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Mainframe Modernization: Full Guide to Start the Process

Business agility and innovation have become crucial, with 67% of executives emphasizing the need for innovation to stay competitive and 57% facing intense IT challenges due to market disruptions. Modernizing mainframe applications has become a strategic response to these issues. The urgency for upgrading mainframe applications is reflected in the projected growth of their modernization services market, set to reach $108.9 billion by 2031. 

But what exactly is mainframe modernization, and how does it work? 

Our guide comprehensively covers the elements of mainframe modernization, presenting practical strategies and clarifying the benefits of the process. It’s invaluable for IT professionals aiming to rejuvenate legacy systems and decision-makers assessing the benefits of modernization. Keep reading to learn more.

What is Mainframe Modernization?

Mainframe modernization involves updating and enhancing traditional mainframe systems and applications to align with the demands of today’s technological landscape. This scope of mainframe modernization generally includes integrating new technologies and methodologies to improve efficiency, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness. The aim is to make these systems more agile and responsive, enabling them to meet current challenges, streamline operations, and better align with the evolving needs of businesses.

Surveys highlight a significant shift in mainframe modernization trends: about 95% of respondents have moved roughly 37% of their legacy applications to the cloud. This reflects the growing momentum in embracing mainframe modernization trends across various industries.

Mainframe Applications Examples

Here are examples of mainframe applications that could benefit from modernization.

1. Banking and Financial Services

Mainframes have long been the foundation of banking operations, overseeing customer accounts, transactions, loans, and various financial services. They guarantee reliability, security, and swift processing, vital for the smooth functioning of financial institutions.

Mainframe systems also play a crucial role in every ATM transaction, managing authorization, balance inquiries, fund transfers, and more. These systems facilitate seamless interactions between the banking infrastructure and customers.

Key Statistic: Around 43% of banking software relies on mainframe COBOL, driving over 80% of in-person and 95% of card transactions.

2. Healthcare Systems

Mainframes are vital in the healthcare industry, particularly in securely managing extensive patient data. They facilitate the secure storage, retrieval, and updating of patient records, maintaining accuracy and adhering to healthcare regulations.

Additionally, these systems are integral in supporting various hospital operations. They assist in scheduling appointments, managing inventory, and handling billing tasks, contributing to the seamless operation of healthcare facilities.

3. Airlines and Travel

Mainframes play a crucial role in the transport industry, ensuring the efficient and reliable movement of people and goods. These powerful systems drive airline reservation platforms, overseeing seat availability, flight schedules, and passenger bookings with millions of daily transactions for real-time updates.

Additionally, mainframe applications streamline logistics operations. They track shipments, manage inventory, and optimize supply chain processes, contributing to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the transportation sector.

4. Government and Public Services

Government agencies, from the Social Security Administration to the IRS to the National Weather Service, depend on mainframes to store and analyze vast amounts of data. These robust systems efficiently handle information, benefit disbursements, and eligibility checks, ensuring secure and streamlined operations for various programs. Mainframes play a crucial role in processing tax filings, managing revenue collection, and maintaining robust systems for auditing and compliance, contributing to the smooth functioning of public finances. 

Key Statistic: In 2022, 89% of government agencies across 35 states in the USA continued to rely on mainframe applications for their daily operations.

5. Retail and Manufacturing

Mainframes have been a cornerstone for traditional retailers, facilitating transaction processing, inventory management, order processing, and supply chain coordination. They ensure smooth operations and timely deliveries.

Retailers depend on these legacy applications for key functions such as handling sales transactions, managing inventory, and ensuring a seamless customer checkout experience.

Key Statistics: 70% of the world’s top retailers still leverage mainframes, highlighting their enduring significance in the retail industry.

6. Telecommunications

Mainframe systems play a vital role in telecommunications by overseeing billing and invoicing operations. They manage subscriber accounts, track usage data, and facilitate accurate billing cycles. Additionally, these robust systems excel in network management, ensuring seamless operations, detecting faults, and efficiently routing data.

Key Statistics: 80% of top telecommunications companies use IBM systems to handle mission-critical workloads.

Although mainframe applications continue to serve as the foundation for many business operations, modernization can maximize their potential. This process enhances speed, reliability, and alignment with current business needs, unlocking benefits.

Mainframe Modernization Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of mainframe applications modernization.

Boosting Operational Efficiency

Mainframe modernization acts as a catalyst for operational refinement. It streamlines processes, reduces redundancy, and enhances overall efficiency. By upgrading outdated systems, companies witness a surge in productivity as tasks are executed faster and with improved accuracy.

Cost-Efficiency and Reduced Maintenance

Legacy systems often demand substantial maintenance expenses due to their aging infrastructure and specialized skill requirements. For example, the US government spends a whopping $337 million a year to maintain just 10 legacy systems. Modernization of applications slashes these costs while offering greater agility and scalability.

Enhanced Agility and Scalability

The adaptability and scalability of modernized mainframe systems empower businesses to respond swiftly to changing market demands. This flexibility allows for seamless integration of new functionalities, quicker development cycles, and easier adaptation to evolving business needs.

Improved Customer Experiences

Upgrading mainframe systems paves the way for enhanced customer experiences. The agility and efficiency brought by modernization enable companies to respond promptly to customer queries, personalize services, and deliver smoother interactions, thereby fostering customer loyalty.

