Military Embedded Systems

Migrating and modernizing legacy applications brings material cost savings


December 09, 2010

Ken Powell

Micro Focus

With the Administration's focus on government agencies' accountability for IT spending, modernization from COBOL to Linux and other lower-cost platforms is proving a viable pathway - sans the code rewrites.

Under an increasingly scrutinizing eye, defense agencies are undoubtedly feeling the pressure to cut costs and do more with less, all while delivering top-tier end-user service levels. One of the most effective ways to align with this agenda is to migrate expensive-to-maintain legacy applications off proprietary mainframes and onto less expensive, nonproprietary modern platforms. However, the path to achieving this desired outcome, at least historically, has been anything but simple.

Migrating legacy applications can be a tremendous undertaking for any defense organization. One only needs to observe the Office of Management and Budget’s recent modernization spending freeze on underperforming defense projects to appreciate the challenges involved. Historically, when assessing a migration/modernization project, defense agencies have considered one of these options:

  • Rewriting applications to operate on a more modern or lower-cost platform
  • Replacing applications entirely
  • Deciding to maintain the status quo due to the costs and risks involved

However, these options are all less than ideal. Using rewrite or replacement strategies to migrate applications, especially when conducted on a large scale, invites failure on many levels. More often than not, these risks result in significant delays. Consequently, these projects frequently run over budget and exceed the needed timeframe. Maintaining the status quo is no longer acceptable either, as the costs of maintaining legacy applications on propriety platforms continue to escalate. However, there is another option. Today, many defense agencies are pursuing application modernization, a lower-risk, lower-cost strategy to migrate key applications for cost savings. In some cases, this strategy can provide up to an 80 percent reduction in costs, all without changing a single line of code.

Living in a COBOL world

COBOL code, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday, remains one of the most prevalent mission-critical application programming languages today. There is understood to be more than 200 billion lines of COBOL code in production, with hundreds more being created every day. It is equally ubiquitous within the defense department. Many mainframe applications written in COBOL continue to run the DoD’s mission-critical business processes, including logistics, accounting, and personnel.

It is clear that mainframe applications written in COBOL still deliver outstanding value for defense agencies, and many contain business logic that has evolved over decades in support of the defense mission. Rather than putting decades of business logic at risk – by rewriting these COBOL-based applications in new programming languages or by replacing them entirely – agencies need to consider application modernization. Such modernization reuses proven code and delivers a much less invasive and more prudent migration approach.

Think Linux for cost savings: Application modernization provides the path

One path to application modernization, for example, is a Linux-compatible compiler, such as the one offered by Micro Focus. These compilers take COBOL source code and recompile it into an executable that runs on Linux. By encapsulating the underlying COBOL code, the application remains virtually unchanged, and it is enabled to function on the lower-cost Linux platform. This specific migration approach is gaining popularity among defense agencies that have an Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) built into their mainframe environments to consolidate workloads. By using this migration tactic, made possible by application modernization, several large defense agencies have been successful in migrating key applications to their IFL to reduce the overall Million Instructions Per Second (MIPS) rate on the proprietary side of the mainframe. The lower the MIPS rate on the propriety platform, the lower the operating costs.

This migration approach is considered less invasive because it leaves existing code and business logic untouched, unlike rewrite or replacement strategies. It also allows for the incremental migration of IT resources, an approach gaining clout among key government leaders, including White House CIO Vivek Kundra. Kundra has advocated a more modular, service-based approach to modernizing IT assets. Using application modernization, defense agencies can literally pick and choose which applications they wish to migrate for cost savings, offering agencies much greater flexibility in defining the scope of a migration effort. Also, because the underlying code is not affected, the desire to migrate one application will not commit an agency to making system-wide changes to preserve interoperability; this further bolsters the ability to define a project’s scope.

Deliver results quickly, avoid costs and risks

For agencies struggling with the high costs of maintaining applications on the proprietary mainframe, the good news is that there is a solution. Application modernization offers defense organizations a less invasive, incremental approach, allowing IT staff to migrate expensive-to-maintain COBOL applications onto distributed systems and lower-cost platforms such as Linux, all without changing a single line of code. Combined with a thorough analysis of the organization’s application portfolio and accurately defining requirements, application modernization can provide a much faster and less risky path for defense agencies to realize long-term cost savings in the IT department.

Ken Powell is President of Micro Focus North America. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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