Kyndryl Inspects The Modernization Plans Of IBM i And Mainframe Shops
November 6, 2023 Alex Woodie
What paths are IBM i and mainframe users taking in terms of application modernization and digital transformation, and what sorts of results are those efforts producing? Those are good questions, and they are ones that Kyndryl, the former IBM Global Technology Services arm, provides some answers to in a new report.
Kyndryl commissioned Coleman Parkes Research to survey 500 IBM i and mainframe shops from around the world about their plans for application modernization and transformation. The survey results form the basis for its appropriately named 2023 State of Mainframe Modernization Survey Report, which you can download here.
(While the report’s title includes the word “mainframe” and refers to “mainframes” throughout, the survey included a mix of System z and IBM i customers, Richard Baird, Kyndryl’s SVP, CTO & Engineering Lead for Core Enterprise and zCloud, tells IT Jungle.)
In the study, Kyndryl concludes there are three main paths that big iron users take to application modernization and digital transformation: modernizing on, integrating with, and moving off. “Our survey found that most enterprises use a combination of these approaches in their transformation journeys,” the company states in its report.
Kyndryl says the study shows that these modernization approaches are working well for the big iron customers, and that mainframes and IBM i servers will remain central to customers’ IT environments for some time. Specifically, it found 90 percent of survey respondents say the IBM servers “remain essential to their business operations.”
However, that doesn’t mean that big iron customers aren’t eliminating CPWs and MIPS. Kyndryl found that 95 percent of customers “are moving at least some of their workloads to the cloud or distributed platforms.” On average, it found that big iron-using organizations are moving 37 percent of their workloads off mainframes and IBM i servers. However, less than 1 percent of the customers – or two of the 500 organizations it surveyed – plan to move all of their applications off the IBM platforms.
The conclusions seem to run counter to the popular notion that the mainframe and the IBM i have outlived their usefulness. The popular IT press is full of horror stories of archaic greenscreen applications hindering the digital progress of companies. Migrating away from monolithic COBOL and RPG programs running on ancient and expensive IBM hardware to nice, modern REST-based microservice applications running in shiny new Kubernetes containers that can be moved at the drop of a hat to whatever cloud-based server one desires – always X86-only – is the only way forward. Or so we’re told.
So why would big iron users voluntarily subject themselves to the horrors of antiquated computing when such glorious alternatives are there for the taking? The answer, of course, is that big iron hardware and big iron software still hold certain advantages over their industry-standard brethren – at least in the companies that continue to invest in them via the three modernization pathways mentioned above. Kyndryl’s survey bears this out.
The company concluded that “modernizing on mainframe projects” (by which it also means IBM i servers) “have thus far led to a 9 percent increase in profitability, while both integrating with and moving off projects increased profitability by 11 percent. “On average, surveyed organizations see cost savings of $25 million per year-fueling further discussion that a modernization strategy of any chosen path yields a strong return on investment.” Collectively, the 500 big iron users in Kyndryl’s survey save a whopping $12.5 billion per year through their modernization efforts, the company says.
Those who are “modernizing on mainframe” cite security, performance, and reliability as the main advantages.
Two thirds of the big iron customers who are taking the “modernizing on mainframe” path say their main goals are to optimize performance and capacity and to rationalize software, which means choosing which applications to keep, replace, retire, or consolidate, Kyndryl says in its report. It also found DevSecOps techniques are popular among 56 percent of the “modernizing on mainframe” contingent, while 48 percent say they’re recompiling their big iron applications to the newest version to upgrade performance.
Big Iron shops taking the “integrate with” path tended to favor increased data availability and innovation, Kyndryl says in its report. Specifically, it found that 48 percent of those taking the “integrate with” path to modernization cite the ability to “innovate more quickly,” while 41 percent cited increased flexibility. Forty-eight percent say they are integrating big iron data with cloud applications, while 24 percent say they are integrating big iron applications with the cloud.
Those in the “moving off” camp cite faster time to market and improved performance as their main reasons, “even though the strategy introduces new security concerns,” Kyndryl says. The report found 51 percent of the “moving off” shops are eager to get the time-to-market advantages, 47 percent cited better performance, while 44 percent are eager to get “improved innovation.”
Survey takers expressed some reservations about moving to the cloud, however, with 56 percent worrying about security and 46 percent concerned about unpredictable costs. Nonetheless, the pull to the cloud is strong, with only 5 percent of survey-takers saying they are not moving any workloads to the cloud.
“Mainframes have the capacity to handle and process huge amounts of financial data,” the report quotes a CTO at a Latin American financial services company as saying. “But moving some of the non-critical applications to cloud has helped us in streamlining the workflow when it comes to capturing data, storing, and interpreting it.”
Kyndryl says the time and expense required to complete a modernization project was “surprisingly consistent” across its survey-takers. The average cost of a modernization project was 3.9 percent of an organizations IT budget – ranging from 3.7 percent for “moving off” to 4.3 percent for “modernizing on” – and that the average timeline for completion was 24 months.
Big iron shops cited similar challenges during their modernization projects. Twenty percent of shops in the “modernizing on” camp say they struggled from a lack of planning, 18 percent say they struggled to overcome performance issues, while code quality impacted 16 percent. In the “integrate with” cohort, 22 percent cited insufficient expertise, 18 percent complained about inadequate vendor solutions, while scope creep and project overruns was cited by 15 percent. In the “moving off” camp, scope creep and project overruns were cited by 20 percent, insufficient expertise by 17 percent, and the burden of testing by 15 percent.
The survey results show that mainframes “remain one of the technological backbones of the worlds’ economy,” Kyndryl states in its report. “They enable businesses and governments across the globe to run mission-critical applications while processing massive amounts of data. As was the case decades ago and still remains true today: For many leading enterprises the mainframe is a powerful, reliable, secure choice.”
Of course, that’s not news to longtime users of the IBM i server. But it’s still good to hear this said by Kyndryl, which is one of the largest providers of services for IBM i customers in the world.