AWS Is Out To Kill Mainframes

The cloud vendor wants to replace big iron with hyperscale servers, and COBOL – with Java

Max Smolaks, Senior Editor

December 1, 2021

3 Min Read
IBM z13 mainframe at the 2015 CeBIT technology trade fair in Hanover
IBM z13 mainframe at the 2015 CeBIT technology trade fair in HanoverSean Gallup/Getty Images

AWS has announced a new managed service that enables businesses to migrate mainframe workloads to the cloud.

AWS Mainframe Modernization offers customers two options. Some might want to refactor their mainframe workloads to run on AWS by transforming legacy applications – likely written in COBOL – into modern Java-based cloud services.

Alternatively, customers can keep their applications as written and re-platform their workloads to AWS reusing existing code with minimal changes.

Mainframe Modernization promises a complete, end-to-end migration pipeline that includes development, testing, and deployment tools necessary to automate the process.

“With today’s launch of AWS Mainframe Modernization, customers and systems integrators can now more quickly modernize their legacy mainframe workloads in a predictable way and get rid of much of the complexity and manual work involved in migrations,” said William Platt, GM of Migration Services at AWS.

The service puts the cloud vendor at odds with mainframe manufacturers and specialist software vendors that include IBM, Unisys, Bull, NEC, and Fujitsu.

Mainframe Modernization was presented at this week’s re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, where AWS also announced the expansion of the Outpost hardware line-up, a private 5G networking service, and new EC2 instances.

Shots fired

More than 50 years after the appearance of the first mainframe, the IBM System/360, these hulking machines are still a common sight in banking, insurance, and retail, thanks to their ability to efficiently process huge volumes of transactions, and their reputation for security and uptime.

However, these systems are incredibly expensive and difficult to maintain, and the pool of people qualified to deal with their legacy software is shrinking all the time.

AWS has been trying to get customers off mainframes and into its data centers for years. This time, the company says it has built a runtime enthronement provides all the necessary compute, memory, and storage to run both refactored and replatformed applications while automatically handling capacity provisioning, security, load balancing, scaling, and application health monitoring.

Since this is all done via public cloud, there are no upfront costs, and customers only pay for the amount of compute provisioned.

Brazil’s Banco Inter was among the first organizations to sign up for Mainframe Modernization with AWS.

“By using the AWS Mainframe Modernization managed runtime, we expect to simplify our card processor operations for enhanced resiliency and scalability,” said Guilherme Ximenes, CTO at Banco Inter. “We are also excited by the DevOps CI/CD pipeline for increasing the agility we need to more quickly deliver new credit and debit card transaction capabilities to our customers.”

AWS Mainframe Modernization is available in preview in US East (N. Virginia), US West (Oregon), Asia Pacific (Sydney), EU (Frankfurt), and South America (São Paulo) regions, before being expanded to additional locations “in the coming months.”

The AWS approach to refactoring legacy software is not unique: a similar model has been promoted by other companies, like the Swiss startup LzLabs, which has been developing a product called Software-Defined Mainframe since 2011, based on its own COBOL and Java interoperability architecture.

Going in a different direction, the Open Mainframe Project founded in 2015 is attempting to make existing machines a lot more useful, by teaching them to run on Linux, rather than proprietary operating systems like z/OS.

It would be useful to note that the death of the mainframe has been predicted for at least two decades, and yet these machines have managed to stay surprisingly relevant.

Do you have strong opinions about mainframes? Let us know what you think in the comments!

About the Author(s)

Max Smolaks

Senior Editor, Informa

Max Smolaks is senior editor at Data Center Knowledge, a leading online publication dedicated to the data center industry. A passionate technology journalist, Max has been writing about IT for a decade, covering startups, hardware, and regulation – across B2B titles including Silicon, DatacenterDynamics, The Register, and AI Business.

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