Dan's Take

The Ongoing Quest to Migrate Mainframe Workloads

Heirloom Computing offers an option that may work for some environments.

After reading my article Making Mainframes More Efficient, Heirloom Computing CEO Gary Cook invited me to learn more about his company and what it does for enterprises wishing to migrate some of their mainframe workloads to other platforms.

Heirloom Computing presents its value proposition in the following way:

Enterprise applications form the backbone of many companies. These applications, with complex business logic, are often a company's core market differentiator. With the advent of the cloud and the rising expense of mainframes, companies are looking to integrate these central business applications and leverage the agility of open systems and the cloud. Equally important is the rising need to have Java programmers own, manage and maintain enterprise applications, thereby reducing dependencies on mainframe skill-sets. And one thing is certain, rewriting or replacing core enterprise applications are not viable options.

It's clear that Heirloom Computing is hoping to convince enterprises with mainframe COBOL applications that converting them to Java would open up a number of platform options, including industry-standard x86 systems running Windows, Linux or midrange UNIX systems.

Heirloom PaaS SDK
The company's Heirloom PaaS SDK includes the Java-based application development environment Eclipse, Elastic COBOL, and what the company describes as "an extensive application development toolset that is provided as a plug-in to the industry standard Eclipse IDE framework."

Heirloom points out that "with Elastic COBOL your mainframe applications (including CICS and JCL) execute as Java applications deployed to the Java application server of your choice, on-premise or in the cloud. Applications can continue to be developed in COBOL or in Java or both, enabling the transformation to Java to occur at a pace that is optimal for your business."

Dan's Take: Mainframe Workloads Are Complex, Which Is Why They Usually Stay Where They Are
I've noticed that many competitors in this "mainframe migration" market target COBOL-based applications executing on mainframes. Some hope to persuade customers to move to other platforms by transforming the COBOL to Java, others suggest moving to a more portable version of COBOL, and a very few suggest different language environments. If my memory serves me well, some of those other platforms include Ruby and Python.

While all of these services appear to offer at least something to help enterprises wishing to retire their mainframes, none of them are really addressing the entire mainframe computing environment. That, by the way, includes Heirloom.

Mainframe workloads are often complex mixes of COBOL, Assembler, the Job Control Language (JCL), a transaction processing monitor such as CICS and one of several mainframe database engines. Migration of an entire workload typically includes finding a way to replace:

  • The workload management functions defined within the JCL files
  • The transaction processing environment supported by CICS or IMS TP
  • The database engine which could be Adabas, CA Datacom, IDMS, Oracle, FOCUS, NOMAD, TOTAL/SUPRA/ULTRA, IBM IMS, Model 204, SQL/DS or others
  • Applications written in Assembler, Basic, C/C++, CLIST, CSP, COBOL, FORTRAN, Java, Pascal, PL/I, Python, QMF, REXX, Ruby, PERL, RPG, and even Smalltalk! If one looked hard enough, I bet even a few APL and MUMPS programs could be found.

As you can see, extracting everything that could be part of a mainframe workload could be quite a chore. Furthermore, all of it would have to be moved at once or the workload's house of cards would collapse.

So, suppliers of migration technology have cherry-picked part of the environment and offer to move it to industry-standard systems running Windows, Linux or midrange UNIX systems. Moving the rest of the environment is very hard, and that's why the workloads stay on the mainframe.

So if your mainframe computing environment consists of only COBOL and JCL, Heirloom and its competitors might be acceptable. If your environment is more complex, this approach won't be workable.

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.

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