Academics, Analysts and Anchormen: Saluting the Admiral

Introduction

In 1987 I sat my first semester (we call them terms in the UK) at university, studying a Bachelor’s in Computer Science. One of my first assignments was to pick up and learn one of a broad range of computer languages. COBOL was picked first because it was a “good place to start as it’s easy to learn[1]”. Originally designed for business users with instructions that were straightforward to learn. They were right, it was a great place to start and my relationship with COBOL is a long way from over 30 years later.

A Great New Idea?

Little did I know I was using a technology that had been conceived 30 years beforehand. In 2019, one of the greatest technology inventions of the last century, the COBOL computer programming language, will celebrate its ruby anniversary. While not as widely known or anywhere near as popular as in its in 1960s and 70s heyday, it remains the stalwart of a vast amount of vital commercial IT systems globally. Anecdotal evidence suggests the majority of the world’s key business transactions still use a COBOL back-end process.

However, the celebrated, windswept technology pioneers of Jobs, Turing, Bernars-Lee and Torvalds were not even in the room when this idea first germinated. Indeed, a committee of US Government and industry experts had assembled to discuss the matter of computer programming for the masses, a concept they felt without which would halt the progress of technological advancement. Step forward the precocious talent of Grace Murray. With her present on the Codasyl committee, the notion of a programming language that was “English-like” and which “anyone could read” was devised and added to the requirements. The original aim of the language being cross platform was achieved later, but the ideas still stood as the blueprint.

Soon enough, as scientists too, the inevitable acronym-based name arrived –

  • Everyone can do it? Common.
  • Designed with commerce in mind? Business Oriented.
  • A way of operating the computer? Language.

This was about 1959. To provide some context that was the year during which rationing was still in force in the UK, and 5 years before the mainframe computer had been first released. Bill Haley was still rockin’ ‘til broad daylight, or so the contemporary tune said.

Grace Hopper (then Murray) was already the embodiment of dedication. She wasn’t tall enough to meet the entrance criteria for the US Navy, yet managed to get in on merit in 1944. And while her stature was diminutive, her intellect knew no bounds. She was credited for a range of accolades during an illustrious career, as wide and varied as –

  1. Coining the term ‘debug’ to refer to taking errors out of programming language code. The term was a literal reference to a bug (a moth) which had short-circuited the electrical supply to a computer her team was using
  2. Hopper’s later work on language standards, where she was instrumental in defining the relevant test cases to prove language compliance, ensured longer-term portability could be planned for and verified. Anyone from a testing background can thank Hopper for furthering the concept of test cases in computing
  3. Coining the phrase, which I will paraphrase rather than misquote, that it is sometimes easier to seek forgiveness than permission. I can only speculate that the inventors of “seize the day” and “just do it” would have been impressed with the notion. Her pioneering spirit and organizational skills ensured she delivered on many of her ideas.
  4. Characterising time using a visual aid: she invited people to conceptualize the speed of sound by how far electricity would travel in a nanosecond. She offered people a small stick, which she labelled a “nanosecond” – across the internet people still boast about receiving a Nanosecond from Hopper
  5. Cutting the TV chat-show host David Letterman down to size . A formidable and sometimes brusque lady, her appearance on the Letterman Show in 1980s is still hilarious.

A lasting legacy

Later rising to the rank of rear Admiral, and employed by the Navy until she was 79, Hopper is however best known for being the guiding hand behind COBOL, a project that eventually concluded in 1959 and found commercial breakthroughs a few years later. Within a decade, the world’s largest (and richest) organisations had invested in mainframe-hosted COBOL Data Processing systems. Many of them have kept the concept today, though most of the systems themselves (machinery, language usage, storage, interfaces etc.) have changed almost beyond recognition. However, mainframes and COBOL are still running most of the world’s biggest banks, insurers, government departments, plus significant numbers of healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and even retail systems.

Hopper died in 1992 at the age of 85. In 2016 Hopper posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. In February 2017, Yale University announced it would rename one of its colleges in Hopper’s honour.

Grace Hopper remains inspirational for scientists, for academics, for women in technology, biographers, film-makers, COBOL and computing enthusiasts and pioneers, and for anyone who has been in business computing in the last five decades. We also happen to think she’d like our new COBOL product too. The legacy of technological innovation she embodied lives on.

[1] The environment provided was something called COBOL/2, a PC-based COBOL development system. The vendor was Micro Focus.

Twin peaks: #MFSummit2017

Like scaling a mountain, sometimes it makes sense to stop and see how far you have come, and what lies ahead. #MFSummit2017 is your opportunity to check progress and assess the future challenges.

We called the first #MFSummit ‘meeting the challenges of change’ and it’s been another demanding 12 months for Micro Focus customers. Maintaining, or achieving, a competitive advantage in the IT marketplace isn’t getting any easier.

