Feel grounded by your mainframe? You can still soar to the cloud

How can businesses or organizations that have relied until now upon legacy mainframe platforms leverage the power of the cloud? The usual answer from those who have tried it is “with difficulty,” but it doesn’t need to be that way. One key element in ensuring the success of mainframe-to-cloud migration is finding the right partner with the skills and experience to help you work through it. A second essential element is choosing the right cloud model for the solution you want to implement. To find out more about these two things I talked recently with Gordon McKenna who is the CTO of Public Cloud at Ensono, a leading managed service provider that helps customers with legacy IT, such as mainframe and midrange, transform to the cloud. Gordon is a 14-year Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP with over 20 years of experience in the datacenter and cloud space.

MITCH: Gordon, thank you for agreeing to let me interview you about migrating from a mainframe computing environment to Microsoft Azure.

GORDON: Thanks for the opportunity, Mitch. Migrating from the mainframe to any cloud environment, like Azure or AWS, is an important part of digital transformation, and by establishing long-term objectives and selecting an experienced partner, organizations can make strides toward digital transformation, creating a future-proof plan to achieve business objectives. At Ensono, for example, we guide our customers through their digital transformations, no matter where they are in their journey, so I’m happy to provide any insights that might help others looking to start the venture.

MITCH: Let me start off by asking a single-word question: Mainframe??? Are mainframe computers still around? Who uses them nowadays?


GORDON: Many organizations still run on mainframes. In fact, it’s a multibillion-dollar market. But the excitement about the cloud and an aging workforce has caused a talent shortage of mainframe-skilled employees. Certain industries aren’t ready to fully move off their legacy systems because of the resources, like manpower, time and money, as well as risks associated with migrating that volume of crucial data. Insurance and financial services companies manage a high-volume of private data, so they’re reluctant to move their workloads to a new, unfamiliar environment and they aren’t certain what that transition means or what it takes. A hybrid IT approach allows organizations to remain on the mainframe and adopt cloud services to reap the benefits of both systems.

MITCH: OK, that makes sense. But why would an organization that is currently using a mainframe even want to consider migrating some of their IT infrastructure and services to a cloud services framework like Microsoft Azure?

GORDON: A mainframe or single-cloud approach can’t cater to all enterprise applications, infrastructure and service requirements. Instead, a hybrid IT approach that leverages a legacy system and the power of the cloud allows organizations to develop the environment that best suits the various applications and business requirements of their application portfolio. By setting up a hybrid IT framework, organizations avoid dependency on outdated infrastructure by embracing technologies that provide flexibility as application requirements evolve.

MITCH: So migration is a gradual replacement of legacy systems while existing services are maintained. That makes sense. What exactly is involved in migrating from a mainframe environment to a hybrid IT solution involving Azure? Can you give us a bird’s eye view of the process and where to begin?

GORDON: Before taking any action to migrate, organizations need a properly researched plan in place that considers long-term needs. Without a good understanding of the migration goals through pre-planning and researching cloud providers, moving entire workloads to the cloud can be disastrous. This process starts with the CIO, who should set up meetings with key stakeholders to build out a plan and answer questions, like which apps are critical. Not only does this limit the impact on day-to-day business, but it also gives the CIO a better understanding of each department’s IT needs and how the migration will affect them.

MITCH: What kinds of missteps or mistakes can an organization make when they decide to try migrating their mainframe to Azure? What can go wrong, and why?

If organizations rush into a cloud-based infrastructure without the proper planning, they risk stalling business operations or creating cybersecurity vulnerabilities

GORDON: Common mistakes organizations make are neglecting to maintain operations while the migration takes place and not having a plan in place post-migration to keep the new infrastructure moving forward. Cloud migrations should constantly evolve with the business, so the process never truly ends. A perfectly implemented migration will fail if it’s not managed correctly, so businesses need to consider choosing a partner with the resources and experience to handle this for them. Designing a contingency plan in case of outages and determining governance over the systems will help the cloud infrastructure deliver the results it set out to achieve.

Many organizations also neglect their existing legacy technology when moving to a cloud environment, but these non-cloud systems play a key role in keeping businesses running and need to be maintained through the migration process. If organizations rush into a cloud-based infrastructure without the proper planning, they risk stalling business operations or creating cybersecurity vulnerabilities. To solve these challenges, organizations need the right partner to walk them through the migration process and advise, design, deploy and continuously manage the hybrid IT infrastructure that works best with the company’s business model.

MITCH: What can partners like those offer companies that can help them get off their legacy mainframes and migrate into the cloud?

GORDON: The right partner will be skilled in working with the latest technologies in addition to legacy technologies. Managed service providers (MSPs) serve as a reliable third-party to assess and identify the best cloud providers suited for the organization’s infrastructure needs, reduce the complexities of the process and minimize cybersecurity risks. They help build vendor relationships and provide continuous management of the implemented solutions to ensure a smooth transition that doesn’t stall performance.

MITCH: Anything more you’d like to add for us concerning this subject?

GORDON: Migrating to the cloud doesn’t have to be a costly, overwhelming experience. After researching options, consulting experts, communicating with departments and developing a plan, deployment should be a seamless process. I’ve witnessed firsthand that tailoring the migration process to focus on the individual needs of each customer — whether it’s consolidating remote servers or incorporating legacy hardware — delivers peak performance and is more responsive to current needs.

MITCH: Gordon thanks very much for giving us some of your valuable time.

GORDON: It’s been a pleasure, Mitch. Hopefully, business leaders can take away some of these insights to implement the right hybrid IT approach.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Mitch Tulloch

Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of both WServerNews and FitITproNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows Server and cloud technologies. He has written more than a thousand articles and has authored or been series editor for over 50 books for Microsoft Press and other publishers. Mitch has also been a twelve-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award in the technical category of Cloud and Datacenter Management. He currently runs an IT content development business in Winnipeg, Canada.

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