Case Study: Kela and the Rebirth of the Mainframe System

By   /  October 4, 2017  /  No Comments

mainframeDue to rising costs, Markku Suominen, ICT Director of Kela IT Services, knew that time was running out for their mainframe system, yet there were concerns about developing a completely new environment. “The programs and databases on our mainframes use over 10 million lines of PL/1 code,” he said. “We do not have the resources to edit this quantity of programming, and we also knew that asking our talented coders to rewrite millions of lines of code would be very demotivating for them.”  Another driver for change was the desire to continue providing the best possible customer service to a population becoming more digitally aware.

Kela is the Finnish government agency responsible for the distribution of social security benefits, including pensions, sickness and housing benefits, and health insurance. The organization manages about 40 different types of benefit payments and distributes approximately €14 billion to Finnish citizens annually. “We pride our selves on providing the very best customer service” to the public, Suominen said, yet Kela’s ability to continue that level of service with rapidly increasing digital demands was tied up in an inflexible infrastructure.

Assessment

“Fifteen years ago, everything that we had here in Kela was placed in mainframes, but after the Internet came in late-90s we had to start with TCP/IP services,” Suominen said. “The mainframes are very big and very expensive to run, so we have about 8 million euros per year tied to mainframes,” and costs were increasing. In addition, IT employees were becoming harder to find because, “There aren’t too many mainframe systems anymore in Finland,” he said. Considered an outdated technology, students no longer learn how to work in a mainframe environment.

Kalle Lahtinen, Project Leader Kela ICT Services, said:

“When we started thinking about moving away from the IBM mainframe, we were thinking about what options did we have? We thought that in the future it will be harder and harder to run our own mainframe due to rising costs. We wanted to find a software solution that could provide the same high availability and continuous usage that we had with the mainframe.”

They also did not want to do the recoding it would require moving away from the mainframe environment, said Suominen. Compounding the issue was the need for any transition to be seamless due to the critical nature of their business.

The Solution

When they discovered TmaxSoft OpenFrame, Lahtinen said, “We found out that they were exceptionally similar and met our architectural needs.”

According to TmaxSoft:

“OpenFrame enables its users to transfer programs from mainframes to Linux/UNIX hardware without making any adjustments to the underlying code. OpenFrame is a legacy rehosting solution that enables mainframe applications, resources and data to be migrated to a less expensive, high performance open system while reducing total cost of ownership and minimizing risk of migration, all in very short timeframes.”

Lahtinen commented, “We decided to go for rehosting so that we could maintain the capacity in our own hands, and find that, in a way, it’s more cost-effective to our business.”

Suominen added, “We decided to have an environment that can run our CI/CS PL1 programs, and OpenFrame met what we expected,” allowing Kela more flexibility and to move forward with less disruption.

“When we started working with Tmax, we found that they were highly motivated and willing to find ways to aid the project and assisted us in understanding” how their solution works “and why it’s the right one for us,” Lahtinen said.

Results

Kela was motivated to find a technology that would allow them to keep their existing staff, and they realized that rehosting would allow them to do so. “When you are moving from a mainframe to a rehosted environment with Tmax OpenFrame, you’re gaining something that we haven’t seen in other solutions,” he said.  There’s no need for a change in terminology, “So just when you lift and you shift, you can do the same for your staff. You don’t have to teach the new terms, they can actually continue as they always have done,” he said.

Rehosting solved the problem of the ten million lines of code as well. Operating on faster, newer hardware, OpenFrame ensures optimal performance from existing programs and removes code that has never been executed. Lahtinen said, “We are able to maintain the code. We still own the code, even though there are small changes, so we still have the feel of ownership you can leverage the people working on it today, tomorrow.”

OpenFrame integrates a test tool as well, so Kela can be reassured that its software and applications will be fully operational without its staff having to learn how to use another tool.

Conclusion

With costs now running between 7 and 9 million euros per year, Lahtinen expects to see significant cost savings over time.

“What we’re aiming at is roughly to run the new environment with 2 million euros per year. That enables us to take some of that money we save to make it into the change budget, to actually increase the speed of the change.”

They now have the resources to develop new programs. “I believe that OpenFrame could be as reliable as the mainframes, but I also believe that they are more flexible in sense of adding those open applications,” said Suominen, who considers the relationship with TmaxSoft a good one for Kela. “Tmax understands our concerns and they have showed us that they are capable of doing the things that we expect.”

Rather than a revolution, rehosting has given Kela the flexibility to find the best of old and new technologies. “What we are seeing in the rehosting is actually the return to the world where mainframe used to be. You have high quality. You have the books. You have the services. You utilize them to the best of your abilities,” said Lahtinen. “It’s not rigid when you go to rehost.”

All this translates into a better experience for Kela’s customers. Suominen said:

“We know that our users are becoming more digitally-focused and OpenFrame gives us the opportunity to be there with them, ready for the next phase of digital transformation.”

 

Photo Credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

About the author

Amber Lee Dennis is a freelance writer, web geek and proprietor of Chicken Little Ink, a company that helps teeny tiny companies make friends with their marketing. She has a BA in English, an MA in Arts Administration and has been getting geeky with computers in some capacity since 1985.

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