Is the Mainframe Still Viable?

The question “What would make the z/OS mainframe a viable choice today?” was posted in the LinkedIn group “IBM Mainframe – Unofficial” (here) towards the end of 2011. Raising concerns over cost, flexibility and fitness for (new) purpose(s), the original discussion raised concerns that things looked bleak for the z Series, stating such concerns do not make it “a platform of choice except in companies already using it”.

Since the statement was raised over 240 comments were posted to the group in the following 9 months. A variety of views were shared. Our view is very simple: we contend that the mainframe is as viable as ever.

The adage about mainframes being outdated, cumbersome and costly is, we feel, fallacious. By looking at some of the key facts of the matter one is able to build up a picture of the genuine contemporary value the mainframe can bring.

Let’s consider the first term “outdated”. It suggests an antiquated platform receiving no investment and no longer relevant yet, if you consider that the majority of the world’s business transactions continue to take place on mainframe computers, this indicates continued relevance. Let’s also consider the investment angle. IBM’s 2010-11 launch of the new zEnterprise range, including the ground-breaking z114 (business-class), zBX and z196 (enterprise-class) platforms represents a significant continued investment by the manufacturer and, moreover, through the innovations provided, a sustained contemporary role for the mainframe.

What about other operational concerns? Two of the most common complaints levelled against the mainframe environment are those of its inflexibility and cost. It is widely held that the environment is not designed to meet new and emerging business needs, and it is simply too expensive. It is worth examining each contention in turn to see how true those statements are nowadays.

The issue of agility contests that the mainframe is not the most flexible platform. However if you look closer, mainframe systems now embrace both traditional z/OS platforms as well as providing contemporary environments such as AIX, Linux and Windows. This enables a variety of applications to execute across its breadth of server environments, providing much greater levels of flexibility both in terms of platform choice, software strategies and cost models.

Regarding cost, the mainframe has been regarded as the high-cost, high-value enterprise server. With lower TCO server platforms becoming available, CIOs started to scrutinise the cost element, making it harder to justify mainframe expenditure. This relative cost issue has been tackled head-on, with the newer zEnterprise systems offering some of the lowest price / performance ratios of mainframes ever. Additionally, with new flexibility afforded by multiple operating platforms, traditional high-cost software choices can be scrutinized and lower-cost contemporary technology solutions can help reduce the software costs (often the largest single OpEx category for a mainframe environment). New software options available to the market provide lower-TCO alternatives to traditional 3270 tooling, offering mainframe shops a real opportunity to take software costs right down in areas such as application development and even system testing. Further technology even enables z/OS systems to execute on UNIX, Linux or Windows LPARs according to business demand, providing further cost management opportunity.

To recap – we suggest customers look again at the mainframe world. Things have evolved both in terms of hardware, systems configuration and the ecosystem of software tools. This is as true in the mainframe world as elsewhere, with IBM and other vendors having invested significantly for its customers.

The new zEnterprise environment provides lower-end and hybrid systems which offer a sensible middle ground for organizations looking for lower TCO and greater flexibility. These new mainframes provide a flexible and viable powerhouse workhorse engine on which many organizations rely to run their businesses.

Smart technology choices enable organizations to renew and even improve the value of mainframes and how quickly and cost-effectively systems can be delivered by and for them. Micro Focus supports the evolution of the IBM mainframe and zEnterprise platforms, and the latest Micro Focus Mainframe Solution offerings enable organizations to exploit and harness the real value provided by the new IBM environment, and also provide unprecedented improvements to the processes and technology to maximize the value of the mainframe world. For more information, see http://www.microfocus.com/solutions/mainframesolution/

Blue Skies Ahead?

Written by Tod Tompkins

Last week, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) issued a request for information (RFI) to obtain new ideas and potential acquisition vehicles for web-based storage and computing services.  The RFI states, “One emerging concept in cloud computing is that of a ‘cloud broker’ or an entity that manages the use, performance and delivery of cloud services, and negotiates relationships between Cloud Providers and Cloud Consumers.”  This TBD “cloud brokerage” would provide agencies an alternative to GSA’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA).