The technology of two recent acquisitions, the development, DevOps and IT management gurus Serena Software and multi-platform unified archive ninjas GWAVA puts exciting, achievable innovation within reach of all our customers. These diverse portfolios are also perfectly in tune with the theme of #MFSummit2017.

Build, Operate, and Secure (BOS)

BOS is the theme of #MFSummit2017 and our overarching ethos. Micro Focus products and solutions help our customers build, operate, and secure IT systems that unite current business logic and applications with emerging technologies to meet increasingly complex business demands and cost pressures.

Delegates to #MFSummit2017 can either focus on the most relevant specialism, the possibilities the other two may offer – or sample all three. This first blog of two focuses on Build.

DevOps – realise the potential

Following keynote addresses from Micro Focus CEO Stephen Murdoch and General Manager, Andy King, Director of Enterprise Solutions Gary Evans presents The Micro Focus Approach to DevOps.

Everyone knows what DevOps is, but what does it mean for those managing enterprise applications?

Gary’s 40-minute slot looks at the potential of DevOps to dramatically increase the delivery rate of new software updates. He explains the Micro Focus approach to DevOps, how it supports Continuous Delivery – and what it means to our customers.

Interested?

Want to know more about this session, or check out the line-up for the Operate and Secure modules – the subject of our next blog? Check out the full agenda here.

Use the same page to reserve your place at #MFSummit2017, a full day of formal presentations and face-to-face sessions, overviews and deep-dive Q&As, all dedicated to helping you understand the full potential of Micro Focus solutions to resolve your business challenges.

Our stylish venue is within easy reach of at least four Tube stations and three major rail stations. Attendance and lunch are free.

If you don’t go, you’ll never know.

Building a Stronger Mainframe Community

Community brings individuals and groups together – united in a common practice, belief or behavior. We see positive examples of community in many aspects of our daily lives whether it is our local neighborhood, family settings or common interest groups. Good examples are also found in the software industry. Following on from a recent Mainframe Virtual User Group event, Ed Airey explores the importance of community and how this proven principle can yield lasting value for new and existing members.

What is the Mainframe Virtual User Group?

On November 17th, Micro Focus held the November edition of its Mainframe Virtual User Group (VUG). This fall meeting saw Micro Focus Enterprise users and Mainframe enthusiasts across the former Serena business, come together –united under one flag and one common theme – the future and growing importance of the Mainframe. The Mainframe VUG serves as a quarterly update offering company news, product roadmap updates, recent event highlights as well as a spotlight technology and educational demonstration.  November’s theme focused on the importance of DevOps and the increasing role that the Mainframe plays in enabling that practice across the enterprise.

Highlights from the September iChange event in Chicago were also covered in this briefing as well as a reference to valued technical resources* for community members. Al Slovacek, Product Manager for the ChangeMan ZMF solution provided several product roadmap updates including a review of ChangeMan 8.1.2 and 8.1.3 and a forward view into version 8.2.  Eddie Houghton, Enterprise product director, provided a similar technology overview and roadmap update for the Micro Focus Enterprise solution set, including the most recent version-Enterprise 2.3.2.

MainframeCommunity

DevOps takes center stage…

Perhaps the highlight of the November Mainframe VUG, however, was a live End-to-End Mainframe DevOps demonstration performed by Gary Evans, Technical Services Director at Micro Focus.  Gary showcased the development efficiency and test automation capabilities available within this continuous integration toolset designed for the Mainframe—a powerful solution to accelerate and streamline application delivery. Gary explained how organizations can get started quickly on their incremental path to DevOps and his demo was a great technology overview for DevOps newbies and seasoned practicioners alike.

These are exactly the reasons community matters. Sharing best practices, product knowledge and building a sense of shared engagement. Underpinned by a commitment to education, the Mainframe VUG seeks to share subject matter expertise across the Mainframe community.  Why not come along to the next community event and see for yourself?  Join us on Thursday, February 9, 2017 for our winter edition of the Mainframe VUG.  Watch the Micro Focus website for more information – registration begins in January.

spaceman2

#DevDay is coming too

And for those local to the Chicago area this week, why not stop by another great community event-a Micro Focus #DevDay?  It’s your opportunity to see our technology in action, get your questions answered and connect with subject matter experts and industry peers.  You’ll even get a chance to try the tech yourself and it doesn’t cost a penny.

To learn more and register for #DevDay events, visit www.microfocus.com/devday  I look forward to seeing your there and at the next Mainframe VUG event in February!

Defining the future of enterprise applications

It’s nearly that time of year again. Yes, the holidays and colder weather (for those of us in the Boston area) are both fast approaching, but it’s also nearly time to attend one of the most electric and engaging events in the open software community – SUSECon 2016. Ed Airey takes a closer look at this upcoming event, its touchpoints with the enterprise community and the continued interest in Linux as a platform for future innovation – all ahead of next week’s activities in Washington, D.C.

