J Jeffrey Broderick
z Systems Architect
The IT industry has been evangelizing the need to invest in existing business applications, application tooling and developer skill-sets. For many datacenters, this may not have been a priority—for others, they did choose to invest and continue to modernize, enhance and improve their application infrastructures and development methods. System z is an extremely powerful computing technology, but with anything, it’s very important to keep your applications in tune with the advances in the z System.
IT organizations need to not only embrace newer technologies for their application development, but they must also be willing to update and remediate existing applications for several key reasons:
- There is indeed a diminishing pool of developers capable of supporting many legacy technologies. That pool of developers will continue to shrink, and the organization’s ability to modify, repair, integrate or fix those applications, along with their artifacts, will continue to decline.
- Analytics have placed tremendous pressure on organizations to provide timely and accurate access to data that may have resided in legacy systems built upon more proprietary data structures.
- Duplication and replication of this data may pose additional constraints on performance and accuracy of data, along with delays and potential inconsistencies, if a cloned repository is established.
- Significant challenges may develop if the legacy data schema should change, requiring extensive re-work of the downstream Extract-Transform-Load (ETL) processes.
- Ever-increasing third-party licensing fees for “functionally stabilized” technologies will continue to impact the budget. Identify those technologies with small or moderate installed bases, and embark on actively replacing those technologies.
- Existing software infrastructures may slow the organizations ability to adopt newer technologies.
Technology choices and existing tooling should be evaluated on a strategic, annual basis. It takes serious direction, evaluation, planning and willingness to improve and facilitate a modernization initiative. Modernization initiatives can involve any of several key application areas:
- Data structures – Business demands require the embracing of relational technologies, portability of data, and direct data access across disparate platforms. This can include legacy structures such as IDMS, Datacom, Adabas — even IMS and VSAM. Even poor choices in the distributed relational database market can leave organizations with maintenance challenges. However, evaluate these database structures carefully, as products like IMS have been continuously enhanced, providing SQL and XML access…essentially, relational access methods to enable newer integrations.
- Analytics Integration – Modern, relational data structures facilitate analytics throughout the enterprise, significantly speeding the capabilities of the organization to access data from multiple data sources and enable timely business decisions.
- End User Interfaces – Most business users demand a modernized interface for their applications—preferably a Graphical User Interface (GUI). However, there are innumerous 3270 interfaces still extensively and actively being used.
- Development Languages – The datacenter is littered with legacy development languages—and not all languages pose issues. However, tooling that was frequently used for application generation (i.e., CoolGen, Telon, FOCUS or PacBase) can become very difficult to maintain when existing talent has left the datacenter. Other languages like Natural, EasyTrieve, and RAMIS can create additional challenges for available skills.
- COBOL Modernization – The latest COBOL compilers provide substantial performance improvements for z hardware-leveraging the advances in the chip instruction sets. Simply keeping up with the compiler technology can net an organization significant performance throughput.
- Support Tools – Application Development (AD) must have the appropriate tooling to provide comprehensive source code management, impact analysis, code intelligence and quality assurance.
Enterprise Modernization doesn’t happen overnight. Proper planning, tooling, inventory analysis, application awareness and a strategic IT direction are essential to maintaining a peak development organization. IT leadership must insure that essential legacy systems continue to add value to the bottom line, and do not create a bottleneck for the future of the organization.
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