I think this is a significant step forward, encouraging collaboration between all members of the cloud community, helping government achieve the “Cloud First” policy and ultimately creating enhanced collaboration and cost savings. However, as government increasingly puts emphasis on cloud and its benefits – there is relatively little discussion of the true cost of migration from a legacy system to a private, community, hybrid or public cloud environment. It is important to build a strong computing foundation prior to moving applications and data to a cloud environment.

One of the challenging aspects of many legacy system migrations is that the applications are written in an older programming language, such as COBOL. Essentially, one of two options must be enacted before migration is feasible. 1) Rewrite the code in a more modern programming language, or 2) migrate applications to a modern platform allowing programmers to utilize modern languages. Solutions are available to allow agencies to migrate legacy system applications, enabling programmers to update applications in more contemporary operating systems such as Unix®, Linux™ and Windows®  and languages  such as Ruby on Rails®, Java™, C  variants and others – essentially creating the stepping stone to moving to a cloud environment in an extremely low-risk fashion. They also enable access to the scalability, collaboration and cost savings cloud can provide.  Given that option #2 can be completed in a matter of months, rather than the years of requirements building and the additional years of execution of rewriting code, not to mention a significantly smaller price tag and minimal risks from entering the unknown of building a new set of applications. Migration is the best option to maintain government programs while enabling all the benefits of recent cloud computing developments.

Do you agree? Is your agency facing roadblocks to deploying cloud solutions for your legacy systems? Let me know your ideas for helping the government create cost savings. Connect with us in the comments section below, on Facebook or Twitter.

How to solve a problem like the IT skills crisis

The recent report on falling applications in computer science degrees at UK universities has once again highlighted the human resource struggle that the IT industry is facing across the globe. While the decline was roughly in line with the overall fall in applications to higher education in the UK, for an IT industry already suffering from a skills crisis this news is far from welcome.

The recent report on falling applications in computer science degrees at UK universities has once again highlighted the human resource struggle that the IT industry is facing across the globe. While the decline was roughly in line with the overall fall in applications to higher education in the UK, for an IT industry already suffering from a skills crisis this news is far from welcome.

Skilled programmers and developers are growing in importance to businesses as mobile, big data, cloud and BYOD continue to impact the modern enterprise. Not to mention the vast numbers of developers already required in maintaining the existing systems on businesses’ mainframes.

As developers of the baby- boomer generation begin to retire, taking with them their vital programming skills and knowledge of existing systems, there is going to be a huge void of programming knowledge amongst many younger developers who are not learning the skills needed or are too few in numbers. This “gap” in skills required is going to have a considerable impact on businesses’ ability to continue to react to rapidly changing technological demands.

A recent survey by Vanson Bourne found that 71% of CIOs are concerned that the looming mainframe skills shortage will hurt their business. To address this fear, encouraging developers from a young age has to be high on the educational agenda, introducing more industry relevant IT GCSEs and further educational courses. Furthermore, it is going to be key for these courses to not only focus on teaching new programming languages, but also retain a significant emphasis on traditional but highly important languages such as COBOL and PL/I.

Mainframe programming languages remain critical to all aspects of day to day life and are vital to enable businesses to continue to function and adapt to market demands. COBOL for example, runs over 70% of the world’s business with over 200 times more transactions processed daily by COBOL business applications than there are Google searches made.

It is therefore important that businesses continue to work with Governments and universities to educate and support each other to produce courses that engage and inspire younger people, providing them with the skills and programming languages that they will require to operate in the modern world.

State of the art development technology from Micro Focus, including both the Visual COBOL (non-mainframe) and Enterprise Developer (mainframe) products enable application development staff using COBOL, Java, .NET or other language environments to work together, share the same desktop, and cross-pollinate skills. Helping the programmer community remove the barriers to understanding and collaboration will also help organizations nurture a wider skills pool for all their IT needs and build a more efficient development organization.

