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Migrating mainframe workloads to Azure?

Last updated on February 7, 2023

The first time I had access to a real computer would have been circa 1977, playing Colossal Cave as a seven-year-old at Builth Wells Agricultural Show. Did someone really take a Mainframe to an agricultural show? My memory tells me it was the Welsh Water Authority stand, and in my minds-eye I can still see the IT stickers they were giving out. It was more than my first access to a real computer, but my first realisation of this thing called IT and in 1977 Welsh Water was undoubtably immensely proud of how sophisticated they were.

Fast forward thirteen years and there was a ‘clean room’ in the advertising agency I was working at. A glass box that I had to beg to get into, that housed mythical machines that I desperately wanted access too, whilst at the same time trying to assist writers with their tiny Apple Mac’s to get connected via an internal network.

A typical IBM mainframe architecture. Microsoft CAF Mainframe migration overview.

Now, a further thirty years has passed and there is more computing power in my pocket than existed on those mythical machines that the people in suits were only allowed to touch I find myself in conversation with an IT professional who is in demand as a COBOL engineer.

I wore a suit every day in those years, but I suspect mine wasn’t the correct uniform grey!

Simon Angling, 2023

COBOL, short for Common Business-Oriented Language, first appear in 1959 and become a popular language for developing financial and business application in the 1960s and 70s.

Over time, COBOL has been replaced by newer programming languages, but in 2017 Reuters reported that 43% of US banking systems still used COBOL, with $3 trillion in daily transactions utilising over 220 billion lines of COBOL code.

Mainframes in South Africa

Googling “mainframe jobs in south africa” gives one an insight into Mainframes usage is still around alive and well in South Africa and industry still requires warm bodies to look after these systems.

We’ve not seen a slowdown in job adverts such as:

Mainframe Developer IT
Our client, a powerhouse in the Financial Services space, is on the hunt for a Mainframe Developer to join their dynamic team.
Duration: 6-month Contract

Required Skills
• Design, develop and maintain Mainframe COBOL & JCL to meet support and/or project requirements
• DB2
• Basic concept of IMS DC/CICS,
• VC4U/Any Version Control Tool
• TWS/Any job Scheduler

Apply Now for more information!

South Africa job advertised in Jan 2023

Migrating Mainframes to Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure can act as a powerful and flexible alternative platform for running traditional mainframe applications, Azure offers hyperscale compute and storage in a high availability environment. You get the value and agility of a modern, cloud-based platform without the costs associated with a mainframe environment.

With increasing number of companies wishing to migrate to Azure and take advantage of savings Microsoft have a significant amount of information at the disposal of cloud architects and IT professionals and detailed guidance about where to start at the Azure Mainframe Migration portal.

Demystifying Mainframe to Azure Migration – Larry Mead, Microsoft 2021

Migrating from legacy mainframe and midrange technologies can provide four key advantages:

  1. Economics and cost
    Based on data from organizations who have migrated their mainframe and midrange server workloads to the cloud, organizations can see savings in maintenance and operations, and reduced capital costs. If additional capacity is needed, organizations can pay for what they need, when they need it in a cloud-based model.
  2. Development and platform flexibility
    Migrating to the cloud can provide organizations with choice in application development platforms and tools, database and BI technologies, and access to modern AI tools.
  3. Resilience
    By migrating to the cloud, organizations may no longer need complex disaster recovery plans for on-premises recovery and can maintain their data in different physical locations due to the use of cloud-based environments.
  4. Addressing skills shortages
    With aging legacy applications, it can be more difficult to source staff who have the requisite skills to maintain mainframe and midrange technologies. By migrating to the cloud, organizations can build for the future and find the needed skills for their workloads.

Mainframes and the Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework (CAF) for Azure

The Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework (CAF) for Azure is a full lifecycle framework that enables cloud architects, IT professionals, and business decision makers to achieve their cloud adoption goals. Providing best practices, documentation, and tools that help organisations create and implement business and technology strategies for the cloud has the following methodologies:

  • Strategy: Define business justification and expected adoption outcomes.
  • Plan: Align actionable adoption plans to business outcomes.
  • Ready: Prepare your cloud environment for planned changes.
  • Migrate: Migrate and modernize existing workloads.
  • Innovate: Develop new cloud-native or hybrid solutions.
  • Secure: Improve security over time.
  • Manage: Manage operations for cloud and hybrid solutions.
  • Govern: Govern your environment and workloads.
  • Organize: Align the teams and roles supporting your organization’s cloud adoption efforts.

As part of the Migrate methodology Microsoft’s CAF offers in depth information regarding mainframe migration here:
Migrate applications from mainframes to Azure – Cloud Adoption Framework

Mainframe Migration Strategies

Should you rehost, rebuild, replace, or retire and will you utilise an Infrastructure as a Serrver (IaaS) lift-and-shift methodology or modernise the application using Platform as a Service (PaaS) tools in Azure.

Azure Architecture Center

The Azure Architecture Center has a host of reference architecture information that can assist you.

The Modernize mainframe and midrange data article describes an end-to-end modernization plan for mainframe and midrange data sources from the application dataflow, components through to considerations from the Microsoft Azure Well-Architected Framework.

To determine the right migration strategy for your mainframe application, see the Mainframe migration guide in the Azure Architecture Center as well as access numerous reference architectures such as:

Replicate and sync mainframe data in Azure – Azure Reference Architectures
This reference architecture outlines an implementation plan for replicating and syncing data during modernization to Azure. It discusses technical aspects like data stores, tools, and services.

Rehost a general mainframe on Azure – Azure Architecture Center
Rehosting is a way to run legacy mainframe applications, intact, on an open system. This path is the fastest way to take applications off your mainframe hardware and run them on a Windows or Linux platform in a cloud-native environment. Application code written in legacy languages like COBOL or PL/1 are migrated as is and recompiled in the new environment with no change to the business logic. 

Full list is available here.

Another valuable resource is Microsoft’s white paper, Demystifying Mainframe to Azure Migration, discusses the process of mapping mainframe architecture components to their Microsoft Azure equivalents.

Working with Microsoft to migrate your Mainframes

Microsoft have extensive experience with migrating Mainframe workloads and have a specific Mainframe Transformation program that will assist you in evaluating your current environment and work with your Microsoft Partner to assist in the assessment of your environment and to plan your migration to a modern application infrastructure on Microsoft Azure.

Mainframe Modernization to Microsoft Azure with Bob Ellsworth | Live Stream | Astadia


Am I going to play Colossal Cave on Azure? Probably not, and why would I? There are hundreds of ports available, and I always get lost in the cave anyway!

The memories of playing that game have stayed with me a lifetime but your organisations legacy mainframe architecture doesn’t need to. Microsoft have extensive experience, clever people, and powerful infrastructure at your fingertips.

Reach out to your Microsoft company representative or your friend Microsoft Partner.

10 Jan 2023: Renamed from Deploying Colossal Cave on Azure?

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