Mainframe Modernization Strategy in the Cloud Repatriation Era

Not every mainframe modernization path requires you to get rid of what you’ve already paid for.

If you’re reviewing your mainframe modernization strategy options, you might have heard of the practice of cloud repatriation, in which companies are moving away from public cloud investments and returning to the technologies they’ve used before, often bringing on-premises workloads back online in the process.

For companies undergoing costly, uncertain mainframe modernization and migration challenges or attempting to build viable mainframe modernization strategies, the underlying message from this trend is clear – it might not be wise to leap feet-first into the cloud as a mainframe replacement, especially when others are taking a step back.

But if your mainframe software is going End of Support (EOS) and the vendor is pushing an upgrade, what else can you do?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

It might not be wise to leap feet-first into the cloud as a mainframe replacement, especially when others are taking a step back.

Mainframe modernization strategy: A look at the landscape

By definition, the practice of mainframe modernization is a lot more delicate than lift-and-shift migration. It might involve piece-by-piece reconstruction or refactoring of certain mainframe apps, the data they hold, or the workloads they run, with aspects of the old functionality often landing in some kind of cloud environment. The process also could require building cloud-connected workloads into the existing mainframe infrastructure through practices like container-based deployment. Carrying out such a task tends to be costly – often well beyond initial projections – and completing it can take years, particularly if the organization doesn’t have access to the right talent and knowledge base at the start.

With third-party software maintenance (TPSM) gaining visibility, many companies have also simply begun using their current mainframe software indefinitely, even if the OEM has stopped supporting it.

Those high-level paths represent numerous options to explore for the IT and business stakeholders on the ground. However, with a growing number of formerly mainframe-dependent companies looking to repatriate, mitigate, or generally roll back their cloud investments, the question becomes how valuable could a little more time on the clock be for a company reassessing its roadmap?

This would allow for time to follow through on decisions or create better plans. It could likewise help companies avoid the trap of overcommitting on cloud strategy, which is the reason they end up needing to repatriate in the first place.

Do you really need that mainframe software upgrade?

No matter which path you choose, it might seem that upgrading on-premises mainframe software is also a necessary part of the plan.

  • For companies undergoing modernization, missing features are just one setback potentially large enough to stop plans in their tracks. When the data export capability you desperately need is only available in a product two versions above your own, for instance, an upgrade could seem to be the only path forward, even if you have zero need for the change otherwise.
  • For companies sticking with their current infrastructure, factors completely outside the mainframe software in question could still cause an apparent forced software upgrade. For example, interoperability problems frequently push working mainframe software versions towards an unnecessary retirement because companies don’t know other options are available.

Support usually carries close links to the upgrade cycle. In some cases, companies essentially update their software for the right to be able to continue raising tickets with the OEM. With the added trouble unwanted upgrades can cause in such delicate IT ecosystems, companies with mainframes are better off considering other options.

Third-party software maintenance can extend value

There are plenty of stats out there proving just how much life the long-serving mainframe has left in it. In fields like banking, 92 of 100 global top performers rely on optimized mainframe technology to facilitate critical transactions. Mainframes are crucial for industries that can’t tolerate outages thanks to their inherent redundancy and unbeatable uptime rates. And they house middleware that can touch every single aspect of a business’s operation, from the production floor to the showroom to the business office.

But it’s also clear many mainframes holding modern enterprise operations together need added attention to provide value at the level they’re capable. Staying put can feel as uncertain as moving forward. And IT uncertainty is bad for business at every level — operationally, analytically, and financially.

TPSM providers help extend the life of the software investments companies have already made. For an ongoing mainframe modernization strategy, that can mean:

  • Resolving interoperability issues mainframe OEMs won’t touch without updates or upgrades. Mainframe interoperability concerns tend to come with steep contextual knowledge requirements to go with the nuts-and-bolts technical understanding an enterprise tech stack demands. With a little investigation, a competent TPSM can provide both.
  • Implementing custom features without creating cascading tech concerns. Demanding a feature – but not needing it enough to justify the expense and trouble of an update – is a common problem in mainframe-powered enterprise IT estates. A TPSM can find alternative ways to make existing mainframe software do new things, which avoids compatibility and interoperability issues as well as unnecessary costs.
  • Offering active mainframe support for day-to-day ticketing and issue resolution. Simply knowing support is available for an allegedly “unsupported” mainframe software product is enough to inform companies’ roadmap planning for years to come. Options begin to open up when there’s more than one way forward. Mainframes don’t need to be thought of in the past tense. While losing access to decreasing OEM service levels might seem like an insurmountable challenge, TPSM providers can help companies stay fully supported on-prem and free of the cloud rollback challenges.

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