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Mainframe as a service from the cloud supports Arizonans in need

By Allen Platt | June 1, 2021

In order to effectively deliver social services to the people of Arizona, the Arizona Department of Economic Security, or DES, requires IT to be online 24×7. If it’s not, calls for assistance might not get through, our multi-service centers would revert to paper processes, and support programs would be delayed.

We faced this situation when our legacy mainframe experienced several extended outages. These outages occurred largely because the system was nearing its end of life, and with support contracts expiring it was difficult to service. Plus, the data center itself needed upgrades.

We first considered migrating the environment to a new on-premises mainframe. But we found that older applications were likely to crash. And although our technical team has years of accumulated expertise, the local talent pool to support future mainframe operations was limited.

A new path: mainframe as a service from the cloud

These concerns set the project in a different direction. We would continue with mainframe technology, but not with new hardware. Instead, we engaged Kyndryl (formerly IBM Infrastructure Services) to migrate the heritage environment to an IBM Z mainframe delivered “as a service” from the cloud and managed by Kyndryl.

The project’s first phase involved migrating the current environment to the mainframe service, while in the second phase we would modernize the mainframe OS, begin modernizing applications, and develop a comprehensive disaster recovery (DR) solution. We also asked the Kyndryl team to help preserve the knowledge of essential personnel.

The results so far have been excellent. In the nearly two years since the phase-one migration, we haven’t had a single outage. Application modernization is moving quickly due to faster testing and deployment. And Kyndryl successfully completed knowledge transfer, studying our environment and interviewing personnel to tease out heritage information.

A real-world stress test with the onset of COVID-19

The mainframe service reached an important milestone when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Almost overnight, demand for social services spiked, the government started new programs, and thousands of office employees had to work remotely.

The service helped us quickly ramp up support to people impacted by the pandemic and administer new programs. In addition, Kyndryl developed the pathways and security infrastructure to rapidly tie remote personnel into our mainframe environment. The effort Kyndryl put forth was nothing short of superhuman.

This responsiveness highlights the value of working with a trusted service provider. Over roughly eight months, we completed the mainframe migration on time and within budget. We did experience a few bandwidth and connectivity glitches, but Kyndryl upgraded its data center circuitry to accommodate the increased demand.

“The mainframe in the cloud allowed us to scale quickly and allowed us to modernize our existing applications with quicker testing, as well as quicker deployment. The call centers are able to take more incoming calls and the multi-service centers are able to serve more walk-in customers.”

Allen Platt, Data Center Operations Administrator
State of Arizona Department of Economic Security

Better support for the people of Arizona

In addition, Kyndryl resolved DES personnel issues that arose from switching to mainframe as a service. Because the managed service requires fewer in-house employees, Kyndryl offered jobs to those displaced. If they chose to work elsewhere, Kyndryl helped them find new positions.

Considering all these benefits, mainframe as a service has been a game changer for DES. It increased our IT reliability and powered agile responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the bigger picture, the service frees DES personnel from routine tasks. Now, they can focus on our core mission, improving support for Arizonans in need.

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