Lead with Linux

If you’re a developer, you’re always watching out for the latest technology that delivers new tools, new features and that innovative capability that’s sure to ‘wow’ your customers.  Linux has increasingly become that target technology and platform of choice for new software development, pilot projects and company innovation. Why Linux?  Simply put, it offers the choice and open flexibility that developer demand along with the cost savings that the business desires.

With countless Linux distribution choices on the market, this platform provides vendor variety for both development and operations teams alike. Built on an open-source base, Linux also delivers unmatched compatibility with leading software packages and needed integration tasks. Last, but not least, Linux vendors (in most cases) offer a subscription licensing alternative to that of traditional software packages—providing an opportunity for business to leverage OPEX rather than CAPEX budgets.  All of these reasons also align nicely with a recent Micro Focus survey where Linux was selected as a strategic platform for future growth.

SUSE Linux & App Modernization

But for the enterprise, where critical business workloads reside, are all Linux offerings really created equal?  For organizations with trusted business applications, it’s important to understand the distro difference to ensure existing core systems continue to run without costly interruption.  Some Linux providers pride themselves on enterprise-grade Linux offerings—offerings designed for scalability, performance and security. One such example is SUSE—and that brings us back to next week and a key SUSECon session topic.  Whether you are a software developer, an operations manager or an IT director, this year’s event is an opportunity to define your Linux future and the future of your enterprise applications. For those with legacy application workloads running on (let’s say) less than current hardware, this is also your chance to move to the future.

SUSE Linux delivers a launch pad for established enterprise apps. For legacy (COBOL) applications, this powerful combination of SUSE Linux, Visual COBOL and LinuxOne take existing business systems to new architectures including the Java Virtual Machine and the Cloud. Taking that step is easier than you may think.

LinuxONERockHopper

Join us in Washington, D.C.

Join Steffen Thoss from IBM Research Labs and Ed Airey from Micro Focus to hear how enterprises are moving core business workloads to SUSE Linux, underpinned by the latest in high performant, hardware and software innovation—LinuxONE and Visual COBOL.  Learn how with modern tools, industry expertise and proven platform technology, core business systems can be protected and extended well into the future. Discover how digital transformation is enabling new delivery models and why a ‘Lead with Linux’ strategy can enable enterprise application portability, flexibility and choice. Define your Linux application strategy and future proof your proven business systems at SUSECon on Tuesday, November 8th at 11:30am US Eastern time.  We’ll see you there.

MaytheOSbewithyou

Micro Focus #DevDay doubles-down in Dallas

The #COBOL community roadshow continued recently as Micro Focus #DevDay landed in Dallas, TX. But this time was special – there were two events instead of one. Derek Britton went along to find out more.

A numbers game

Just as COBOL processes some of the most important numeric transactions globally, we learned of some telling statistics at the most recent #DevDay – held this month in Dallas.

Very interestingly, the show started with an award for Dallas – host of the most frequent #DevDay events. This was Micro Focus’ 4th time in Dallas in as many years hosting a COBOL community meeting. Over 200 delegates have attended our Dallas-hosted events in the last few years. Of course, Dallas is only part of a major global program – Micro Focus has hosted nearly forty #DevDay customer meetings since the program was started a few years ago.

DD1

But these numbers are dwarfed by the next: thousands of customers use Micro Focus’ COBOL technology today. What do they have in common? They are all committed to using the right tools to build the next generation core business applications, to run wherever they need to be run. This community also includes over one thousand Independent Software Vendors who have chosen COBOL as their language platform for the scalability, performance and portability their commercial packages need.

Last year we asked that global community their thoughts of the language. An overwhelming 85% said COBOL remains strategic in their organization. However, two-thirds of the same group said they were looking to improve the efficiency of how they delivered those applications.

We also heard that this global COBOL community is supported by Micro Focus’ $60M investment each year, which it makes across a range of COBOL and related technology products. This week, we also saw where some of that investment is made. One way of explaining how is by product area, where our technology is split across two communities. It was those two communities who held separate #DevDay meetings in the same location.

Micro Focus #DevDay

The Micro Focus #DevDay event is no stranger to our blog site. It is designed with the Micro Focus customer community in mind – showcasing latest products such as Visual COBOL and Enterprise Developer to the traditional Micro Focus user base.

Highlights of the Dallas session included a major focus on key new technical innovations. The first of these explored building REST-based services in a managed-code world using COBOL. Our experts demonstrated the simple steps to build, for example, mobile payment systems, using trusted COBOL routines and a simple RESTful integration layer. They later demonstrated a newly available support for advanced CICS Web Services, connecting trusted mainframe systems with new digital devices with a seamless, modern interface.

