A Case for Modernizing and Optimizing Legacy Platforms


This article demonstrates that organizations that remain on legacy platforms have an overall better outcome, quantitatively and qualitatively, than those that move off them. Rip and replace legacy platforms no more, says Matt Deres, CIO, Rocket Software. 

As chief information officer of a software firm specializing in modernizing and optimizing legacy platforms, I clearly have a lot at stake in the debate between the replatformers and those who advocate for a more moderate approach. Of course, I feel pretty strongly from my firsthand experience in the field that modernizing legacy platforms is often more effective (not to mention economical), but what do I really know about the subject? What data do I have in my favor?

The answer is that there’s a lot more than you might think. Case in point: Rocket recently commissioned IDC, the global market research firm, for a white paperOpens a new window on “The Quantified Business Benefits of Modernizing IBM Z and IBM i to Spur Innovation”. IDC surveyed 446 businesses worldwide that either modernized their existing IBM i or IBM Z systems, or else migrated to a new platform, and compared their results on a range of factors.

What they found was that modernizers not only “incurred lower costsOpens a new window for their modernizing initiative than replatformers for their replatforming effort, even if they invested the same amount in new hardware,” but also that “modernizers were across the board more satisfied with the many new capabilities of their modernized platform than replatformers”. Moreover, “modernizers achieved a new baseline in which they paid less for hardware, software, and staffing while substantially increasing their revenue.”

Do these results surprise you? They shouldn’t. Once we acknowledge a few simple truths about the nature of these legacy platforms, it becomes pretty clear why the results of a replatforming project can sometimes be underwhelming.

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Modernizing Retains Essential Business Logic

The average legacy platform Opens a new window has been delivering critical business functionality continually for 30 years, if not longer. But while some vendors might like to treat this factoid as a point against legacy platforms, it should really be treated as a benefit. Think about it: the average legacy-based application results from decades of tweaks and refinements, gradual improvements in response to real-world business needs. In other words, they’re optimized like a high-performance race car. 

It isn’t reasonable to expect a brand-new system to have the same functionality right out of the box. Yet business leaders often expect it, and that’s one reason they’re often disappointed by the results of replatforming projects — that and the significant cost premium over what they would have paid if they had just held onto their incumbent system. Research revealsOpens a new window that replatformers spent more on software, staffing, third-party consulting, and business disruption than modernizers, even in projects where both groups spent comparable amounts on hardware. 

All this helps explain why respondents who modernized their legacy platform were, on average, more satisfied with the overall performance of their platform than their replatformer counterparts.

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Modernizing Enables All the Latest Features

In terms of what they want out of their platform, modernizers aren’t different from replatformers. Both want to leverage burgeoning technologies such as modern programming languages, AI, cloud computing, internet of things, and analytics. 

The difference is that modernizers know how to leverage the continuous release of new features and functionality on IBM Z and IBM i to enable those features. They know that you don’t need to replatform to enable technologies like analytics, modern languages like python, R, or C, leverage open source software (yes, there is Open Source on Z), or to create new web services from existing business data. There is a rich “aftermarket,” so to speak, of modernization solutions that allow legacy-powered businesses to extend their platforms in all kinds of directions. 

At the same time, these organizations can continue to leverage all the performance, security, scalability, and reliability benefits that IBM i and IBM Z can offer in their roles as the mission-critical infrastructure upon which all other information technologies are based and their businesses count on to run.

These businesses that opt to extend their platforms are rewarded for their efforts, too. The IDC white paper revealed that “it is noteworthy that modernizers also rated modern functionalities higher than replatformers, including API, mobile, and web enablement.” Organizations also attributed a growth of more than 5 percent in revenue, on average, from these kinds of modernization initiativesOpens a new window , as well as sizable decreases in operating expenses such as staffing and software. Hardware capital expenses also dropped precipitously — more than 12 percent on average. 

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Legacy Platforms Offer Unparalleled Security, Availability, and Disaster Recovery

Availability and disaster recovery are other respects in which the age of the IBM Z and IBM i platforms are a benefit rather than a hindrance. There’s a reason the world’s banks and governments (among other institutions) run their mission-critical infrastructure on mainframes: there’s nothing more reliable. It’s a tried-and-tested platform where there are no surprises. That may not be your priority when designing a sleek new mobile app, but for organizations that need to handle billions of transactions a day, there’s no alternative. 

Indeed, IDC considers mainframe reliability to be in the rarely-attained echelon of “Availability Level (AL) 4, the highest designation and the equivalent of fault tolerance even in the event of a physical disaster.” That’s an availability even the highest-rated cloud providers in uptime can’t compete with, and it helps explain why “security, availability and disaster recovery” was the criterion that saw the biggest gap between modernizers and replatformers — 4.15 to 3.84, respectively, on average.

Follow the Data

With this data now illuminating the issue, it is no longer the modernizers’ job to defend the good sense of extending legacy platforms over ripping the whole thing out. It is the vendors who want to sell you a brand-new platform because you want to update your online user experience or run some simple data analytics who must demonstrate that their solutions are truly necessary.

A modernized legacy platform might not have the sheen of a brand-new platform, but it does have a significant financial case in favor of it. And that’s a powerful reminder for IT leaders that always having the newest, shiniest thing comes at a significant cost premium.

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