Written by Colin Wood
As the New Jersey state IBM mainframe neared end of life in early 2020, officials found themselves at a technological crossroads: either replacing the expensive juggernaut or finding an alternative.
They opted for an alternative, sticking with IBM for the IT giant’s mainframe-as-a-service and bringing it live in June. New Jersey CTO Christopher Rein told StateScoop it was a “tough decision,” especially because the mainframe hosts around 200 of the state’s apps, many of which support charge of critical services.
Major state police, motor vehicle, and treasury applications run on the New Jersey mainframe, as does the state’s unemployment insurance system.
“We didn’t go out and buy a new iron and put it in our data center,” Rein said. “We are now operating it from a mainframe that is in the cloud. This helps us with our disaster recovery and more consistent budgeting over time. We don’t have to figure out where are we going to find $ 8, 9, 10 million and buy a new mainframe every six or seven year lifecycle.
Officials said the project – which reduced procurement time from 8 to 15 months by leveraging the state’s existing contract with IBM – was successful, with improved performance and flexibility. while the state encourages agencies to explore options to modernize their applications.
Officials said it doesn’t make sense to spend on a new mainframe as they simultaneously encourage agencies to explore ways to modernize these applications. But a cloud-based solution is designed to be scaled down, Rein said.
“You’re paying for those mainframe CPU seconds, yeah, they’re incredibly expensive,” Rein said. “So now that we reduce the workload over time, as our branches modernize one by one and perhaps reduce their reliance on mainframe processing, our usage costs are going down. “
Rein said the contract was “one of the most solid, detailed and carefully reviewed and approved” he has seen in his government career. The job was largely facilitated by Roger Gibson, COO of the Office of Information Technology, who called the contract negotiations a “challenge.”
“The scope of work for a mainframe as a service contract can be daunting,” Gibson said. “We were walking a very fine line: we hadn’t set out to completely outsource our platform as a mainframe service. We were trying to plan for the future and better support the platform knowing the staffing challenges we were going to have. “
Gibson said the state wanted to maintain batch operations, application support, and database administration functions, while outsourcing storage.
Other states have found themselves with similar workforce challenges as their systems age. Montana removed its mainframe for the sake of shortage of support staff. And North Dakota last year contract aid in Latvia, a country where technology continues to be widely taught; North Dakota officials said at the time that American technologists had little incentive to stick to mainframe programming when other computer skills are more lucrative.
“Getting a z / OS engineer in the New York / New Jersey metro area is a real challenge these days,” Gibson said, referring to IBM’s mainframe operating system. “Even if you can find them, we’re charged because it’s the banks and the pharmaceuticals and all these other companies that have the resources.”
The challenges, he said, included setting up private network links between the state and IBM, negotiating customer requests during the project, and finding a secure method of transferring data. Given more planning time, Gibson said, he would have chosen a different method than IBM’s Transparent Data Migration Facility, which he said turned out to be a bit “risky” even though everything went fine.
As for the future of the mainframe in New Jersey, Gibson said it is the most powerful host in the state, handling millions of transactions every day, with banks, vendors and various vendors. Services.
“This host does a really good job – that’s exactly what mainframes were designed for,” he said. “But a lot of the needs of executive branch customers are more customer-focused, where we provide more self-service web interfaces. I think we’ll see a shrinking of the platform, but the host itself isn’t the issue. It is accessibility, interfacing and knowledge to continue to support. That’s really the challenge, not necessarily the platform itself.