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Thought Leadership From Industry Peers

How Legacy Applications still makes sense for IBM ‘i’ users

Allwin Arokiaraj

Legacy application as the word itself suggests is made of one of those technologies which have been around for quite some time now is still considered to be one of the most robust systems in the business world. Out of all the legacy application servers, when compared the number of implementations worldwide, IBM/AS 400 (later became IBM i Series, System i and IBM i) has an incredible – uptime rate of 99.97% and is still one of the most reliable and secure systems catering to almost – every vertical.

Even after so many decades with more than 700,000-plus legacy application systems (AS/400 or IBM i series) installed in over 150 countries and still going strong, the current users are generally pessimistic in their approach towards completely removing such a robust system as IBM i with something which is yet to prove reliable to them. Criticality of legacy application management for IBM i series or AS/400 has increased few notches higher when we see these are mission critical systems for  enterprises and changes without understanding core rules inside can eventually damage what has been working good for long avoiding the necessity of early adoption of yet-to-prove new technologies.

  • For starters, it is the reliability that makes the IBM i platform still found as the best business machine for over 30 years
  • The fully integrated database of IBM i series, integrated security and full system logging via journals cannot be accomplished by any other system
  • IBM i is the C2 Government rated securable machine

Criticality of these systems can be easily understood because in Legacy application management, a majority of the enterprises, have their core business operations running on this platform. There has been a constant degree expertise to care of legacy systems in various companies across the globe. The legacy application management and maintenance services around systems like AS/400 quite compliment the complete system and with minor changes and integration with new technologies, there is no doubt that AS/400 systems and the Legacy application have potential to serve many more years than we can imagine.

In recent studies around IBM iusers, we can clearly see there is a sizeable number of enterprises are very loyal to these IBM i series which we see in no other technology, and the pride with which they associate with IBM iSeries solution is not in many other areas. Even at this age of wireless GUI boom, 45% of the current IBM i users are planning to continue using this platform and 20% are planning to upgrade the legacy system to better programming. Rest are planning to migrate the applications over a period of next 3 to 5 years. And, there is a scarcity of experienced iSeries professionals. Over 95% of the IBM i users responded that this platform provides better ROI than other servers.

Criticality and challenges in using IBM ‘i’ now and going forward

Even after being in the market for more than 3 decades, the legacy system is still regarded as one of the most reliable and secures systems in the world. Hence, IT decision authorities are reluctant to move away from their dear i Series or AS/400.

In industries like insurance, manufacturing, retail and banking, data is the lifeline of businesses, enterprises generally don’t want to move away from the system which has been working so well for them. In current times when integration and development in iSeries is becoming much more easy day by day especially around SaaS-based solutions, there is no point of neglecting this legacy system and moving to something which is completely new to people and a risk of uncertainty always looms over IT department with the performance, robustness of the new system.

Since these applications were written over 30 years ago, shortage of experts in the field of programming them there is a challenge around maintaining them. Many of those who have written these applications have retired long ago, with very limited knowledge base left about the underlying business rules that is working perfectly fine. Moreover, the ease of development using new programming languages has somewhat hindered languages like RPG or COBOL keeping some distance for the current generation of programmers.

Having said that, there are still scores of people who are very happy with i Series and are interested to continue to invest in and love these systems from bottom of their heart.

IBM i community was always a well-knit group of people exchanging ideas and they helped IBM in evolving the platform and applications. Though there is some reduction in traction amongst the users, they still believe they can get family-like support, beyond just technical, in running their business. Users demanding for new releases made this platform mature to a level which no other platform claims to exist with such model.

One customer said: “Selling that old milking cow and buying the new calf was the one foolish decision I made in the last decade. There is excitement of a new one, but when will this new one show me money like my old cow. I wish I get that back for some more time!”

Found one! And there are more solutions!

With RPG ever evolving against a user base maintained language like COBOL, there still exists wide usage of both of them, especially in core enterprise solutions. Moreover, now i Series are being made to handle modern day languages like PHP, Java etc:,it is no wonder that in coming times iSeries will be no more a silo system of yesteryears but will continue as a most secure system having merged technology advantages of today’s time.

Majority of the customers are always in a dilemma with IBM i Series which is working so well and is giving splendid returns need to be changed or not. We believe there needs to be a complete study conducted to decide what is best for legacy application management. We have already listed few advantages earlier, few other options an i Series user needs to consider to extend the good returns from ‘i’

  1. Business continuityIf ongoing support available, why would one dump something which stills proves better TCO and ROI. Just need to look at cost-friendly, reliable, secure maintenance and integration options to grow business.
  2. Cost-effective sustenanceThis option enables users to think about how to reduce spending in maintaining the platform and applications. From so many players available for such services, companies can look at versatile experience levels and credibility of team members for choosing any.
  3. External Audit and ConsultingThe vulnerability was tried to be avoided with SAA, but with systems evolving for more openness, additions and changes on systems and applications would have made hidden susceptible doors. A third eye-view in a cost-effective manner can help ‘i’ shops to determine their applications level of stability, security, and compliance.
  4. Knowledge extractionBusiness rules extraction from applications was always a nightmare for all legacy application users. If the sustenance cost is lesser, then it is good option to think about slowly recording the business rules and building a knowledge base to ensure that future business would not ignore earlier success factors.
  5. Remote supportThe wide acceptance of cloud shows the readiness to open by a large number of users, realizing that nothing is secure or insecure based on the tools or technologies used, and all have a choice. This remote support with reduce cost, and improved quality is an option anyone will consider for improved IT and business performance.
  6. Improved integration with heterogeneous applicationsNew age technologies on the upgraded ‘i’, makes it a versatile system and applications running in silos are now history. It is very likely that most of the ‘i’ shops get the server upgraded as part of their IT plan and support. Then, it is more than easy for many of them to build and run new applications with minimal investments. Also, technologies matured to seamlessly interface heterogeneous systems and applications, avoiding the need for immediate replacement of some old for adopting some new.
  7. Sunset to applications that are obsolete or heavy on operationsAs part of the operational cost reduction, many users would want to move out from applications that are not yielding returns, which is a very positive step. Forums should help such users from being pushed to continue just because some negative compelling reasons like lack of availability of skilled people or enough budget to re-engineer, evolved complex knowledge base, less internal base against IT risks etc:
  8. Mythical decision influenceLast but not the least, there is a myth that this platform is dead. It is sure that the honeymoon is over but most users still don’t face the compelling need for breaking a long relationship, as explained above. It is equipped enough to stay in the market for at least a decade more. Analysts reports and hyped thoughts for pushing new systems and applications, the mythical decision influence pushed many customers to lose without accounting the loss.

Legacy application management, in hands of right people with right skills, leaves existing customers with peace of mind for many more years for having significant continued yield from existing investments. In parallel, they could plan for a phase by phase adoption of more technologies and solutions to co-exist and with planned investments. Over a period of next decade, after reaping maximum benefits with minimal investments, one can get real advantage of new technologies by then would prove and mature for its evolution to drive businesses to greater heights. Till then, as explained here, many legacy system (particularly as/400 or IBM i series) customers would be thinking how to make more sense from their existing investments.

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