Going Beyond the GUI


What do you think of when you hear the word modernization?

In the IT world, modernization can mean different things to different people. For some, it might mean developing mobile applications. For others, it could mean refining infrastructure to incorporate cloud computing. Still others may think of analytics, business intelligence, and DB2 or SQL database updates. But for most, modernization is used synonymously with application modernization, which often boils down to updating the user interface.

But modernization is more than simply switching from a green screen to a graphical user interface. To have a truly modern data center, you must consider all areas of IT from your software and applications to your hardware and devices to the processes that support the whole operation.

With IT teams torn between obligatory operations and aspirational innovation, you may not have the resources to stay on top of current technology. Worse, manual processes are slowing you down so much that you’ll never catch up.

This guide will help you start your IT modernization initiative on the right foot, beginning with modern processes before moving on to interfaces and infrastructure. Read on to learn:

  • Reasons to modernize right now
  • How automation lays the foundation for modernization
  • Top technology trends in modern data centers



What Motivates Us to Modernize?

When it comes to modernization, we want to help you see beyond the GUI. There are many reasons to modernize with better advantages than an attractive user interface. All IT teams should be concerned with giving their business a competitive edge and making processes more efficient. Modernization can help you meet these goals if you approach it the right way.

For the past few years, IBM i shops from around the world have participated in an annual IBM i marketplace survey where they indicate their IT concerns for the coming years. Top concerns like IBM i security and high availability reflect a community squarely focused on today’s IT challenges. Modernization has appeared in the top three since the first year of the survey, with around 50 percent of the marketplace prioritizing application modernization year after year.

Another survey took a closer look at why modernization continues to top to-do lists. The findings confirm that a whopping 82 percent of respondents said that they are modernizing their IBM i environment because they need to add modern GUI functionality.

While GUIs often do add functionality, too much focus on interfaces can easily become a cosmetic quick fix for concerns that run much deeper. For example, 59 percent of respondents said that they are using modernization to combat the negative perception of IBM i in their business. Still others said that they are modernizing their IBM i to stay competitive, improve productivity, and facilitate user training.

To tick off those worthwhile goals, your modernization initiative is going to need more than a pretty face.

How Automation Enables Modernization

We suggest a bottom-up approach to IT modernization that lays a solid foundation for today’s project and enables future initiatives. No matter your platform or operating system, processes are at the core—and the most efficient process is an automated process. This is a proven best practice and has been for years.

No data center can be called truly modern if they are still wasting time and resources on manual operations. Nearly 66 percent of the IBM i shops we surveyed said that they run their IBM i fully unattended. This style of lights-out management (LOM) in the data center enables robotic process automation (RPA) in cases where IT processes trigger business processes, essentially automating anything that a human would have to do manually from end to end.

As you start to think holistically about modernization, you realize that manual operations are simply unsustainable when you look to incorporate other modern elements like mobile applications, virtual machines, different operating systems, and cloud components. It’s not just your backups, purges, or cleanup routines anymore. Automation gives you the flexibility and scalability you need to support your business as it grows upward and forward.

Additionally, infrastructure teams can no longer take on monolithic IT projects. You must be able to show success in measurable, incremental tasks, which is easily done by applying agile development techniques to your IT processes. This will help in evaluating the processes that need to be automated.  

Other process best practices include documenting and testing source control across your infrastructure, tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) for your desired outcome, and adopting agile and incremental infrastructure changes on the operations side.

Automation facilitates all these activities and puts your IT team in an excellent position to not only assist with modernization efforts, but also to provide you with the information you need to make data-driven decisions on your next modernization investment.

What Makes a Modern Process Automation Tool?

If you are making an effort to update your application user interface, you should probably apply the same standard to your process automation tool and ensure that it doesn't reflect a step backwards. A graphical interface and dashboards are a good place to start. Even better would be a web-based interface so your IT team can access it from anywhere and save time by not having to administer a thick client GUI across multiple machines.

As you already know, modernization is not exclusive to IBM i. Modern data centers are mixed environments with different servers and operating systems passing application data and relaying processes between them. Your process automation tool must be able to coordinate across platforms and integrate seamlessly with your core business applications.

With Robot Schedule, you can see your enterprise and IBM i jobs in the same interface. You can monitor for events like file arrivals and use them to launch processes between Windows, UNIX/AIX, Linux, and IBM i. You can also automate interactive processes in your business applications whether they reside on IBM i, Windows, or other platforms.

