The Art of Application Renewal


When it comes to renewing applications on a mainframe, there are several approaches to the problem that vary widely in degree and scope.

For many IT organizations, the concept of an application is limited to adding a front-end Web browser to a morass of COBOL code. But in more recent times, prodded largely by economics, we've seen IT organizations become more willing to take on the challenge of re-engineering COBOL applications to move them to a less expensive platform, or in some cases, just make them less expensive to run by reducing the code in what is often a 30-year-old application.

A good case in point is Owens & Minor, a distributor of medical and surgery supplies, that just completed a three-year migration of a custom ERP application in COBOL that was moved from an IBM mainframe to a Windows Server implementation running Microsoft SQL Server on systems from Hewlett-Packard.

According to Senior Vice President and CIO Rick Mears, the migration was accomplished with help from Dell Perot Systems using tools from Micro Focus that allowed Owens & Minor to wrap much more intuitive graphical user interfaces around business logic that much more easily can be extended across new business processes. Mears said that as attractive as the savings are from a hardware perspective, the bigger opportunity is to make data and information that had been tied up in a mainframe application much more accessible.


Still, most IT organizations running COBOL applications need some immediate savings. To answer that requirement, HP has been defining an "asymmetrical transformation" model using Visual Intelligence Tools from HP that focuses on identifying duplicate source code and replacing much of the hand-written code in a COBOL application with more modern components. This allows the customer to reduce the size of the COBOL application, and perhaps start thinking about moving some components to a less expensive platform, said Steve Woods, a legacy transformation analyst with HP.

Moving COBOL applications off the mainframe might not be the right answer for everybody. But given the current pressures on the IT budget, more senior IT executives are open to the concept now.