Survey: mainframes now being service-enabled, not replaced

A new survey finds modernization is preferable to replacing Big Iron. Times have changed.

A new survey confirms what many of us already suspected: that mainframe and other legacy systems are no longer being ripped up and replaced. Instead, the operative term is now "modernization." And SOA has helped fuel this sea change.

A new survey finds modernizing is preferable to replacing Big Iron. Times have changed.

Software AG, which has been active in the legacy modernization space for some time, recently issued the results of a survey it commissioned of 180 of its customers, and found there is little interest in throwing out the mainframe with the bath water. (Report available for download here.)

The survey found that 75% of survey participants indicated that they were considering modernization, compared to 29% that were considering replacing their legacy applications. (Multiple responses were permitted.) Another 25% were considering rewriting their legacy apps, and six percent were considering outsourcing.

How times have changed since the beginning of the decade. The survey reports that all enterprises wanted to do back then is cut, cut, and consolidate. However, these issues received the most “minimally concerned” or “not at all concerned” responses in the current survey, Software AG reports.

Now, the emphasis is on business-centric and forward-looking issues such as real-time access to legacy data, agility, flexibility, reuse of legacy-based services across multiple systems and support for SOA.

However, modernization is easier thought about than done. A majority, 52%, also said they had concerns about their system's ability to support SOA. About 51% said that a major issue was the fact that "hard-coded and closed business rules" make it difficult to adapt their systems to new requirements. Thirty-five percent said that their systems' application code is not well structured for reuse.

More than 60% of respondents analyzed were "very" or "extremely" concerned about the flexibility of their legacy systems to be quickly modified to meet changing business requirements. Nearly 60% of respondents analyzed were "very" or "extremely" concerned about a real-time interaction between their legacy systems and other systems to support business process automation.

How difficult is it to bring together the batch-oriented ways of mainframe and legacy systems with the online ways of SOA? Dale Vecchio, analyst with Gartner, says the two are compatible, but not without some performance hits. In a recent article in Insurance Networking News (batch still rules in the insurance industry), Dale pointed out that it is possible to adapt batch processes to SOA:

"As organizations continue to evolve their application portfolios to leverage packaged software and new development, business rules will move to a myriad of places. Reusing those newly located business functions in batch jobs can make sense."

Web services that are part of SOA "could be provided from a non-mainframe environment, providing information back into a mainframe-based batch process," he said.

The biggest downside to SOA for batch applications, he said, "is performance. Batch jobs have historically processed large volumes of data in defined batch time windows overnight. If service calls introduce a level of delay or dramatic performance hits, then batch processing won't finish in time. Transaction volumes occur over the course of the work day and, while there are peak processing times in any organization, the volumes of processing in batch and the limited time windows leaves no room for error."