IBM Unveils watsonx Generative AI Capabilities to Accelerate Mainframe Application Modernization

Artificial Intelligence

IBM (NYSE: IBM) has announced watsonx Code Assistant for Z, a new generative AI-assisted product that will help enable faster translation of COBOL to Java on IBM Z and enhances developer productivity on the platform. This product will be generally available in Q4 2023, and is being designed to help accelerate COBOL application modernization. Watsonx Code Assistant for Z will preview during TechXchange, IBM’s premier technical learning event in Las VegasSept 11-13.

Watsonx Code Assistant for Z is a new addition to the watsonx Code Assistant product family, along with IBM watsonx Code Assistant for Red Hat Ansible Lightspeed, scheduled for release later this year. These solutions will be powered by IBM’s code model, which will have knowledge of 115 coding languages1 having learned from 1.5 trillion tokens.2 At 20 billion parameters, it is on target to become one of the largest generative AI foundation models for code automation.3 The watsonx Code Assistant product portfolio will extend over time to address other programming languages, to improve time to value for modernization and address growing skills challenges for developers.

Watsonx Code Assistant for Z is being designed to assist businesses in leveraging generative AI and automated tooling to accelerate their mainframe application modernization – all with the goal of preserving the performance, security and resiliency capabilities of IBM Z.

The COBOL data processing language supports many vital business and operational processes at organizations globally. At scale, using watsonx Code Assistant for Z in comparison to other approaches could make it easier for developers to selectively and incrementally transform COBOL business services into well architected high-quality Java code – with estimated billions of lines of COBOL code as potential candidates for targeted modernization over time. Generative AI can help developers to more quickly assess, update, validate and test the right code, allowing them to more efficiently modernize large applications and focus on higher impact tasks.

IBM is designing these capabilities to provide tooling for each step of the modernization journey. The solution is expected to include IBM’s Application Discovery and Delivery Intelligence (ADDI) inventory and analysis tool. Following ADDI, key steps on the journey include refactoring business services in COBOL, transforming COBOL code to Java code with an optimized design, and validating the resulting outcome, including using automated testing capabilities. Potential benefits for clients include:

  • Accelerating code development and increasing developer productivity throughout the application modernization lifecycle
  • Managing total cost, complexity, and risk of application modernization initiatives, including translation and optimization of code in-place on IBM Z
  • Expanding access to a broader pool of IT skills and accelerating developer onboarding
  • Achieving high quality, easy to maintain code through model customization and the application of best practices

“Our collaboration with IBM is an important element in our drive to leverage generative AI interfaces to challenge legacy approaches with material productivity gains, and reinvent our Capital Markets solutions,” said Roger Burkhardt, CTO, Capital Markets and AI, Broadridge Financial. “We have had excellent client response to our generative AI investments and we are intrigued by the opportunity to further our efforts by leveraging IBM watsonx Code Assistant for Z to address a broader range of platforms.”

AI-assisted mainframe application modernization is an imperative

According to new research from the IBM Institute for Business Value, organizations are 12x more likely to leverage existing mainframe assets rather than rebuild their application estates from scratch in the next two years. At the same time, however, the study shows that the number one challenge for those same organizations is a lack of resources and skills.

“By bringing generative AI capabilities through watsonx to new use cases, we plan to drive real progress for our clients,” said Kareem Yusuf, PhD, Senior Vice President, Product Management and Growth, IBM Software. “IBM is engineering watsonx Code Assistant for Z to take a targeted and optimized approach. It’s built to rapidly and accurately convert code optimized for IBM Z, accelerate time to market and broaden the skills pool. This can help enhance applications and add new capabilities while preserving the performance, resiliency, and security inherent in IBM Z.”

There are many application modernization approaches available today. Some options include rewriting all application code in Java, or migrating everything to public cloud, which may sacrifice capabilities that are core to the IBM Z value proposition while failing to deliver on expected cost reduction. Tools that convert COBOL applications to Java syntax can produce code that is hard to maintain and can be unrecognizable to a Java developer. Generative AI is promising, but current AI-assisted partial re-write technology lacks COBOL support and doesn’t optimize the resulting Java code for the given task.

The resulting Java code from watsonx Code Assistant for Z will be object-oriented. IBM is designing this solution to be optimized to interoperate with the rest of the COBOL application, with CICS, IMS, DB2, and other z/OS runtimes. Java on Z is designed to be performance-optimized versus a compared x86 platform.4

About Shakthi

I am a Tech Blogger, Disability Activist, Keynote Speaker, Startup Mentor and Digital Branding Consultant. Also a McKinsey Executive Panel Member. Also known as @v_shakthi on twitter. Been around Tech for two decades now.

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