Mainframe and its Modernization Journey with Amazon Web Services (AWS)


A misapprehension around the term “digital modernization” has been thrown around vaguely as the solution to business innovation without actually understanding the concept behind it. Digital modernization means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Originally, it was about migrating to the cloud and modernizing the business infrastructure to essentially allow companies, or organizations, to be more agile and scalable with the continuous evolution of technologies. This has made Mainframe Modernization a compulsory need for its users who may or may not have the in-depth knowledge for the same. With a technical tour of Amazon Web Services, we can understand Mainframe and how Amazon Web Services (AWS) facilitates a smooth modernization which has been a perennial problem for many enterprises.

Mainframe Modernization: An Introduction

Mainframes are typical central computer in large Data Centre that handles large volume of transactions and data. They are used in multinational banks, insurance companies, government agencies, automotive industries, and many others. For example, if someone withdraws cash from an ATM, it is highly likely that the final transaction was done on a Mainframe.

Since mainframes have been out there for decades; they have accumulated lot of data and customers want to explore that data so as to unlock & unleash the benefit from it. However, many main framers who were baby boomers are now getting retired and it is getting harder for the organizations to maintain those mainframe systems. Also, as an estimate there is 21 million lines of COBOL code per mainframe which not only makes the system quite rigid but also expensive.

Databases have always been difficult and time-consuming to manage. Consumers often look for a service which is simple and can be easily managed. Also, to adopt these services they consider ease of migration along with performance, scalability, and availability. Considering this as an opportunity, AWS analyzed many projects that their customers performed and looking at similarities of all those projects, they have extracted several best practices and common characteristics to create patterns for mainframe modernization through AWS initiatives. Phil de Valence, Solutions Architect for Mainframe Modernization, AWS while discussing the reason for customers wanting to migrate to AWS as a part of their modernization journey says that “Customers now do not ask if they should move to cloud but how fast they can move?”

Challenges & Divers of Mainframe Modernization with AWS

Modernization of mainframes possess several challenges for its users like technical complexity, business impact, nonfunctional requirements, legacy languages, legacy data stores, undocumented code, legacy skills shortage etc. but AWS gives a complete solution for all those challenges. Some of the main reasons which is driving customers to modernize with AWS includes:

  • cost reduction, freedom to pay for what they use and savings of around 60 – 90 % of annual cost of their infrastructure.
  • boosted performance, and improved security.
  • Scalable and reliable enterprise.
  • elimination of rigid structures and reduction in technical debts.
  • enjoy benefits such as flexible resources, increased agility, and access to the latest technologies.

Some of the public sector customers that have migrated their mainframes to AWS include UK Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency, US Air Force BES, Finnish Railways, and Scholastic.

Mainframe Modernization Patterns with AWS

Considering the fact that there is no single size fit for mainframe modernization, AWS Professional Services and their partner network have created methodologies to help plan and manage mainframe migrations to cloud. This includes seamless integration with AWS tools and technologies to determine which option meet the respective goals of their customers. AWS has basically two families of pattern as a toolbox for modernizing mainframe:

  1. Short – Term Migration which deals with shutting down of mainframes and include emulator rehosting, automated refactoring and re-platforming for Linux.
  2. Augmentation in which they are nottrying to shut the mainframe but are complimenting its functionality by adding & augmenting its capabilities. This space includes Data Analytics, New Channels and Dev & Test.

AWS Approach for Mainframe Modernization

The approach recommended to customers when modernizing with AWS is the selection of correct tool which will help in delivering certain objectives and it is their topmost critical success factor. A strong recommendation by AWS is the Complex Proof of Concept (PoC) where the most complex item on the mainframe is discovered and it is proved that the tool that is chosen can actually achieve that particular business objectives.

It is important to understand that Tool Evaluation is a basic requirement to verify that the selected tool can support the technology in the mainframe and align with IT strategy of the specific projects. Some of the tool evaluation criteria includes Migration project speed, cost line of code, complex POC results, target stack agility, target code maintainability, target availability performance elasticity and target license cost.

AWS: Best Practices

Looking at their successful projects, it can be underlined that some of the best technical practices of AWS includes Complex PoC; maximum automation; modernizing legacy data stores; workload-based modernization and defining tool evaluation factors.

Taking into account the business prospective, the best practices may include vendor- neutral pattern selection; decision of tool, architecture & activities; serialization during business level modernizations; estimating modernization and runtime costs and system integrators selection.

AWS has also launched a series of webinars by their experts and key partners to cover the common mainframe migration patterns and best practices in order to help customers begin their mainframe modernization journey with AWS.


There are many enterprises which are still in the early stages of digitalization and this is a correct time to tap into accelerated change of pace. Old infrastructure and the traditional ways are becoming growth inhibitors for enterprises and small & mid-sized businesses. Companies need rapid innovation to rollout their new business models and optimize the business processes. The journey of Mainframe modernization allows businesses to take advantage of developing technologies. This drive and empower them digitally to transform their business with new development in the field of technology.

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