DD2

We also heard news of the latest product releases – with versions 2.3.2 of Enterprise Developer and Visual COBOL, which are newly available, including a range of major enhancements plus support for new environments such as Linux on IBM Power Systems and Windows 10. Some delegates got a chance to test drive the new version themselves in the hands-on lab.

The #DevDay event continues to be hugely successful and touches down next in December, in Chicago.

Acu #DevDay

The ACU COBOL technology is an established product line, acquired originally from AcuCorp, which joined the Micro Focus family just a little over a decade ago. The Acu range, known now as extend, boasts thousands of users.

Arguably the highlight of the day was the announcement of the brand-new Acu2Web capability.  Available to participating clients as part of the extend 10.1 product Beta program, Acu2Web demonstrates Micro Focus commitment to a digital future in its Acu COBOL technology, and solves a genuine market need. The challenge was a real one – a community one: access to the same core COBOL application system, from any device, with any interface, on any system, to behave the same way, using the same setup. In yesteryear, a limited albeit complex engineering task, the problem has been exacerbated beyond all recognition by the proliferation of new devices and platforms, all of which need to access trusted back-end systems.

This was the challenge we set ourselves – and that’s what we’ve built into our latest Acu extend technology – a seamless, transparent access mechanism to core Acu-built COBOL apps from any device.  The Acu2Web facility builds the wiring and plumbing for any access point, no matter where, as the access diagram below outlines.

DD0

Acu2Web is one of the new exciting capabilities being made available in extend 10.1. The Beta program is underway to qualifying clients. The roadmap milestones outlined during the event give a 10.1 release date in early 2017.

A global community… supported globally

The focused customer technology event is an important community touch-point for Micro Focus – but it certainly isn’t the only one. The same community thrives online, not least at Community.microfocus.com. Available to all, this forum provides tips and tricks for technology usage including suggestions from technical staff, consultants and customers alike. Importantly, product areas such as Acu have their own dedicated pages (see below).

 

DD4

Through the community, our social media site, and our academic program, Micro Focus continues to fly the flag for COBOL skills. Just shy of 400 higher education establishments are training their students to learn COBOL with Micro Focus COBOL products, building the next generation of COBOL talent.

In Summary

#DevDays are the perfect opportunity to witness the significant new product capabilities now available to our clients. Both product sets have undergone transformational updates to directly address real market demand.

I caught up with the host of the Micro Focus Developer Days, Ed Airey, who summarised Micro Focus’ approach “We are proud to host events that bring our entire COBOL development community together, to exchange ideas, learn new capabilities, and explore how to embrace future needs using modern technology. We remain committed to our community and look forward to more events of this nature in the future”.

Two product lines; one global COBOL community.

Find more about how our products can support you at www.microfocus.com

Announcing the 2016 Micro Focus Innovation Award winners at iChange2016

Ashley Owen announces the 2016 Micro Focus Innovation Award winners from the recent #iChange2016 DevOps event in Chicago. Who delivered Value to the organization that enables dramatic improvement in the delivery of IT services? Which technical mastermind Innovated by deploying a Micro Focus solution in a way that pushes the technology in new direction? Who scooped the award for the Satisfaction created in IT or the business as a result of making use of a Micro Focus solution? Find out by reading on……

It was my pleasure to announce the winners of the 2016 Micro Focus Innovation Awards at the recent #iChange2016 event in Chicago. This year, the categories were:

  1. Innovation in deploying a Micro Focus solution in a way that pushes the technology in new direction.
  2. Delivering Value to the organization that enables dramatic improvement in the delivery of IT services.
  3. Satisfaction that has been created in IT or the business as a result of making use of a Micro Focus solution.

We received some exceptional customer presentations this year, making the choice particularly difficult. However, after much deliberation I was delighted to announce the winners and welcomed them onto main stage to tremendous applause by conference attendees. The winners were:

Innovation:

Matt Northrup
Great American Insurance Group
Implementing Enterprise Release Management

Transitioning from simply automating deployments of specific components and applications to fully orchestrating the enterprise release activities using Dimensions CM, Release Control, and Deployment Automation. This solution has become central to supporting an organizational initiative to expand the implementation of ITIL based processes, accommodating the increasing demand for Agile and DevOps practices and innovations.

winner1

Delivering Value:

Martin Skala
LBMS s.r.o
Key IT processes Implementation within 10 months in Allianz

Implementing Demand, Change, Incident, Problem, Development, Test, Defect, Release, Config & Release management integrated together within the SBM Platform. All processes and practices were implemented within 10 months and evaluated as “Project of the year 2015’ by the IT Service management forum in the Czech republic delivering so much value.

winner2

Satisfaction:

Prakash Balakrishnan
Nationwide
Ramping up ChangeMan Migration

Migrating from one Change Management product to another traditionally presents many challenges, including cultural, technical and project schedules. Nationwide overcame these challenges and successfully migrated from Endevor to ChangeMan.

winner3

Many congratulations again Matt, Martin and Prakash and thanks to all the other entrants! See you next time…..