Competitive Edge in the Market

Modernized mainframe infrastructure positions companies at the forefront of innovation. The agility, scalability, and improved efficiency gained through this transformation empower businesses to stay ahead of competitors, driving growth and market prominence.

Mainframe Modernization Challenges and Risks Involved

The journey toward modernizing mainframe systems has its pitfalls. While the promise of enhanced efficiency and innovation cannot be denied, the path to modernization is riddled with risks involved in mainframe modernization and challenges businesses must navigate cautiously. 

Let’s explore a few of these challenges.

Complexity of Legacy Systems

Legacy systems can be complex to understand. These systems have evolved over decades, intertwining multiple applications, databases, and interdependencies. Updating or modifying these systems without disrupting the delicate balance can be challenging.

Disruption to Operations

Modernizing systems may cause operational disruptions, leading to downtime that affects business continuity. Such interruptions during the transition phase can result in revenue loss, reduced productivity, and potentially harm customer trust.

Skill Gaps and Workforce Challenges

The need for more skilled professionals proficient in legacy mainframe technology poses a challenge. A lack of expertise in these older technologies can hinder the successful execution of the transition.

Data Security and Compliance Concerns

Maintaining data integrity and compliance standards is paramount throughout the modernization journey. The risk of data loss, breaches, or regulatory non-compliance during the transition can have severe repercussions, leading to financial and reputational damage.

Approaches for Mainframe Modernization

Different mainframe modernization techniques are tailored to suit varying business needs, infrastructure, and objectives. Understanding these diverse approaches is crucial for businesses embarking on the transformation journey for non-disruptive mainframe modernization. 

Rehosting to Cloud Environments

Legacy modernization mainframe rehosting to cloud environments, such as in mainframe to cloud migration (AWS mainframe modernization or mainframe modernization Azure), resembles transplanting an established structure to a new, more flexible space.

Modernization mainframe rehosting facilitates agility and scalability and reduces infrastructure maintenance costs, contributing to the seamless migration of mainframe technology and optimizing the overall mainframe system.

Refactoring and Optimizing Code

Refactoring existing code involves restructuring or rewriting portions of the codebase. It focuses on improving efficiency and responsiveness, and reducing technical debt, making the system more manageable and easier to maintain.

Replacement with Off-the-Shelf Solutions

Replacing older systems with pre-built solutions is a quick way to transition to contemporary platforms. Among the simpler options for mainframe application modernization, this method makes it easier to embrace modern operational practices.

Mainframe Modernization and Integration using APIs

Companies can use APIs to streamline integration with modern systems, applications, and services.

This approach can be a good idea for legacy mainframe modernization COBOL when you want to run cloud server vs mainframe side-by-side, e.g., legacy software with modern techs like web apps.

The mainframe API approach serves as a bridge, ensuring easy compatibility between mainframe systems and a wide range of modern applications and services, promoting a smooth flow of information, and effectively using mainframe capabilities in the broader digital landscape.

Tips for Success in Legacy Mainframe Modernization

Whether you choose mainframe database modernization by refactoring or mainframe modernization cloud, maintaining data integrity is crucial. The process entails thoughtful planning, comprehensive testing, and validation to prevent any possible data loss or corruption. 

Companies must assess their existing systems, proceed incrementally, and thoroughly test each phase. Stakeholder buy-in and proper change management are also important to ensure everything goes smoothly. 

Look at a few mainframe legacy modernization strategies to set a proper foundation.

1) System Complexity and Interdependencies

The choice of mainframe modernization strategy hinges on the complexity and interdependencies within current systems. Rehosting may be suitable for simpler systems, while more intricate architectures may necessitate refactoring or the development of cloud-native solutions.

2) Business Objectives and Future Scalability

Aligning application modernization strategies with business objectives is crucial. It is important to consider factors like future scalability, adaptability, and the ability to meet evolving business needs.

3) Budgetary Constraints and Resource Availability

Evaluating budget constraints and resource availability is vital when choosing a legacy modernization approach. For example, rehosting can be a cost-effective immediate solution, whereas creating cloud-native solutions may require a more substantial investment.

4) Data Security and Compliance Requirements

Maintaining data security and compliance standards throughout the modernization process is critical. Prioritizing strategies that ensure data integrity and regulatory compliance is essential.

5) Legacy System Preservation and Transition Phases

Companies should factor in the need to preserve existing functionalities when planning mainframe modernization meaning that a proper migration timeline and backups should be in place before getting started. Incremental changes and phased implementation can also help minimize disruptions.


Mainframe platform modernization is not merely an upgrade; it’s a paradigm shift empowering businesses to thrive in a digitally driven era. Understanding the intricacies, balancing risks, and leveraging the right strategies are the keystones to a successful modernization journey.

Working with reliable mainframe modernization companies is another important consideration when mainframe cloud migration. Whether crafting a well-planned transition timeline, conducting compatibility checks, or preparing for roll-backs and backups, the right partner ensures a seamless and disruption-free modernization process. This is where we come in at ModLogix.

With years of experience modernizing legacy software for clients in different industries, you can count on our experience and expertise to make your project successful.Tired of obsolete mainframes and ready to leverage cutting-edge tech in your organization? Our mainframe modernization service is what you may need.

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