Modernization Trumps Migration for IBM i and Mainframe, IDC Says
September 23, 2020 Alex Woodie
Organizations that modernized their IBM i and System z applications not only had higher satisfaction rates and lower costs than organizations that migrated off those platforms, but they also benefited from higher levels of innovation in things like AI, IoT, and mobile enablement, according to an IDC study commissioned by Rocket Software.
In “The Quantified Business Benefits of Modernizing IBM Z and IBM i to Spur Innovation,” IDC analysts Peter Rutten and Randy Perry set out to quantitatively measure and compare various aspects, ramifications, and results of modernization and migration projects involving big iron from IBM. The analyst group surveyed business and IT leaders at 440 organizations in Australia, India, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
IDC questioned all four cohorts (IBM i shops that modernized, IBM i shops that migrated, System z shops that modernized, and System z shops that migrated) about their satisfaction across a range of metrics before and after their move, including: customer experience; overall performance; security, availability, and disaster recovery capabilities; agility, microservices, and DevOps; ease of finding talent; ability to incorporate AI and IoT; and API, mobile, and Web enablement.
Across all seven metrics, the IBM i and System z shops that modernized their “legacy” systems scored higher than their IBM i and System z colleagues who chose to migrate off their systems. What’s more, organizations that modernized instead of migrated reported paying less on hardware, software, and staffing, and reported higher revenues to boot.
“These results demonstrated unequivocally that businesses that remain on what are sometimes referred to as ‘legacy’ platforms and that take advantage of the plethora of hardware and software innovations that have been made available for those platforms have an overall better outcome, quantitatively and qualitatively, than those that move off them,” the analysts wrote in their report.
The results were somewhat surprising to executives at Rocket Software, which sells tools for modernizing IBM i and System z applications. Rocket CMO Jeff Winter, who spearheaded the report as a way to gather data after joining the company about six months ago, spoke to IT Jungle about the unique study.
“Our hypothesis going into it was, yes, it’ll be less risky to stay,” he said. “Obviously, doing any kind of transformation project and ‘replatforming’ comes with a risk. We weren’t sure about the cost efficiency of it. Would you save money by staying on the platform, or would you save money by replatforming?”
Winter and his colleagues also weren’t sure what the data would say in regards to digital innovation.
“In fact, we thought the big tradeoff was going to be, yes you might be able to save money and reduce risk by modernizing and staying. But you’re probably going to have a tradeoff, in that people won’t be able to innovate as much,” he said.
“But when the data came back, it showed that not only was is lower cost, not only was it lower risk, but companies that modernized were actually able to innovate and grow faster than the platformers,” Winter said.
The study laid bare a common misconception about these IBM platforms. While IBM i and System z are commonly labeled “legacy” platforms due to their age (both can trace their lineage back to the middle of the last millennium), that doesn’t mean they are any less modern or capable than today’s X86 platforms, which is where most migrations land.
“These are indeed some of the most capable and modern platforms in the market today,” the IDC analysts wrote, “and any business considering their IT infrastructure strategy should be wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater by replatforming. IDC has found that one of the most common mistakes leading to replatforming is unawareness of the innovations available on IBM Z and IBM i. At minimum, businesses should do a deep analysis of not just cost avoided but also functionalities gained from modernizing on their platforms.”
There is a “significant degree of unawareness” about just how modern mainframes and IBM i servers are, IDC said. “One IBM Z replatformer stated that the company was unaware of the IBM Z hybrid cloud capabilities, for example,” the analysts wrote in the paper. “Another business that replatformed off IBM i said it had never upgraded its IBM i from 2007 to 2017 and that it had not stayed up to date on new IBM i technologies. The company was unaware of how the platform evolved over those 10 years and based its replatforming effort on. As one representative stated: ‘The perception is that this is old technology; it’s time has passed.'”
As a provider of application modernization solutions for IBM i and System z, Rocket Software faces these misconceptions on a regular basis. While every situation is unique and there are times and places when migrating off the IBM i or mainframe is a good business decision, too many organizations jump to conclusions about the capabilities of their heritage systems and end up paying the consequences for rash their rash decision-making, said Chris Wey, who was recently hired to be the president of Rocket’s Power Systems Business Unit
“I think there’s a stigma associated with the legacy machines,” Wey said. “You think about the organizational structure of [organizations that run] these legacy applications you might have for IBM i or AS/400. You have the senior manager or director of the legacy system, then you have the larger IT organization that manages distributed systems and cloud and other aspects [of their IT investments]. Perhaps there’s a new CIO that comes in and he’s very cloud-focused and says ‘Get rid of it. I don’t want to hear anything about it. We’re just getting rid of the AS/400 and I’m done.’
“That’s a risky proposition,” Wey continued. “What we’re trying to say with the IDC study is number one, that’s risky. And number two, your economics, both top line and bottom line are going to be better if you don’t make that choice” to migrate off the platform.
This study, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. Like all commissioned reports, it was unlikely that IDC was going to come back and say how horrible and useless it was to modernize a legacy application (and if it did, we would likely never get to hear about it). And while IDC appears to have done a decent job quantifying the variables, qualities, and characteristics of platforms, it left out some important factors that would also seem to be important in judging whether or not a platform is modern, such as the state of technological investments by the platform’s community, specifically the application vendors targeting the platforms. (When was the last time you heard Oracle or SAP say how great IBM i is?)
But that being said, the IDC results also jibe with the anecdotal evidence that IT Jungle has heard over the years from the IBM i community (as you know, we don’t cover System z). And while the Rocket Software report is self-serving to a point, the company also is to be commended for choosing a group like IDC that holds itself to high standards in these types of reports. If Rocket didn’t do this study, then, it would seem, somebody should have done it, because it goes to the heart of why IBM i continues to exist after all these decades, and why members of the IBM i community continue to devote themselves and their careers to this strange but beautiful machine.
The IDC report won’t likely convince organizations that have already made the decision to leave their Big Iron platform, but it could help to sway those who are on the fence. There is ample evidence that modernization trumps migration in many situations, and that applications (even the old ones) have some inherent value, especially if they can be modernized and take advantage of the latest capabilities that IBM has added to these powerful and capable business platforms.
“What’s old are the actual applications, which were written years and years ago, in some cases decades ago,” Winter said. “But again, with the tools from Rocket and other companies that can help you build out those applications, access data from those applications, perform analytics on these applications, without really having to touch the source code. And of course, you can modernize and extend those applications directly, but there really isn’t anything holding companies back from modernizing and innovating on these platforms.”
You don’t have to say that again.