Ashely

Ashley Owen

A week’s work experience at Micro Focus HQ

Student Matt Hudson reports back on a week’s work experience with Micro Focus at their Berkshire Headquarters in August 2016.

The Arrival

My week at Micro Focus started off with me looking upon a smallish office from the visitor’s carpark.

“Well there’s only a few parking spaces, there can’t be too many people working here…” I said to myself. Turns out I was wrong.

Upon entering the building I soon found out that looks can be deceiving; the Micro Focus HQ is quite like a TARDIS. Bigger on the inside and shaped like one too. The atrium is a sight to behold, 3 floors of office space, kitchens and meeting rooms. The centre of the building is large enough to hold several sofas, chairs, tables and a large, upside down elephant (of course).

ellie

I spent the morning with Customer Care, looking at the ins, outs and joys of customer service. This was followed by an afternoon with Tim overviewing the International Go-To-Market Strategy Organisation (as easy to get my head around as it is to say this department name with a mouthful of crisps).

Off Site

Despite the size of the main site, it’s overflowing with busy people and space is at a premium, meaning the Recruitment team for Micro Focus are based in a small office in an industrial unit at River Park, which is where I spent my second day. Here I joined in the task of recruiting new employees to Micro Focus via the use of countless emails and interviews.

I also attempted a personality assessment given to these new employees in which I found out I was quite unstable, contrary to what I’d thought of myself beforehand. I won’t take the results to heart.

Virtual Insanity

On my third day here, I was introduced to the concept of Virtual Machines over at Development. It sounds crazy but in short, it turns out we can split up computers into lots of smaller computers. I was given a tour of the large and super-powerful computer behind Development’s virtual machines which allows them to run any version of an Operating System on their computers to allow them to test different versions of software.

In the afternoon, I took a look at Pivot tables which are a neat little thing on Excel, they give the people in Sales a nice visualisation of data. One interesting thing I thing I found out was how easily data can be manipulated by graphs and charts; a bump on a line graph can become a mountain just by changing the scale of the axis!

Hard drives are not an easy business

Day four at Micro Focus gave me a useful insight into the world of IT support. Much of my time there was spent pondering over a laptop whose hard drive had corrupted. After hours of work the IT team managed to revive the machine (although little of the original laptop was left).

Tweet Machine

My last day here was spent with Mark in Social Media Marketing. I’ve been able to write this blog about my time here, while also putting my #skills to the #test by churning out Micro Focus related tweets (the record for a work experience student is 87 apparently, I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of beating it).

To conclude

So after going round most of the departments here I’ve gained a good insight into the world of office jobs. It’s been exhausting due to the amount of information I’ve had to take in but very enjoyable nonetheless! Thanks to everyone who tolerated me being around, now time to get back to Twitter. #getonwithit…

Matt.

(This is me at an Airshow – not at Micro Focus!)

Matt

Visualizing a Use Case

Have you ever put the finishing touches on your use case in a word document only to find that the visio diagram you had depicting the process flow is now out of date? If you are lucky, you have both some visual model of your functional flows along with the corresponding text to back it up – and let’s not forget about the corresponding test cases!

Have you ever put the finishing touches on your use case in a word document only to find that the visio diagram you had depicting the process flow is now out of date?  If you are lucky, you have both some visual model of your functional flows along with the corresponding text to back it up – and let’s not forget about the corresponding test cases!

In the fast paced world of software development, if you don’t have solid processes in place and have a team that follows it, you might find yourself “out of sync” on a regular basis.  The industry numbers such as “30% of all project work is considered to be rework… and 70% of that rework can be attributed to requirements (incorrect, incomplete, changing, etc.)” start to become a reality as you struggle to keep your teams in sync.

The practice of using “Use Cases” in document form through a standard template was a significant improvement in promoting reuse, consistency and best practices.  However, a written use case in document form is subject to many potential downfalls.

Let’s look at the following template, courtesy of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) St. Louis Chapter:

Skip past the cover page, table of contents, revision history,  approvals and the list of use cases (already sounds tedious right?)  Let’s look at the components of the use case template:

The core structure is based on a feature, the corresponding model (visualization) and the use case (text description).  This should be done for every core feature of your application and depending on the size of your project, this document could become quite large.

The use case itself is comprised of a header which has the use case ID, use case name, who created it and when as well as who last modified it and when.  As you can see, we haven’t even gotten to the meat of the use case and we already have a lot of implied work to maintain this document so you need to make sure you have a good document repository and a good change management process!