Robot Schedule gives you crystal clear visibility into your job schedule so you can see the upstream and downstream impact when you change your processes. Some teams might spend hours building these job flow charts manually, but the technology is a built-in feature of Robot Schedule.

Robot Schedule also allows you to see at a glance which jobs have completed, which failed, which jobs are running now and their status, and which jobs will run tonight or tomorrow. You can drill into the job log with just one click to get all the details.

Automation Does Not Start and End with Your Job Schedule

Today’s instant gratification culture expects around-the-clock access to applications, ATMs, e-commerce, websites, and more. That’s why three of every four organizations require at least 99.99 percent reliability for their main business servers. No wonder, since even one hour of downtime can cost your business over $300,000!

Modern data centers combat downtime using automated monitoring and high availability solutions.

In addition to job monitoring, automated monitoring solutions allow you to proactively watch for any issues that might threaten your system and application performance, including unavailable system resources, critical application messages, processing delays, or bottlenecks that could be starving your virtual environment.

Robot Monitor allows you to identity all these issues and countless others in their early stages, isolate the root cause, and correct the problem before end users and customers feel the impact.

However, even the sharpest eye cannot foresee when disaster will strike. That’s why forward-thinking IBM i data centers rely on a high availability solution to replicate their irreplaceable business data to a safe recovery site in another geographic region or in the cloud.

Robot HA automatically establishes real-time redundancy for the data you choose, whether it’s all your user data and applications or just a few libraries. It streamlines the processes around role swaps and allows you to switch from your production to backup server in minutes, even for planned maintenance activities.

Savvy IBM i shops know that it’s best practice to test your role swaps regularly and rely on both backups and data replication to be certain you can recover your data if your role swap fails.

What Makes a Modern IT Infrastructure?

Automation comes in all shapes and sizes—and it’s not restricted to software. Many data centers incorporate current hardware technology and cloud services to help modernize their infrastructure.

Virtual tape libraries (VTLs) are a good example of this. VTLs eliminate the need to manually mount backup tapes or physically transport tapes offsite, which also addresses some security concerns or requirements you may have. Since it’s all virtual, these processes are completely automated. VTLs can also be shared among the IBM i, Windows, UNIX/AIX, and Linux servers that coexist in modern data centers. Data backup management software adds further automation and seamlessly integrates with many VTL solutions.

An increasing percent of organizations also use external disk or storage area networks (SAN) to carve up disk capacity and share it across many IBM i servers, increasing virtualization. With valuable data stored in a SAN, disk space management software is recommended to automatically monitor for usage spikes. 

Of course, you still need the server itself to support all this virtualization. Most of the IBM i marketplace is running the latest Power Systems servers, but some are still running POWER5 technology from 2004 and older! What these teams spend on leases and maintenance would more than cover the cost of a POWER8 server today, not to mention the CPW performance gains to help process heavier workloads. The longer you let your applications languish on old technology, the harder—and more expensive—it will be to move them to newer servers when the time comes…and it will come.

Last but not least, some analysts have predicted that hybrid cloud computing environments will increasingly dominate IT infrastructure. Using a mix of on-premises solutions and private and public cloud services, these organizations put workloads where they need to while retaining security and control over their systems and sensitive data. A scenario to aspire to, certainly.

Move Your IT Modernization Initiative Forward

While updating the user interface on your business application is important, it only scratches the surface of modernization. Processes, software, and hardware are all components that comprise a truly modern data center.

With all the fabulous bells and whistles that could be added in the name of modernization, scope and budget creep seems almost unavoidable. That’s why some organizations only manage to deliver on modest projects, limiting modernization to user interfaces only.

Don’t jump the gun. Learn to walk before you run.

Compared to the cost of updating applications and adding to infrastructure, streamlining processes and implementing automation is the cheap and easy way to modernize your data center. Plus, automation lays the foundation for further modernization in the future—when you can afford it.

In the meantime, deploying new technology becomes easier, your IT team experiences a better quality of life, your end users and customers appreciate predictability and consistency, and your organization sees productivity skyrocket.

Modern IBM i data centers need more than attractive interfaces.

Discuss your options with an expert.

HelpSystems experts keep their finger on the pulse of IBM i. For over 30 years, we’ve been on top of the trends and technology that move businesses forward. Our experts can help you determine where modernization will make a positive impact on your day-to-day processes in IT while also benefitting business users throughout the organization. We’ll set you on course for success, no matter your need:

  • Automation
  • Monitoring
  • High availability
  • Backup and recovery
  • Storage management

Contact our experts at and mention modernization in the comments.

Related Solutions

Stay up to date on what matters.