AWS says it will cloudify your mainframe workloads

Buyer beware, say analysts, technical debt will catch up with you eventually

AWS is trying to help organizations migrate their mainframe-based workloads to the cloud and potentially transform them into modern cloud-native services.

The Mainframe Modernization initiative was unveiled at the cloud giant's Re:Invent conference at the end of last year, where CEO Adam Selipsky claimed that "customers are trying to get off their mainframes as fast as they can."

Whether this is based in reality or not, AWS concedes that such a migration will inevitably involve the customer going through a lengthy and complex process that requires multiple steps to discover, assess, test, and operate the new workload environments.

To assist with this, the Mainframe Modernization service offers a complete development and runtime environment intended to make it easier for customers to modernize and run their mainframe workloads on AWS. Alternatively, customers can maintain existing applications as they are and re-platform them to AWS with minimal code changes, AWS says.

The managed runtime environment built into the Mainframe Modernization service is desinged to provide the necessary compute, memory, and storage to run both refactored and re-platformed applications. It also automates capacity provisioning, security, load balancing, scaling and application health monitoring.

This capability is apparently powered by the Micro Focus Enterprise Server, an existing application deployment environment for running IBM mainframe applications on Linux or Windows.

Phil Dawson, VP at Gartner Research, warned that companies migrating mainframe workloads to the cloud will almost certainly have to refactor or recode them at some point in the future.

"A lift and shift to the cloud for COBOL applications might seem attractive, but the technical debt will catch up with you eventually," he told The Register.

Customers are not expected to do all of the work themselves; AWS says that with the Mainframe Modernization tools, system integrators can discover mainframe workloads, assess and analyze migration readiness, then plan migration and modernization projects.

One such integrator is Infosys, which said the new service enables it to assist customers in obtaining the benefits of the cloud while retaining the years of business knowledge built into their mainframe systems.

"The AWS Mainframe Modernization service allows us to deliver these benefits to our clients. It has strengthened our already extensive mainframe modernization capabilities and enables us to build modern, scalable, digitally native applications faster – and at a lower cost and risk," Infosys president and CEO Eric Paternoster said in a statement.

For refactoring, AWS offers automated capabilities it gained through the purchase of migration specialist Blu Age last year. It can convert applications written in languages such as COBOL, PL/1, NATURAL, RPG/400, and COBOL/400 into Java services and web frameworks, according to AWS.

But is there really such a demand to migrate applications from mainframe systems to AWS? Many mainframes were acquired in order to run mission-critical services that organizations depend on, such as CICS for managing transactions, and these are unlikely to be moved to a public cloud platform.

Omdia chief analyst Roy Illsley agreed, saying that the Mainframe Modernization service will probably to appeal mainly to customers that already use AWS for other workloads and perhaps have some mainframe applications that they may want to modernize.

"The cloud is not a fit for most mainframe workloads, and our data does not show a massive migration from legacy to cloud. My take is this is an offer they need for completeness," he told us.

Gartner managing VP Mike Chuba said that many mainframe migration projects he has seen never actually get completed, and those that have tend to be smaller mainframe shops or the low-hanging fruit – meaning applications that are not critical.

"The challenge for almost every mainframe user is that many workloads are often the business-critical applications that cannot fail, for if they do, the business is at severe risk. As such, they need to have 100 percent confidence that a migration could be done, while still ensuring the SLAs are met," he explained.

The AWS Mainframe Modernization service is generally available now in AWS Regions covering the US, Asia Pacific (Sydney), Canada, Europe and South America, with additional regions to be added in the coming months, AWS said. ®

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