Here is a list of the recommended data that should be captured for each use case:

  • Actors
  • Description
  • Trigger
  • Preconditions
  • Postconditions
  • Normal flow
  • Alternative flows
  • Exceptions
  • Includes
  • Frequency of use
  • Special requirements
  • Assumptions
  • Notes and issues

The problem with doing this in textual format is that you lose the context of where you are in the process flow.  Surely there must be a better way?  By combining a visual approach with the text using the visual model as the focus, you will be able to save time by modeling only to the level of detail necessary, validate that you have covered all the possible regular and alternative flows and most importantly, you will capture key items within the context of the use case steps making it much easier to look at the entire process or individual levels of detail as needed.

If you look through the template example, you can quickly see that it is a manual process that you cannot validate without visual inspection, so it is subject to human error.  Also, it is riddled with “rework” since you have to reference previous steps in the different data field boxes to make sense of everything.

Here is a visual depiction of the example provided in the template.  I have actually broken the example into two use cases in order to minimize required testing by simply reusing the common features:

Access and Main Menu

ATM Withdraw Cash

I have added some colorful swim lanes to break the activity steps down into logic groupings. If you think the visualizations look complicated you might be right… they say a picture says a thousand words, so what you have done is taken the thousand words from the use case with all of the variations and you have put them into one visual diagram!  The good news is, it is surprisingly easy to create these diagrams and to translate all of the required data from the use case template directly into this model.  A majority of the complexities of the use case are handled automatically for you.  When it comes time for changes, you no longer have to worry about keeping your model in sync with your text details and you certainly no longer have to worry about keeping references to steps and other parts of the use case document in agreement!

In the next blog, we’ll look at how to model the “Normal flow” described in the use case template.

The true cost of free

There always exists the low-cost vendor who offers something for free to win market share. In enterprise IT, it is worth examining what free really means. Derek Britton goes in search of a genuine bargain

Introduction

IT leaders want to help accelerate business growth by implementing technology to deliver value quickly. They usually stipulate in the same breath the need for value for money. The pursuit of the good value purchase is endless. No wonder then that vendors who offer “use our product for free” often get some attention. This blog looks at the true cost of ‘free’.

Measuring Value

We all use desktop or mobile apps which, if they stopped working – and let’s face it, they do from time to time – wouldn’t really matter to us. We would mutter something, roll our eyes, and re-start the app. That’s not to say that people aren’t annoyed if they’ve not saved some important work when their application stops, but typically the impact is nothing more than a briefly disgruntled user.

But if an application is doing something critical or stategically important for an organization, then it is higher up on value scale. For example, an ATM application, savings account, package or logistics, money transfer, credit check, insurance quote, travel booking, retail transaction.  What if it went wrong? What if you also needed it to run elsewhere? What value would you put on that? Vitally, what would happen to the organization if you couldn’t do those things?

valuequal

Get it for free

Application Development tooling and processes tend to incur a charge, as the link between the technology and the valuable application is easily determined. However, there is required additional technology to deploy and run the built applications. Here, the enticement of a “free” product is very tempting at this stage. After all, why should anyone pay to run an application that’s already been built? Many technology markets have commoditised to the point where the relative price has fallen significantly. Inevitably, some vendors are trying the “free” route to win market share.

But for enterprise-class systems, one has to consider the level of service being provided with a “free” product. Here’s what you can expect.

Deployment for free typically offers no responsibility if something goes wrong with that production system. Therefore internal IT teams must be prepared to respond to applications not working, or find an alternative means of insuring against that risk.

A free product means, inevitably, no revenue is generated by the vendor. Which means reinvestment in future innovations or customer requirements is squeezed. As an example, choice of platform may be limited, or some 3rd party software support or certification. Soon enough an enticing free product starts to look unfit for purpose due to missing capability, or missing platform support.

Another typical area of exposure is customer support, which is likely to be thin on the ground because there is insufficient funding for the emergency assistance provided by a customer support team.

In a nutshell, if the business relies on robust, core applications, what would happen if something goes wrong with a free product?

An Open and Shut Case?

Consider Open Source and UNIX. In a time when UNIX was a collection of vendor-specific variants, all tied to machinery (AIX, Solaris, HP/UX, Unixware/SCO), there was no true “open” version for UNIX, there was no standard. The stage was set for someone to break the mould. Linus Torvalds created a new, open source operating system kernel. Free to the world, many different people have contributed to it, technology hobbyists, college students, even major corporations.  Linux today represents a triumph of transparency, and Linux, and Open Source is here to stay.

However, that’s not the whole story. It still needed someone to recognize the market for a commercial service around this new environment. Without the support service offered by SUSE, Red Hat and others, Linux would not be the success it is today.

Today, major global organizations use Linux for core business systems. Linux now outsells other UNIX variants by some distance. Why? Not just because it was free or open source, but because the valuable service it provided organizations with was good value. But people opt to pay for additional support because their organizations must be able to rectify any problems, which is where organizations such as SUSE and Red Hat come in. Linus Torvalds was the father of the idea, but SUSE, Red Hat (and their competitors) made it a viable commercial technology.

