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Case Study: Financial Aspects to Mainframe Migration

The growing phenomenon of migrating some of the mainframe’s workload to more suitable platforms

The long-predicted demise of the mainframe is about as likely as the paperless office. In fact, the analogy is appropriate, because companies are reducing their reliance on both paper and on mainframes, for the same reasons: achieving better results and saving money.

That the mainframe is a time-tested and powerful platform is accepted. But you don't see the word "efficient" or "cost-effective" in the litany of mainframe attributes. With a legacy of leased capital equipment and pay-by-use, the mainframe's chief attribute is the fact that it is costly.

There may be occasions where this cost is warranted. This article explores other examples, and in particular the financial benefits seen in the growing phenomenon of reapportioning or migrating some of the mainframe's workload to more suitable platforms

A few examples might help drive the point home.

  • Companies like Credit Agricole, one of France's largest banks, are achieving 30% to 90% annual savings in platform maintenance budgets by moving applications from the mainframe to Windows. One dramatic example of savings is mainframe storage, which was costing €54 (about US$70) per gigabyte, while on the Windows platform the cost is just €18 (about US$24) per gigabyte. That's right, a 2/3 savings was achieved by moving the data from the mainframe to a Windows platform.
  • Interpolis, a large Dutch insurance company, predicted 50% savings per year after migrating a large COBOL application with an 800GB database to the Windows platform.
  • Day-Timer reduced annual costs from $725K to under $50K by eliminating its mainframe and moving to Windows.

Since Day-Timer, the expert in personal productivity and time management, may be the most familiar company among these examples, a little more detail on their situation might resonate with readers. Day-Timer embarked on a process to migrate their applications to native Microsoft ASP.NET code, to run as Web applications over the company's intranet. Everything went: 3270 screen layouts, which were converted to ASP.NET Web pages; VSAM data was originally migrated to Btrieve and now is being migrated to Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software.

In all, the migration included 1,600 applications and 1,300 batch jobs, and was completed over 15 months by a team of six developers. Instead of the IBM 2086-130, the Day-Timer ERP suite now runs on IBM X3755 dual-processor server hardware, an IBM DS4700 SAN, and Windows Server 2003.

Day-Timer's primary motivation for moving from the IBM mainframe to Windows Server was to reduce cost. It has done a remarkable job at that, virtually eliminating the amount previously spent on the mainframe. Instead of $725,000 per year, the Windows Server deployment costs Day-Timer just $48,000 per year, a reduction of 93 percent. In addition, Day-Timer has eliminated the $22,000 cost of printing reports as employees now use reports online.

The move to Windows Server has reduced maintenance requirements, enabling Day-Timer to redeploy the resources formerly devoted to a 12-person operations staff. Software development is easier too, enabling the company to redeploy the resources formerly devoted to three programmers.

On the personal productivity front (after all, this is Day-Timer), debugging software using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 development system is faster and more efficient than using the limited tools available for the mainframe. Developers can work more effectively, copying files to their desktop quickly to work on their local machines. As a result, Day-Timer estimates that developers respond to updates requested by the business at least 20 to 25 percent faster than before.

Although Day-Timer didn't migrate to increase performance, they gained that benefit as well. Batch processes run 10 to 15 percent faster.

The system now integrates more easily with third-party systems and data, such as the company's electronic data interchange system, which wasn't possible in the mainframe world. And Day-Timer is easily integrating the Internet into its applications, such as a FedEx Web service for calculating shipping rates that's integrated into Day-Timer's shipping application.

So, examples abound. On top of these hard savings, some companies report up to 50% improvement in developer productivity by redeploying mainframe programmers to other work.

Then there's Simon & Schuster, which saw trouble tickets drop by 75%, heading off problems before they occurred. The publishing giant had batch jobs that needed to complete within a tight batch window, and a file archiving/retrieval system that was tied to an automated tape library system that didn't immediately have any obvious Windows equivalents. For the challenging batch jobs, the team had a "show me" attitude - handing sample code to the engineers supporting the project to let them demonstrate it executing in the new environment.

Once the migration took place, Simon & Schuster was impressed with how quickly the system performed, eventually halving the time required for the batch window.

For the tape system, a little investigation revealed that disk space for Windows servers was sufficiently economic that it could be used instead of tapes for the archived files and, with that move, a file management/retrieval package could also be purchased that offered the same or better functionality. Although it was not all plain sailing, theirs was an example of a system that was quite suitable for being moved.

On the operations front, reduction of batch processing on the mainframe can also reduce staff requirements for manning these batch runs, and increase application availability. As suggested above, Simon & Schuster saw their batch execution window reduced from 12 hours to just over 6 hours enabling them to go from two shifts to one shift for running the nightly jobs.

Besides these easily documentable aspects, there are others that deserve consideration. For example, companies with nearly total reliance on the mainframe often find themselves at the mercy of their hardware and software suppliers, as they typically have one primary hardware vendor, IBM, and one primary software vendor, such as CA. These vendors know that there is little or no competition, so their prices increase and their customers have little ability to negotiate.

One of the reasons the Windows environment is more economical is that there is intense competition in both hardware and software markets - a factor that puts buyers in a much stronger position and removes the feeling of the IT budget being largely determined by one or two suppliers.

Miscellaneous benefits reported by those who have migrated include:

  • Doing away with paper reports (yes, the "less-paper" office)
  • Disk storage cheap enough to do away with tape storage systems
  • Batch job execution fast enough to pass results immediately to customers when previously they were delivered some hours later
  • Improved online transaction response times, making application users more productive/

What About Performance?
Does the Windows/.NET platform only provide a mainframe equivalent in a different package or can you hope for more from the new environment? What we've observed is that Microsoft's .NET Framework and Visual Studio program development environment both account for major differences to the mainframe. Developers like the functionality and immediacy of Visual Studio with companies reporting up to 50% improvement in developer productivity as a result. The .NET Framework is a tremendously rich object library - like canned subroutines but with greater flexibility - covering a wide range of functions and designed to make complex tasks simple. One of their goals at Simon & Schuster, mentioned earlier, was to get to .NET because they saw the potential. Even with that foresight they were still excited to experience how easy it was for them to create new Web services out of their CICS applications.

Interestingly, we've never seen a company that has moved its systems to Windows-based servers complain about performance. Most often the experience is one of batch jobs speeding up and transaction rates being improved. Scottish & Southern Energy, a large British utility company, saw some batch job execution times drop from 40 minutes to 4 minutes, working with a 1.7 TB database. Crystal Cruises, the luxury cruise line, reported that their end-of-cruise check-out run went from an hour to 90 seconds, and now runs backups several times a day instead of just once a day.

And, so it goes...

More Stories By Ron Langer

Ron Langer has 30 years of experience in the software industry, half of which was spent at IBM as a product architect and in support. Over the last 14 years, he has helped develop the market for legacy migration and modernization solutions. He is currently the General Manager at Alchemy Solutions and has also served as VP of Legacy Modernization at Alchemy Solutions’ predecessor, Fujitsu Computer Systems.

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