3 Tips for the Class of 2012

College commencements have come to a close, which means a new crop of bright-eyed, enthusiastic IT workers have joined the job market. For computer science and engineering grads, there’s quite a bit of competition, opportunity, as well as confusion, as they make their way down the path towards becoming IT pros. But, this isn’t just a time for the fresh faces – existing IT administrators, programmers and even CIOs should take a step back and remind themselves of what success looks like. So, here are a few tips for grads and pros alike to build a foundation for a fruitful career:

Tip #1: Be agile and adaptive

Looking back at the technology and software landscape over the last fifty years, many new trends and innovations have emerged, evolved and faded. The next fifty years – the span of your career – will likely see an even more accelerated amount of technological developments. As you sort through the technology noise, keep these Do’s and Don’t in mind so that you can become an agile and adaptive IT professional:

• Do adopt a willingness to learn and seek out training consistently.
• Do pursue qualities of flexibility and openness in your approach to work.
• Do stay aware and involved in the industry.
• Don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new technologies and mindsets.
• Don’t become complacent in the face of the fast pace of technology.

Above all else, being able to adapt to any scenario will make you a valuable asset to any IT department. No skill is valued more highly than being able to assimilate to the evolving technology landscape

Tip # 2: Pursue training in essential areas, not just new areas

Especially at a young age, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement of new technologies and skills. With new programming languages popping up on a regular basis and an onslaught of devices challenging development platforms – it’s easy to get distracted!

Languages, platforms, management styles – many of these will come and go, evolving throughout your career. If you focus solely on gaining experience in one area, you risk limiting the relevance of your own skillset to that particular area of technology.

Instead, seek out opportunities for training both within your company, as well as among industry organizations and events. Then, conduct your own informal analysis of which skills are truly in-demand. Some of these may not be the most glamorous, but you’ll notice they are the most consistent in translating to job security.

For example, consider the huge demand for COBOL programmers. Though its’ been around for over 50 years and is often considered ‘a dying language’ when compared to its newer counterparts, COBOL is still a dominant force in the business world. In fact, Gartner estimates that 60-80% of the world’s enterprises still depend on COBOL to run their business. That translates into a wealth of employment opportunities for new grads!

Tip #3: Stay aware of the industry

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s incredibly beneficial to immerse yourself in the your industry. Attend industry conferences, read relevant news every morning and network with peers every chance you get! Though small, these actions will advance your skill level quickly and keep you on top of your game. And most importantly, you’re knowledge and innovative will be a huge value to your employers.

Have any other tips for recent IT graduates? Share them below in the comment section or join the conversation with us on Twitter.

Barcelona hosts Micro Focus International, Asia Pacific and Japan Partner and Alliances Conference 2012

There was a real buzz last week with 80 partners joining Micro Focus Senior Executives and product experts to share their views and ideas around the current business climate; developing and improving partner relations; and to provide feedback on the Micro Focus partner program.

Micro Focus’s exclusive partner conference for International, Asia Pacific and Japanese partners was hosted in Barcelona on June 25th-26th 2012. A great climate of sharing was achieved with 80 system integrators and speciality partners, gathering with Micro Focus Senior Executives, partner managers and product experts. The conference offered a unique opportunity to network, get the latest product updates and gain an understanding of Micro Focus’ go-forward strategy.

Kevin Loosemore – Executive Chairman joined Adrian Saunders – Vice President, Worldwide Partners & Alliances to open the conference. Malcolm Collins –President, Worldwide Sales then proceeded to give an update on Micro Focus’ corporate strategy and insights into the latest market trends.

Presentations continued with product roadmaps and strategy on Mainframe Solutions, Borland and COBOL. Special guests from Microsoft presented on the subject of taking applications to the Cloud. Focussed track break-outs around the subject of partners, strategy, sales and technical provided the chance to delve deeper and interact with experts and peers.

On the final day of the conference, rounding up on themes, the Micro Focus Executive team participated in an open-floor panel discussion giving delegates the opportunity to ask questions and express their views.

This latest conference followed the success of the North America Partner and Alliances Conference hosted in Dallas in April 2012. Both conferences demonstrate Micro Focus’s commitment to strengthening partner relationships.