Genuine return

Robust, valuable core applications will require certain characteristics to mitigate any risk of failure. Such risks will be unacceptable for higher-value core systems. Of course, many such systems are COBOL-based. Such criteria might include:

  • Access to a dedicated team of experts to resolve and prioritize any issues those systems encounter
  • Choice of platform – to be able to run applications wherever they are needed
  • Support for the IT environment today and in the future – certification against key 3rd party technology
  • A high-performance, robust and scalable deployment product, capable of supporting large-scale enterprise COBOL systems

The Price is Right

Robust and resilient applications are the lifeblood of the organization. With 4 decades of experience and thousands of customers, Micro Focus provides an award-winning 24/7 support service. We invest over $50M each year in our COBOL and related product research and development. You won’t find a more robust deployment environment for COBOL anywhere.

But cheap alternatives exist. The question one must pose, therefore, is what does free really cost? When core applications are meant to work around your business needs – not the other way around, any compromise on capability, functionality or support introduces risk to the business.

Micro Focus’ deployment technology ensures that business critical COBOL applications that must not fail work whenever and wherever needed, and will continue to work in the future;  and that if something ever goes wrong, the industry leader is just a mouse click away.

Anything that is free is certainly enticing, but does zero cost mean good value? As someone once said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”.

#DevDay Report – so what does COBOL look like now?

David Lawrence reports back from the latest Micro Focus #DevDays and what COBOL looks like these days. With Partners like Astadia it seems like anything’s possible…..including Mobile Augmented Reality! Read on.

To most people, COBOL applications probably look like this:

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and are thought to do nothing more than this:

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These applications are likely to be COBOL-based. After all, COBOL is the application language for business. With over 240 billion (with a b) lines of code still in production, the fact is that COBOL is used in thousands, if not millions, of applications that have nothing to do with finance.

It’s called the COmmon Business Oriented Language for a reason. The reason is that it was designed to automate the processing of any business transaction, regardless of the nature of the business.

Did you realize that COBOL is also widely used by municipalities, utilities and transportation companies?

At our Nashville Micro Focus DevDay event on June 21, the audience was treated to a very interesting presentation by a major American railroad organization, where they showed us how their COBOL application inventory runs their daily operations (scheduling, rolling stock management, crews, train make up and dispatch).

Earlier in the month we heard from a client who was using COBOL applications to capture, monitor and analyze game and player statistics in the world of major league baseball.

Many attendees of our COBOL and mainframe app dev community events, DevDay, are managing crucial COBOL applications as the lifeblood of their business. From managing retailers’ stock control systems, to haulage and logistics organziations’ shipments and deliveries, from healthcare, pharma and food production organizations, to major financial service, insurance and wealth management systems.

Those applications contain decades of valuable business rules and logic. Imagine if there was a way to make use of all that knowledge, by say using it to more accurately render a street diagram.

You say “Yes, that’s nice, but I already have Google Maps.” All very well and good. But what if you are a utility company trying to locate a troublesome underground asset, such as a leaking valve or short circuited, overheating power cable?

Astadia has come up with a very interesting solution that combines wealth of intelligence built into the COBOL applications that are invariably the heart and brains of most large utilities or municipalities with modern GPS-enabled devices

DevDay Boston

I had a chance to see this first hand at DevDay Boston. DevDay is a traveling exposition that features the newest offerings from Micro Focus combined with real life experiences from customers.

Astadia, a Micro Focus partner and application modernization consultancy, visted our Boston DevDays and showed us their mobile augmented reality application which enhances street view data with additional information needed by field crews.

Steve Steuart, one of Astadia’s Senior Directors, visted our Boston DevDays, and introduced the attendees to ARGIS, their augmented reality solution that helps field engineers locate underground or otherwise hidden physical infrastructure asset such as power and water distribution equipment.

I watched as Steve explained and demonstrated ARGIS overlaying, in real time, the locations of manhole covers and drains in the vicinity of the Marriott onto a Google Maps image of the area surrounding the Marriott Hotel . .. Steve explained that ARGIS was using the GPS in the tablet and mining the intelligence from the COBOL application used by the Boston Department of Public works department to track the locations in real time, superimposed over the street view, the precise location of the network of pipes and valves supplying water to the area

Here’s a picture .. certainly worth a thousand words, wouldn’t you say?

Below you see how the Astadia‘s ARGIS Augmented Reality system sources the data of the local utility company’s COBOL application inventory to give clear visual indications of the locations of key field infrastructure components (e.g. pipes, valves, transformers) over a view of what the field engineer is actually seeing. Nice to have when you’re trying to work out where to dig, isn’t it?

