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Government agency ditches large mainframes in legacy migration project

Arlington County in Virginia went through a legacy migration project that entailed upgrading two CRM systems that were running on a 126 MIPS IBM mainframe MP3000-H30 and written in COBOL, DATACOM and CA-IDEAL.

In 2009, Arlington County found itself in a bit of a bind. Its legacy client and service event system needed to be overhauled. The CRM systems were running on a 126 MIPS IBM mainframe MP3000-H30 and written in COBOL, DATACOM and CA-IDEAL, which presented two major burdens for the Department of Human Services (DHS): inadequate support and growing costs. 

The DHS' Applications Manager James Helminski was tasked with overseeing everything from the design and development to testing and implementation of the project. EvolveWare CEO Miten Marfatia and Cyquent President Sagar Sawant also worked together on the legacy migration project.

Evolveware CEO Mitten MarfatiaEvolveware CEO
Miten Marfatia

Finding staff with the qualifications necessary to run and maintain the systems was becoming difficult. Many recent graduates are not familiar with older software languages, according to Marfatia. Furthermore, operating the large IBM mainframes was getting expensive and the dated systems couldn't easily connect with newer ones, he said.

"These systems are not small. They've been around for 20, 30 years and people have gone and modified them," Marfatia said. "What happens is you just do not have enough knowledge of what is going on in the system because the people who initially wrote it have already retired."

DHS needed a tool that could be scaled and maintained with a Web interface. County officials also had a very specific request: They wanted automation to comprise at least 40% of the transition to newer platforms in less than nine months. To convert nearly half a million lines of code to its Microsoft .Net platform, EvolveWare's Legacy Modernizer was used.

The legacy migration and modernization plan took eight months to complete. From start to finish, Helminski and Sawant met on a regular basis to discuss the project's progress. The project's success was due in part to using a combination of proper technology, techniques and planning. For example, Helminski met with Cyquent's management team beforehand to go over any possible risks associated with the legacy migration.

Legacy migration advice

Marfatia has advice for professionals awarding contracts and those working on legacy migration and application modernization projects. "Whoever you are awarding the contract to, let them come back with the information that tells you what the system is all about," he said. "If you know what you have, you will be able to take a more intelligent position on what you do with it."

Manually writing code from scratch works in very few scenarios.

Learning the ins and outs of a system is an important step in Marfatia's book because systems become fragmented over the years as different employees go into a system and manipulate it. It's one of the best methods to determine what should be carried over when performing legacy migration.

Thoroughly document business needs in comparison with legacy systems' capabilities to determine which applications should be migrated to new systems. Once it's clear which system components are in place, it's easier to make the appropriate decision what to do next. "Documentation plus the processes that are followed gives you all the details you need about the functionalities that have been implemented," Marfatia said.

If the decision is made to convert to a modern language, Marfatia said the transition can be ironed out by cleaning up the old application and deactivating what isn't needed anymore. "Newer languages do not function well if they have to execute code that is spread out all over the place," he said. "It can cause performance issues."

Manually writing code from scratch works in very few scenarios, according to Marfatia. "The only time it makes sense is when very little of the old functionality is going to be used going forward," he said. "If the majority of the functionality has to be moved forward, trying to write code from scratch manually is like trying to reinvent the wheel."

Maxine Giza is the associate site editor for SearchSOA and can be reached at

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Next Steps

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Has support issues led your organization to engage in a legacy migration project?
Finding smarter, innovative ways of implementing and delivering IT modernization, while maximizing the value core IT assets, is essential to keeping pace with today's IT demands. Important, long-standing core IT applications provide the fundamental backbone of business operations – and over many years an irreplaceable, comprehensive IT environment has evolved. Conversion away from those unique applications can be risky and costly. When deciding on whether and how to modernize mainframe applications, typically COBOL-based, there are a number of considerations that must be taken into account to ensure the core applications are protected, and a thorough evaluation of the risks of each approach is vital, weighed against other considerations of strategy, cost, available skills and other key factors.
You bring up several good points, davidvano. Have you recently completed a modernization project?