Refactor IBM z/TPF mainframe systems to Azure

Mainframe systems are expensive to maintain, and the pool of developers who understand these systems is diminishing. But organizations migrating from z/TPF mainframes to the cloud need a robust platform that can process high volume transactions.

This solution delivers cloud-enabled applications and databases that are functionally equivalent to the z/TPF legacy counterparts.

The solution is designed to meet these requirements:

  • Refactored applications must remain functionally equivalent to their original counterparts.
  • Refactored applications must perform as well as or better than the original applications.
  • Refactored applications must be cloud-ready and delivered via a standard DevOps toolchain and implement DevOps best practices.

Potential use cases

Here are some scenarios that can benefit from refactoring to Azure:

  • Modernize infrastructure and avoid the high costs, limitations, and rigidity that are associated with mainframes.
  • Reduce operational and capital expenditure.
  • Move mainframe workloads to the cloud without the side effects of rewrites.
  • Migrate mission-critical applications but maintain continuity with other on-premises applications.
  • Take advantage of the horizontal and vertical scalability that Azure provides.
  • Implement solutions that provide disaster recovery.

Mainframe architecture (before migration)

Diagram that shows the mainframe architecture before migration.

Dataflow

  • Users input data over TCP/IP, including TN3270 and HTTP(S).
  • Data is input into the mainframe via standard mainframe protocols.
  • Applications receive the data. These applications are usually only online systems. Assembler, C++, or Saber Talk run in an enabled environment.
  • NonSQL data and database services, like Azure Cosmos DB, store data.
  • Middleware and utility services manage tasks like tape storage, queueing, output, and web services within the environment.
  • Shared memory coupling coordinates multiple processors.
  • Partitions are used to run separate workloads or segregate work types within the environment.
  • Operating systems provide interfaces between the engine and the software it runs.

Azure architecture (after migration)

Diagram that shows the Azure architecture, after the migration.

Download a Visio file of this architecture.

Migrating mainframe systems to Azure requires a platform that supports a high-performance memory-sharing mechanism and a high-performance IP stack with low latency (microseconds) to deliver performance at the level of the z/TPF.

The z/TPF mainframe uses a shared memory feature called a coupling facility together with a low-latency IP stack called HiperSockets. This architecture uses drivers that provide shared I/O and memory across multiple nodes to implement similar functionality.

The Azure Cosmos DB NoSQL database is used for high-performance storage. This storage solution provides high speed and high-performance data persistence and retrieval.

Dataflow

  1. Input, typically via either Azure ExpressRoute from remote clients or via other applications currently running in Azure. In either case, TCP/IP connections provide the primary means of connection to the system. User access for web-based applications is provided over TLS port 443. To improve security by minimizing open ports, you can use Azure Bastion hosts for admin access to the VMs.
  2. On Azure, an Azure load balancer is used to access the application compute clusters. Kubernetes provides robust load balancing and scaling. In this case, the front-end load balancer provides another level of failover capability to maintain business continuity if an entire cluster service goes down.
  3. VMs, Kubernetes, or virtual machine scale sets are used for deployment.
  4. Application servers receive the input in the compute clusters and share application state and data by using Azure Cache for Redis or Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA).
  5. The architecture runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux, or Windows.
  6. A single root I/O virtualization (SR-IOV) driver is used to meet performance requirements. The SR-IOV enables multiple VMs to share the same PCIe physical hardware resources. The driver used here is either RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) or InfiniBand over Ethernet (IBoE). These drivers allow communication between two hosts in the same Ethernet broadcast domain via an Ethernet link layer.
  7. RDMA/InfiniBand or RoCE drivers allow the two hosts to share memory as one pool.
  8. Azure Cache for Redis provides a caching solution that improves application response time by storing copies of the most frequently used data and the session state.
  9. Service Fabric clusters provide container orchestration.

Components

This solution features the following Azure components:

  • Azure ExpressRoute extends your on-premises networks into Azure over a private, dedicated fiber connection from a connectivity provider. ExpressRoute establishes connections to cloud services like Azure and Microsoft 365.
  • Azure Bastion is a fully managed service that helps secure remote access to your virtual machines.
  • Azure Load Balancer distributes incoming traffic to the compute resource clusters. You can define rules and other criteria to distribute the traffic.
  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is a fully managed Kubernetes service for deploying and managing containerized applications. AKS offers serverless Kubernetes, an integrated continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) experience, and enterprise-grade security and governance.
  • Azure Virtual Network is the fundamental building block of Azure private networks. Azure VMs in virtual networks can communicate, with enhanced security, with each other, the internet, and on-premises networks. A virtual network is like a traditional on-premises network, but it provides Azure infrastructure benefits like scalability, high availability, and isolation.
  • Azure Cache for Redis adds a quick caching layer to application architecture to handle large volumes at high speed. Azure Cache for Redis scales performance simply and cost-effectively, providing the benefits of a fully managed service.
  • Azure databases offer a choice of fully managed relational and NoSQL databases to fit modern application needs. Automated infrastructure management provides scalability, availability, and security.
    • Azure Cosmos DB is a fully managed, fast NoSQL database with open APIs for any scale.

Alternatives

This solution supports deployment in containers, VMs, or virtual machine scale sets. Unlike VMs, containers and scale sets can scale in and out rapidly. Because the unit of scaling is containers, infrastructure utilization is optimized.

You can use the legacy web-application presentation layer virtually unchanged to minimize user retraining. Alternatively, you can update the web-application presentation layer with modern UX frameworks.

Considerations

These considerations implement the pillars of the Azure Well-Architected Framework, which is a set of guiding tenets that can be used to improve the quality of a workload. For more information, see Microsoft Azure Well-Architected Framework.

Performance efficiency

This architecture is designed for high volume transactions. It uses Azure compute and shared I/O and memory to create a coupled environment that meets these needs.

To meet the requirements of z/TPS performance, this architecture uses Kubernetes clusters.

Operations

In addition to supporting faster cloud adoption, refactoring also promotes the adoption of DevOps and Agile working principles. It provides full flexibility in development and production deployment options.

Resiliency

Kubernetes provides a cluster autoscaler that adjusts the number of nodes required based on the requested compute resources in the node pool. The cluster autoscaler monitors the Metrics API server every 10 seconds to determine if changes are needed in the node count.

Security

This architecture is primarily built on Kubernetes, which includes security components like Pod Security Standards and Secrets. Azure provides additional security features, like Azure Active Directory, Microsoft Defender for Containers, Azure Policy, Azure Key Vault, network security groups, and orchestrated cluster upgrades.

Azure Bastion improves security for admin access by minimizing open ports. Azure Bastion provides highly secure RDP or SSH connectivity to virtual network VMs directly from the Azure portal, over TLS.

Cost optimization

Use the Azure pricing calculator to estimate the costs for your implementation of this solution.

Contributors

This article is maintained by Microsoft. It was originally written by the following contributors.

Principal author:

  • Marlon Johnson | Senior Program Manager

Other contributors:

Next steps

For more information, contact [email protected].

See these additional resources:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/architecture/example-scenario/mainframe/refactor-ibm-ztpf-mainframe

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