Ten steps to ensure a successful mainframe migration
Blog //11-01-2021

Ten steps to ensure a successful mainframe migration

by Rob Anderson, Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization

Our 2020 Mainframe Modernization Business Barometer Report found that on average, organizations could save $31 million in twelve months by modernizing the most urgent aspect of their mainframe applications. It’s therefore no surprise that so many companies worldwide are targeting the mainframe as an opportunity to reduce IT cost.

Rapid, low-risk mainframe migrations to distributed environments are becoming common stories in well-run IT departments. Thousands of MIPS and MSUs are being moved to Windows, UNIX, and Linux, both on premises and in the Cloud. However, like any migration, moving off the mainframe comes with some risk.  Selection of the right solution and solution provider is just the beginning. Experience gained through over 35 years of conducting large migration projects suggests it is important to follow these 10 primary best practices.

1: Know what you've got

Understanding your application portfolio is a necessity. By using an application analysis tool you can develop the knowledge and necessary documentation around your portfolio, particularly the components and relationships.  This will help inform decisions to ensure you can work effectively with your IT estate – both now and in the future.

Once there is a solid understanding, establishing ownership for delivery of each of the following components and obtaining firm delivery schedule commitments is essential (this list is not necessarily exhaustive and there may be more, depending on your environment):

  • Primary programming languages (like COBOL, CA Gen, and Natural)
  • Secondary programming languages (like Easytrieve and Assembler)
  • Data infrastructure and data stored in files and relational databases
  • Batch application infrastructure (including JCL, Supporting Utilities, and Job Scheduler)
  • Online application infrastructure (including TP System and User Interface Screens)
  • Application and system level security (like RACF, TopSecret, and ACF2)
  • Output, content and report management (like CA-View/Deliver, ASG-Mobius, and IBM FileNet)
  • Development, test, and QA infrastructure
  • Production, failover, and disaster recovery infrastructure
  • Application modernization architecture and tooling

2: Know where you're going

During the Automated Assessment delivery phase, apply expert advice to technical solution design, with a primary deliverable being a documented solution design that will ensure the right fit for your unique requirements and target environment. Pay extra attention to performance. What does the DevOps pipeline look like? How might containerization affect modernization tactics? What is the support ecosystem for the target environment?

3: Take it seriously

Do not minimize the value of strong project management and solution architect support for your project. Typically, these projects focus on applications that, for many years, have been core to the business. The two biggest drivers of time and cost on mainframe migration projects are confirming technical inventory and gathering test and use case data. Make your experts available and actively vested in the project.

4: Gain executive sponsorship

This point is critical. Without executive sponsorship, finding the resources needed to properly execute can be a challenge. This was a key to the successful mainframe migration for Desjardins General Insurance Group. The management approach relied on the accountability of those responsible, the accountability of IT resources and the involvement of managers and upper management, which ensured the mobilization of resources throughout the project.

5: Address problems early and fast

Avoid wasted time in post-migration testing and production support by leveraging automated testing solutions from the start. Be sure to choose a modernization partner with a robust assessment solution that includes identification of problem areas and resolutions. Implement and use the right tools and train a core technical team in problem resolution processes and procedures before going into production. Understand your vendor's resolution and bug tracking process. Be sure their process is in alignment with yours. This is important for reducing the time it takes to understand and resolve issues.

6: Start preparing test cases early and in parallel with project

Explore automated testing solutions designed for the mainframe that can help automate the preparation of test data and scripts, while leveraging your existing testing assets and processes if possible. In many cases, documentation around test cases is rare. Dedicate the resources necessary to ensure proper documentation of all test cases relevant to the mainframe migration.

7: Align incident tracking tooling

Adopt and use an internal incident-tracking solution from the very beginning. Using a help desk incident-tracking solution as a central repository:

  • Renders the process immediately efficient
  • Ensures visible accountability and reportability
  • Avoids ‘lost issues’
  • Makes valuable issue resolution approaches and solutions available on a searchable and reportable basis

8: Include the mainframe ecosystem: operations and support

Include internal stakeholders for support processes and other operational considerations during project planning and solution design. Their input can be invaluable from the outset, helping further define scope and avoid costly Project Change Requests. In many cases, the application team running a project lacks experience with infrastructure projects and related procurement / support processes in the target environment. It is important for the delivery team(s) to understand the internal processes, lead times, change windows, lock-down schedules, and other constraints.

9: Only modernize what you need

Segregate ‘input files’ from other file types and gather all associated record layouts. Only input files (VSAM, QSAM, etc.) require conversion. Therefore, it's important to identify which are the input files as opposed to temporary files or output files. Automated data migration can be a significant part of the project, so putting in effort up front saves on budget and schedule.

In addition, identifying, documenting, and modernizing individual services (or groups of services) can reduce risk, provide a digestible rate of change for stakeholders in the modernization process, and a faster ROI for the project. Be sure to leverage automated documentation tools to provide omniscient views of application interrelationships to simplify this work.

10: Calculate ROI, track its progress

Gain the expected value from your solution. Implement strong leadership and teaming approaches in your production environment with the mandate and accountability to measure and deliver on the ROI that was agreed upon when the solution was procured. Quantify your ROI opportunity and measure results.

Further resources

Blog Application Modernization Application Modernization and Migration OpenVMS Application Modernization Strategy Application Re-architected and Reintegration Application Understanding Transoft IBM Mainframe
Rob Anderson

Rob Anderson


Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization

Rob Anderson is Vice President of Marketing and Product for Application Modernization. He has spent the better part of the past decade developing, marketing, and selling mainframe modernization solutions, and has had a front-row seat in the transformation of the industry and its surrounding ecosystem.

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