Vestcom spent $1 million on its mainframe migration, which Mislinski says he’ll recoup in two years, based on operational savings. The modern PC interface also enables his operations staff to respond to customer requests in just half the time it took previously, he estimates. Plus, having the code on a Windows platform means his staff can take advantage of visual development environments. It also means his Cobol programmers are now working in the same environment as his C# coders, so they can cross-train each other.
No Mass Exodus
Despite these companies’ successes, migrating away from the mainframe is expensive and risky for most organizations. That’s why IDC and Forrester Research see real interest in less than 5 percent of enterprises surveyed (see “When mainframes make sense”). It’s also why IBM still gets nearly $5 billion a year in zSeries mainframe sales, notes IDC’s Josselyn. He says the attitude he encounters most from IT is, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”
Josselyn says IBM has adjusted some of its licensing fees to address the issue of high licensing costs. And, Forrester’s Murphy advises, even users of orphaned mainframe technology -- languages such as PL/I or hardware such as ICL’s or Bull’s -- can still modernize their mainframe technology, rather than dump it, by deploying Cobol, C++, and Java applications on Unix partitions. That strategy at least will let IT rationalize its environment and make any later transition to distributed systems easier.
Also, although the desire to move from legacy programming languages with a dwindling supply of developers is a common secondary motivation for mainframe migration, both Murphy and Josselyn note that Cobol developers' salaries have not increased in recent years, indicating no shortage.
Meanwhile, however, system vendors have dramatically improved the reliability and scalability of distributed systems to the point that enterprises can consider x86- and RISC-based servers running variants of Unix, Linux, or Windows for mission-critical applications.
Josselyn says the area in which these platforms still have a disadvantage is in management, because workload, latency, and data management can become difficult as you scale to hundreds of servers. Murphy suggests though, that this situation may improve in the next several years, as vendors deliver better tools and as IT staffs learn to run the systems the mainframe way, using techniques such as virtualization.
Enterprises with small mainframes or those that use them primarily as application servers -- the Vestcoms of the world -- are the most likely to begin wholesale migration to other platforms. Larger organizations are more likely to off-load some services and reduce the variety of mainframe systems in their portfolios while still taking full advantage of their available mainframe MIPS to keep per-transaction costs down, says Mike Gilbert, vice president of marketing at Micro Focus.
The first step is to decide which kind of organization you are, then to really think through what should continue to run on the mainframe and what should be migrated elsewhere. The good news is that the time is ripe to finally make that migration happen. The Big Iron Age is by no means over, but the first signs of the Distributed Age are definitely here.
In this article, we should have said that Sabre Holdings' HP NonStop servers use Intel Itanium 2 CPUs. In addition, Sabre's Red Hat Linux and MySQL software runs on a separate cluster of HP Integrity servers, also based on Itanium 2. InfoWorldregrets the errors, which have been corrected.