Digital Transformation Project of the Year
In March 2019, Swisscom achieved a landmark in enterprise IT, becoming the first organisation ever to successfully switch off its IBM mainframe and move its entire mainframe application portfolio and data, without source code changes, to Linux systems in the cloud.
The Swiss telecommunications and IT services provider faced significant pressures in a highly competitive and evolving telecommunications market. The need to focus spending in areas that provide the most business benefit forced the company to focus on optimising IT costs and reallocating capital to key areas of innovation. To achieve this, reducing mainframe expenditure became a key target. Like many of the world’s largest most established businesses, the company had been running the backbone of its IT on legacy mainframe systems for decades with no foreseeable exit route, so Swisscom faced an additional challenge to convince staff that such a radical project was even possible.
Working with LzLabs, Swisscom achieved the previously unachievable, migrating its entire legacy mainframe application workload and data to the Cloud, without recompilation or data changes. In a world first, Swisscom was able to switch its legacy mainframe systems off altogether, with the LzLabs Software Defined Mainframe (SDM) running the company’s mission-critical landline management application portfolio on open Linux systems in the Cloud. With this single project, Swisscom has saved a staggering 50% of its IT expenditure for these applications, has upskilled mainframe staff in areas such as Cloud deployment, Linux and PostgreSQL management, and is able to invest savings and time in other areas. The transformative project was so successful that Swisscom is now offering the same functionality and benefits to its own customers though its Mainframe as a Service offering, running on the Swisscom Enterprise Cloud.
Since migration to SDM, Swisscom has experience uninterrupted service from its legacy applications – a feat rarely achieved for any mainframe migration based on other approaches. SDM sustains 99.997% availability for applications on this new system, running in the Swisscom Enterprise Cloud.
• What, exactly, is novel about the project?
For almost 30 years, businesses have been looking for a viable way to modernise and move away from the legacy mainframe IT systems that have underpinned their business-critical processes. Mainframes have been the backbone of the world’s most established businesses for decades, yet research has shown that 94% of IT decision makers would consider moving off the mainframe due to high costs and inflexibility.
Swisscom’s successful mainframe migration was therefore a landmark case study, as the first of its kind in IT history. Until this point, no organization had achieved the feat of moving an entire mainframe workload, unchanged, to a cloud environment.
This project was the definition of a true digital ‘transformation’. As well as slashing its IT costs in half as a result of the mainframe exit, the company was able to benefit from the flexibility of open source and cloud platforms, implement agile DevOps development practices, and attract a much needed swathe of new IT talent onto the new platform.
• How does the project break with conventional ideas or processes in its field?
Faced with no viable alternative to mainframe environments, organizations have traditionally seen mainframe migrations to the cloud as too risky and time-consuming. Therefore, compromises and marginal improvements such as attempting to modernize legacy applications in-situ have been the predominant approach to tackle the legacy mainframe conundrum. Against this prevailing assumption, Swisscom embarked on a journey that many (including members of the Swisscom mainframe team themselves) initially saw as an impossible task, as it had never been completed successfully before. Whilst the project itself was not without its hurdles, both technological and cultural, the results were undeniably positive.
The transformative project also succeeded in proving the ability of modern, open source and cloud environments to support legacy, mission critical applications – an ability which is often disputed by mainframe proponents. The transition from and ultimate switch-off of the Swisscom mainframe resulted in zero disruption for the business and most importantly Swisscom’s customers, for whom any downtime could have been disastrous.
• How does the project go beyond marginal improvements on something that already exists
Marginal improvements have traditionally been the hallmark of practically all mainframe modernisation projects. Due to the perceived risk of migration, businesses have for decades shied away from attempting what they considered to be a risky process of moving legacy applications to open and cloud environments. In not doing so however, they fail to realise the benefits of breaking free from proprietary data formats and restrictive, expensive licencing models, and are unable to apply the agility and scalability benefits of open source and the cloud to their core applications. Swisscom realised that without a transformative move, they would be unable to compete in the competitive telecoms market against more agile players. By going beyond the piecemeal approach to legacy modernization and leaving the legacy platform behind, Swisscom gained true freedom and flexibility, positioning the company for future innovation and enabling them to reinvest IT funds in new areas of innovation.
• How do customers benefit from the project?
Swisscom is already in the process of delivering both direct and indirect benefits to its customers as a result of its digital transformation from mainframe to cloud. By saving a massive 50% of its IT costs, the company has been able to focus funds and attention on future innovative cloud and 5G services for business and consumer customers, rather than simply keeping the lights on.
However, the greatest direct benefit for customers has come in the form of Swisscom’s move to offer its own Mainframe as a Service offering. As a result of the resounding success of the LzLabs migration project, Swisscom was keen to offer this capability and benefits to its own cloud customers, providing them with the opportunity to achieve the same cost and agility benefits of running their mainframe applications on LzLabs Software in the Swisscom Enterprise Cloud.