Blog Post Modernize Mainframe Applications: 6 Strategies to Get it Done

Let's look at the benefits of mainframe modernization and explore six ways you can modernize your existing legacy mainframe applications.

Modernize Mainframe Applications: 6 Strategies to Get it Done

Mainframe applications have been the cornerstone of IT infrastructures for decades. Yet today's digital transformations bring in cloud computing, microservices, and software-as-a-service solutions. This means the mainframe is entering a new era — and to stay relevant, it must adapt.

That's where modernization comes in. Let's look at the benefits, the challenges involved, and six approaches you can take to revitalize your legacy systems.

What is Mainframe Modernization?

Mainframe modernization is the process of updating existing legacy applications to meet the needs of an organization's current technology landscape. Modernizing applications enables enterprises to stay competitive, increase agility, and enhance customer experience.

Mainframe modernization projects commonly include one or more of the following strategies: 

  • Hybrid Cloud Integration: Integrating your mainframe with the cloud offers the best of on-premises and cloud. A hybrid IT model combines the flexibility and scalability of cloud, and maintains the continuity of your mainframe. 
  • Migration to Cloud-Native Architecture: Going cloud-native involves breaking down monolithic applications into smaller, more manageable microservices that can be deployed as independent components. This makes it easier to develop and deploy new functionality without overhauling the entire application. 
  • Container-Based Microservices: Containers provide a lightweight and isolated runtime environment that allows applications to be easily deployed and managed. This approach allows organizations to modernize their systems without completely rearchitecting everything from scratch.
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Why Modernize Legacy Mainframe Systems?

There are several benefits gained by modernizing your mainframe footprint:

  • Flexible Integration: The mainframe can be difficult to integrate with other systems, making it hard to scale and evolve as needed. Access to real-time webhooks and APIs makes it easier to enhance systems and offer new features to customers.
  • Cost Optimization: Existing mainframe systems can be complex, costly, and difficult to maintain. By modernizing, you can adapt to changes quickly, improve automation, and reduce costs.
  • Workforce Alignment: Legacy language skills (like COBOL) are in short supply. This shrinking talent pool makes it hard to find professionals with the necessary technical skills and experience to maintain mainframes. Modernization opens the door to new programming languages, as well as agile methodologies like DevOps and jobs-as-code.
  • Employee Experience: Employees expect their work technologies to be as good as their personal tech. Modernization can enhance customer experience by reducing downtime and making your services more user-friendly.

Mainframe Modernization: Deployment Options Available

There are several ways to modernize your mainframe, each with its own unique benefits and challenges. Choosing the right implementation methodology depends on your organization's capabilities and priorities.

Maximize Return on Investment

If you're ready to go all-in on modernization, you'll reap the greatest benefits. 

  • Refactor/Rebuild: Rebuilding your mainframe applications from scratch is an option, but it is also the most complex and risky option. Completely rearchitecting your systems to meet modern standards offers a fresh start with zero technical debt. It's costly and time-consuming, but it can also deliver the best scalability and agility.
  • Replatform: Replatforming your mainframe is less risky than rebuilding, but still involves some degree of complexity. The lift-tinker-and-shift approach involves moving your existing applications to a modern platform that supports cloud-native architectures and microservices. This is a more affordable option than rebuilding, but it may not deliver the same degree of agility and scalability.

Minimize Complexity, Cost, and Risk

For many organizations, there's an advantage to moving quickly. However, these approaches may not deliver the same degree of benefits as rebuilding or replatforming.

  • Rehost: Rehosting involves moving your existing applications to a cloud environment without necessarily refactoring or replatforming them. The lift-and-shift approach can be less complex and more affordable than refactoring or replatforming. 
  • Relocate: Relocation can involve moving them to a different data center, a different geographic location, or even container-based microservices. This can help improve availability, reduce costs, and enhance customer experience to a degree.

Defer Modernization

Deciding not to modernize is an option too. 

  • Retain/Revisit: Wait-and-see is a valid approach if now isn't the right time to adopt new systems. Maintain your existing systems and business operations. Periodically reassess your decision to see if it aligns with changing organizational priorities, industry trends, and new tools on the market.
  • Retire: If your company has organically moved away from using the mainframe, it may make sense to simply turn it off or set a path to sunset it.

Can Your Job Scheduler Make the Move? 

A common challenge that arises during migration involves automating old and new environments simultaneously. Mainframe workloads are typically very large and complex. They run mission-critical business processes across the entire organization. They cannot stop for any reason. 

For a smooth transition, you need to monitor, optimize, and automate your systems — regardless of where they sit. Unfortunately, many traditional automation tools can't bridge the gap to the cloud. Worse yet, modern cloud schedulers can't connect with on-premises systems. 

This conundrum typically puts IT teams on the hunt for an automation solution that can effectively orchestrate workflows across on-prem, cloud, and container-based environments. 

Overcome the Hybrid IT Automation Challenge

A service orchestration and automation platform (SOAP) like Stonebranch Universal Automation Center (UAC) is the perfect complement to your mainframe modernization initiative. 

With UAC, you can orchestrate and automate workloads across different infrastructures and applications, enabling greater flexibility and agility. Plus, UAC provides end-to-end visibility and reporting, allowing you to measure the impact of your automation initiatives and optimize performance accordingly. UAC offers:

  • Centralized automation across mainframe, containers, and cloud
  • Enterprise-grade security, resilience, and governance
  • Event-based scheduling for real-time automation
  • Role-based access for self-service automation
  • Jobs-as-code capabilities to support the DevOps software development lifecycle
  • Observability with reports, dashboards, and monitoring


Mainframe modernization helps you incorporate up-to-date technologies into your IT architecture. But your mainframe isn't the only thing that needs updating. Legacy mainframe schedulers can't bridge the gap to meet the demands of today's hybrid IT environments... but a modern SOAP can. 

Want to keep your workflows running when you make the move? Take a look at this Mainframe Modernization data sheet to learn more.

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