Application Modernization – Answering the Key Questions on Modernizing the IBM AS400

First introduced in 1988, the IBM AS400* was immediately fantastically popular. This machine has been sitting in the IT department of thousands of businesses around the world, doing diligent work for the last 20 years.
Fast forward to 2010 and this system is falling out of favour. When it’s time to upgrade, suddenly investing in a legacy system seems unappealing. It’s at this point that the business typically begins to consider the costly and risky strategy of ground-up system replacement.
There is another road however and one that is becoming increasingly pertinent to any business wishing to align their technology with their changing business goals and processes: modernizing the system already in place. Here are a few answers to the key questions that businesses are considering before embarking on the modernization route.
What are my options for modernizing the user interface?
The question that will generate the most interest throughout the business relates to the user interface. Your team needs to work with a front end which is more intuitive, provides better performance and offers scalability. Is it possible to provide your organisation with a state-of-the-art front end without starting again with your AS400 system? The answer is yes, and the retrieval of data is the key.
Technical options for user interface changes are varied, from screen scraping existing functionality, to integration with other packages, or deep linking custom functionality with an existing presentation layer for example MS SharePoint, to create a consolidated GUI or web portal. Making use of web based client technologies in particular, opens up numerous integration possibilities such as orchestrating workflows or deep linking a single existing screen into a new application.
How can I make my data available Technology Issues In Education on other platforms?
Your company has just acquired another company and you need to run your new business through the existing processes. The challenge is to integrate two apparently incompatible data storage systems. Happily there are various options available which will allow your existing business data to ‘talk’ effectively to your newly acquired system, without an expensive and lengthy system re-write.
Changes can be made at the data level, either wrapping up areas into well-defined services, or making changes within the physical or logical layers of the database management system. Another modernization route would be to make data available to new platforms via connector technologies e.g. web services using Java as the enabling language.
An additional choice specific to the AS400 platform would be transition to the DB2 for i SQL engine. A number of technical innovations exist to move from Native DDS file access to SQL, along with a well defined migration route. IBM have stated that DDS will remain supported but SQL is where they will improve and innovate. Some new features such as the XML, BLOB and CLOB data types and the OmniFind full text indexing search is available only when using the SQL engine.
Why should I consider automated testing?
Making changes to your existing software is a costly process. Not only should you factor in the time and cost of the analysis and coding change, you must also allow for adequate system testing. Even a small revision means you will need to run a full system test to make sure you get the outcome you intended, and only that.
The key is to select the correct automated testing tool and use it effectively. Once you have the ability to test, you have the ability to confidently make changes, and that’s when you can get more value for money out of your current applications.
How can I convince the business to further invest in a legacy system?
The AS400 is certainly suffering from an image problem, and further investment in this ageing software may well be considered a backwards step. However, with a certain amount of repositioning and a lot of effective communication between the IT department and the business, you can be confident that you can take the requirements of the business and translate them into real world effective IT solutions with your existing technology.
Typically Java and .Net are the enabling technologies, extending the life of your existing AS400 system. Expertise in this area is readily available in the marketplace and less expensive than resources for an increasingly scarce legacy skill set. Strike a balance between the application experience of the existing developers and opening new doors using the power and productivity of modern development tools.
Finally, why should I modernize rather than replace?
The roadmap for software modernization and software replacement follow the same route for the majority of the journey. Software code is changed and adapted over time to better serve the business. A system that is replaced entirely may well represent perfect harmony between business processes and software on day one of its launch, but on day two the business begin to diverge and the cycle begins once more.
It’s time to reconsider our notion of a legacy system as a problem to be solved, holding the business back from its full potential. Your AS400 should be seen not as a dead end, but as a work in progress. Twenty years in the making, this system is a valuable and irreplaceable repository of your business rules. In short, this system represents your business inheritance.
* iSeries/ IBM System i/ IBM i, – this system Information Technology Technician Salary is no stranger to the re-branding exercise.

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