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Very imaginative indeed, but at the heart of this new innovation, the important data and logic comes from, guess where? . . yes, it comes from a COBOL application. Micro Focus solutions help mine and reuse those crucial business rules locked up in our customers’ portfolio of proven, reliable COBOL applications. This will prolong their longevity and flow of value to the business. Why take all that risk and spend millions to replicate intelligence that already exists, but which has been hard to utilize effectively?

Afterwards, I spoke with Steve – Astadia’s senior director who remarked: “As long as Micro Focus continues to invest in COBOL, COBOL will continue to be relevant.”

Speaking afterwards with Micro Focus’ Director of COBOL Solutions, Ed Airey, he commented

“We are always thrilled to see how our partners and customers are taking advantage of the innovation possible in our COBOL technology to build applications that meet their needs in the digital age. Astadia’s ARGIS product is great. I’m not surprised to see how far they’ve been able to extend their application set in this way – Visual COBOL was designed with exactly that sort of innovation in mind. The only constant in IT is change, and with Micro Focus COBOL in their corner our customers are able to modernize much faster and more effectively than they realize”.

See real world applications and how they can be modernized at a Micro Focus DevDay near you. For more information on our COBOL Delivery and Mainframe Solutions, go here.

David Lawrence

Global Sales Enablement Specialist

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3-2-1: The #DevDay Countdown has begun

With dozens of cities and thousands of delegates in the past four years – our #DevDay event is more popular than ever. Jackie Anglin previews this year’s exciting updates to the COBOL community’s must-attend show.

Introduction

It’s spring. And to mark the season of renewal and growth, we’re announcing the latest incarnation of our highly popular event series, Micro Focus #DevDay!  Now in its fourth year, #DevDay offers an out-of-this-world lineup of technical information, case studies and networking opportunities for you.  What’s new and different about this year? Let’s take a closer look….

The only constant is change

This year’s #DevDay is all about embracing change and let’s face it – change within IT is constant.  Platforms, architectures, applications, and delivery processes are continually adapting to meet new business requirements and market pressures.  But in order to achieve successful, lasting change, IT skills must also evolve and that’s what Micro Focus #DevDay is all about – technical education, building new skills and stronger community engagement. #DevDay delivers on this promise with a rocket booster of innovative content just for the enterprise application development community.

Today’s need: skill and speed

According to a recent Accenture survey, 91% believe organizational success is linked to the ability to adapt and evolve workforce skills. For starters, the business needs to respond to new competitive pressures, keep existing customers, retain market share and capitalize on new business opportunity, and these are just a few reasons. What makes this change proposition more challenging today is the plethora of new innovations in areas like mobile, cloud or IoT technologies including the connected devices we wear, drive or use to secure our homes. This requires an unprecedented technological prowess in IT.

But being smart won’t be enough on its own. This surge in the digital marketplace requires IT shops adapt faster than ever in order to keep pace with this unprecedented consumer demand for instant, accurate and elegantly designed content. Anywhere on the spectrum of status quo is no longer acceptable.  Delivering services in this new era requires tight business and IT alignment, better application delivery processes, greater efficiency and of course – speed.  For organizations, large and small, IT capability is the new competitive differentiator and as your responsive IT partner, Micro Focus, will help you meet these challenges.  Which brings us back to this year’s #DevDay lineup.

There is space for you at #DevDay

For organizations with IBM mainframe and other enterprise COBOL applications that need to move faster (without breaking things), #DevDay is for you.  Whether you manage COBOL apps in a distributed environment, or work with critical systems on the mainframe, or whether you work with those who do, here’s a list of reasons you should attend: latest tech content, real-world case studies, hands-on experience, a peer networking reception and our famously difficult ‘stump a Micro Focus expert’ contest.

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A universe of technology

This year’s #DevDay series is packed with new technology topics including platform portability, app development using Visual Studio and Eclipse IDEs, mainframe DevOps, .NET, Java integration and much more.

Here are just a few of today’s highly relevant topics on the agenda:

  • REST assured with COBOL: API-enable your business systems
  • Dealing with Data: COBOL and RDBMS integration made simple
  • The modern mainframe: Deliver applications faster. Get better results

You – at the controls

#DevDay now offers a brand new opportunity to build hands on experience with our latest COBOL products.  Led by our experts, you can test drive for yourself some of the powerful new capabilities available to the enterprise application developer. You must pre-register to participate.  To do so, click here.

#DevDay: Future AppDev takes off

#DevDay is focused on you – the enterprise COBOL development community.  This is a perfect chance to learn best practices and experiences, connect with like-minded professionals, as well as build new technical skills.  Don’t miss this opportunity. Join us for a truly intergalactic #DevDay experience.  Seating is limited, so register now before the space-time continuum distorts!

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Touching Down Near You Soon

United States

Canada

Brazil

See what happens at a #DevDay and find us on social media.