Dan's Take

Walking Away From the Mainframe

TmaxSoft says it's possible -- without wrecking your apps.

Recently, I mentioned the results of a BMC-sponsored survey that suggested that enterprises weren't running away from their mainframe-based solutions. But representatives from TmaxSoft suggested that their customers are doing exactly that: leaving their mainframe-based solutions behind using the company's OpenFrame.

TmaxSoft says its OpenFrame makes it possible to re-host mainframe solutions and move them to UNIX, Linux or z/Linux-based computing environments. I suspect that the z/Linux platform is pitched as an easier first move because solutions could execute in virtual machines (VMs) on the same mainframe as before. Here's the company's pitch:

With OpenFrame we capture your COBOL or PL/1 applications (written for CICS and IMS DC), corresponding JCL programs and utilities, and any RACF/ACF2 security all at once. This target is then analyzed for efficiency using OpenFrame automated tools. Our customers typically find that around 20% of the application code have never been executed, so many lines of code can be eliminated without impact. This assures the project will produce improved performance results even before considering the advantages of faster and newer hardware.

OpenFrame then further reduces the effort and time required for acceptance verification. Because OpenFrame has its own built in test tool, users can quickly determine that business functionality is preserved without needing to learn, set up, and manipulate a third-party test tool.

At first I was rather skeptical about the claims being made by TmaxSoft. I can't tell you how many times company executives have told me about failed attempts to move a custom, homebuilt, mainframe-based solution to some other platform. Mainframe-based solutions, after all, are typically complex productions in which the enterprise's code is tightly integrated with the mainframe operating system; a transaction or batch processing monitor; and a mix of assembler, COBOL and, possibly PL/I code, all supported by a mainframe database engine.

Dan's Take: The All-Or-Nothing Challenge
The challenge for enterprises has always been the "all-or-nothing" challenge posed by these applications. Everything has to be moved at once or the enterprise suffers. The suffering typically centers on under-performance; increased complexity caused by bringing functions over piecemeal; or having to add new development or operational staff to support the target environment. In the end, the savings on hardware or software turns out to be less than the increased costs required of a hybrid computing solution.

Some have chosen instead to lift whole functions and substitute cloud-based solutions, or just replace the whole custom solution with a less custom, off-the-shelf piece of packaged software. The enterprise decision makers appear, in these cases, to have accepted having less customization in exchange for some benefit: better performance, made possible by using a cluster or grid of industry standard systems; increased ease in finding development and operational staff; or reduced costs for additional hardware, software and software components that can be found in the industry-standard world.

TmaxSoft has done quite a bit of work to re-create many important components of the mainframe-computing environment. This work means that the basic architecture of the solution doesn't have to be changed. Their tools, TmaxSoft would say, could simply be dropped in and the entire solution could be re-hosted on a number of different computing environments.

The company also points out that this move could simply be part of a larger change: "For many organizations, the ultimate solution for mainframe applications is a fully rewritten application using a language like JAVA. But such major rewrite projects require time and risk, with both hard to mitigate. Meantime, the mainframe hardware costs continue to rise. Many TmaxSoft customers have chosen to use OpenFrame as an intermediary step. This way they get it all: the advantages of faster and cheaper cloud infrastructure now, and fully rewritten applications later."

Time To Move On?
I've asked to speak with a TmaxSoft customer to learn about their journey off the mainframe. Until then, if your organization is considering what to do with mainframe-based solutions and has come to the conclusion that it is time to move on, TmaxSoft may have just the tools and experience you need.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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