Is it worth the trouble for an insurance company with 2,900 programs covering core applications of policy, billing, claims and membership systems ever move off the mainframe?

Yes, it is, writes Bert Young, VP of IT at the South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, in a recent issue of Baseline.

SFBCIC's migration off the mainframe was a considerably significant project. Though Young didn't provide specifics on costs or time spent, one can assume they were significant as well. The effort is delivering impressive returns, however.

The company's COBOL-based logic was replicated within Windows and .NET distributed servers, and data moved to SQL Server. Along with the programs, 926 million records were migrated.

Young reports that the former mainframe programs, now running in a Windows/.NET environment, have been greatly streamlined, and up to 600 programs were consolidated. The company is saving about $620,000 a year, Young adds. There is also more capacity for testing cycles.

For all these arguments in favor of migrating off a mainframe to distributed servers, there are many IT executives just as likely to argue in favor of a more centralized consolidated system as a mainframe. Mainframe boxes these days — primarily IBM's System x — are no longer big, mysterious, lumbering machines. They are actually a collection of expandable technologies and capabilities, not only running traditional mainframe programs (anything that sits on CICS), but also Linux, Unix and Windows applications within multiple partitions or as an add-on specialty engine. It could be argued that it's better to have one of these boxes in the corner of the data center than 1,000 distributed servers sitting all over the place.

For SFBCIC, moving to distributed systems worked out well for the business. But every insurance company has different requirements. Maybe the mainframe versus distributed server argument will even be a moot point for some as the cloud option gains steam.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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