strategy is and where you want to go. Then you can connect the two points and work out what that journey should be.”
Simon Musgrave at Micro Focus: “Understanding what you have is probably the biggest single mistake we see from customers today when embarking on their modernisation journey.
From our side we're very much looking at the migrate phase as the initial stage. You need to understand the entire system, what are the interdependencies, what are the bridges between the system that you're moving and the other systems. It's not typically one application on a mainframe, it's a host of applications - some of which might be 40 years old.”
Richard Gamblin at Microsoft: “Having a thorough understanding of what's running on the platform and how that aligns to what the organisation is doing. What’s your strategy? Where do your skills sit in the organisation? Do you have folks who are experts in some applications but you’ve kind of eroded some of the skill sets in others? What's the strategy for the service that those applications are providing? Which are the ones that are strategic, and which are fading, and is it the combination of those that is going to put us on a journey to success?”