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Accelerate mainframe application modernization with IBM and Microsoft


By Brett Tanzer, Vice President of Product Management, Azure Core - Microsoft
By Kara Todd, Vice President, IBM zSystems Application Platform - IBM

As businesses digitally transform, modernizing mainframe applications is an imperative to improve business agility and innovation. The question asked is what is the right approach to mainframe application modernization and how can organizations optimize costs and maximize return on investment (ROI).

In a recent Application modernization on the mainframe IBM Institute for Business Value study, among those surveyed, 71% of executives say mainframe-based applications are central to their business strategy. Four out of five respondents say their organizations need to rapidly transform to keep up with competition, which includes modernizing mainframe-based apps and adopting a more open approach that includes public cloud.

IBM and Microsoft are collaborating to support a hybrid cloud approach to mainframe application modernization that leverages the core strengths and attributes of the IBM mainframe together with the extensive cloud services available on Microsoft Azure.

A hybrid strategy that includes IBM zSystems and Microsoft Azure can allow for rapid development leveraging an agile DevOps approach, to make it easier to access mainframe applications and share information, and to address skills gaps with open tooling and IT automation. Together, IBM and Microsoft can help accelerate mainframe application modernization, to improve agility, optimize costs and lower risk.

To start, we have identified four patterns in support of a hybrid cloud approach.


Pattern #1: Azure DevOps for z/OS applications

Embrace an enterprise DevOps model that includes developing and modernizing z/OS applications on Azure to increase speed and agility for greater developer productivity.

With this approach, you can easily modify existing COBOL, PL/I, Java, or Assembler programs using your integrated development environment (IDE) of choice while taking advantage of new programming languages including Python, Node.js, and Go that can all run on IBM z/OS.

DevOps for zSystems integrated with Azure DevOps (git-based code repository and pipelines) solutions span Azure services and z/OS environments to orchestrate the development, integration, and deployment of applications across IBM zSystems and Azure.

Pattern #2: Simplify access from Digital Channels.

Simplify access to mainframe applications and data from Microsoft Azure services. As organizations enhance their customer experience through new digital channels there is often a need to access core business applications and data residing on the mainframe.

To simplify access, the industry has shifted to an open API-driven approach. Rapidly build REST APIs for z/OS applications and data that adhere to Open API standards with the IBM low-code API solution, IBM Z & Cloud Modernization Stack. You can scale your business-critical APIs and leverage the strengths of the IBM zSystems platform while providing seamless integration with enterprise DevOps processes and API management solutions like Azure APIM.

For clients that need to deploy non-performance sensitive COBOL/CICS applications on Azure to meet specific application sovereignty needs where a full data center deployment is not available, IBM offers CICS TX. Clients can leverage this solution to deploy those COBOL/CICS applications on Azure. CICS TX will interoperate with the core CICS Transaction Server for z/OS (CICS TS) and share logic seamlessly across z/OS and Azure.


Pattern #3: Share near real-time information between z/OS applications and Azure

Providing customized offers that can attract customers and differentiate your business is a key objective for most businesses. Increasingly, this requires real-time exchange of information between core business applications running on the mainframe and digital front end applications running on Microsoft Azure.

The objective is a fast, efficient, and flexible way to share core business information in real time with Azure applications and provides support to key personnel such as business analysts and application developers. All of this is designed to not cause a disruption to core business applications and associated service-level agreements (SLAs).

With IBM Z Digital Integration Hub, you can curate necessary information as opposed to moving all the raw data originating from the many core applications and related data sources. Then, mainframe-optimized technologies are used to communicate and store that curated/aggregated information in memory.

You can surface that information through various standards-based interfaces, including through event-based mechanisms such as Kafka or open standard-based APIs.

The design characteristics of this pattern include efficient integration with core systems applications such as those that are built on CICS and IMS; an optimized method to communicate that curated information; and an in-memory, intra-day cache on z/OS that is built for fast, easy access for handling inquiry (read-only) requests from cloud-based applications on Azure.

Since this pattern is focused on real-time information, the recommended approach is fundamentally hybrid—having an optimized cache implementation on z/OS co-residing with critical core systems and enabling the information to flow to numerous cloud applications on Azure. This approach helps to deliver optimized performance, minimal impact to the core applications, as well as standards-based interaction.

Customers can choose to flow the events from the z/OS intra-day caches.  This integration enables the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform in Microsoft Azure Cloud for use cases such as real-time analytics, reporting, business intelligence, and data-driven applications such as those used for governance or compliance.

By leveraging IBM Z Digital Integration Hub, Azure cloud-native application services can access real-time intelligible/consumable data and events through modern methods (JDBC, ODBC, Kafka, REST) with little to no impact on core application environments.


Pattern #4: IT Automation across IBM zSystems and Azure

IT Automation has played a critical role in large scale enterprises for decades and now has become more essential as businesses have adopted a hybrid cloud architecture to support their digital initiatives.

As infrastructure evolves, it's important that IT automation also does, in lock step. Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform provides a highly flexible, scalable, and powerful automation framework that can help address the needs of a growing hybrid cloud landscape.

Red Hat Ansible supports IT automation for all architectures including IBM zSystems and enterprises can benefit from automating and centrally managing their IT resources in a consistent way across hybrid multi-cloud environments.

Ansible Automation Platform is available as a managed application on Microsoft Azure and integrates with Azure services including Azure AD, Azure Virtual Machines, Azure Key Vault, Azure DevOps Pipelines and more. Ansible Automation Platform's capabilities for IBM zSystems are possible with Red Hat Ansible Certified Content for IBM zSystems. Enterprise developers can leverage the Ansible Visual Studio Code Extension for developing Ansible playbooks using IBM Z collections.

Red Hat Ansible for IBM zSystems integrates with Microsoft Azure to provide the IT automation and management of hybrid cloud environments that include IBM zSystems. Enable developers to automatically spin up mainframe resources on demand through a standard, self-service OpenShift catalog,  created to help developers bring up and tear down environments, decrease utilization and maintenance cost. Free up administrator time to focus on other complex business challenges.


Experts to tap into

In order to accelerate the journey and address risk, you can engage one of IBM and Microsoft's distinguished roster of Top WW Global Systems Integrator (GSI) partners, such as IBM Consulting. In partnership with IBM Consulting, you can untangle complexity to deliver value, rapidly and iteratively as you place applications and data on the platform that fits your requirements. The result is an agile and seamlessly integrated hybrid cloud platform with IBM zSystems at the core.



To help customers increase agility, maximize the value of their investments, and accelerate innovation, IBM and Microsoft are collaborating to extend the available application modernization options to enable customers to select the right path for their business.

To learn more, engage through the IBM Z and the Cloud Modernization Center or contact your IBM representative.