SUSECon 2015 – Harnessing Innovation

Amie Johnson from Micro Focus looks back over the November 2015 SUSECon in Amsterdam, including the Micro Focus session on how how COBOL, SUSE Linux and the IBM Mainframe can come together to deliver unique solutions in response to the challenges of this new digital age.

This year at SUSECon, 700 attendees convened in Amsterdam for a week of technical sessions and peer discussions on how to keep the world’s core business systems up and running all the time – as in it’s Saturday night and the servers alright. Don’t reboot it just patch uptime – so we can take can things like ATM machines, air travel and shopping on Black Friday for granted. Delegates from IBM, SAP, Fujitsu and others were on hand to collaborate with the open source community around bleeding edge innovations in the realm of invisible technologies that “just work.”

The core business system of many organizations touch our everyday lives.  But unlike their reputation for ‘always on’ availability, their make-up and composition are less straightforward.  Typically these systems are a mashup of decades-old, and intricately woven business logic with application data structured in a way that requires specialty skills and tools to manage, maintain and even understand. Which is why, for most IT organizations, true reverence of mission critical applications is only realized after something goes terribly wrong and these systems are inaccessible or unavailable.

We live in a data-driven economy.  Always on. Always on-demand and always changing.  This makes future-focused decisions tough. A lot of the discussions at SUSECon covered the challenges IT shops encounter when managing today and the future of their mission critical ‘everyday’ business applications. Questions overheard at SUSECon included:  How do I deliver faster, improve quality, or even create a DevOps culture? Do we have the knowledge to make confident application management decisions? How do we keep the best of what we have, build on it and run it in the cloud? The consequences of these decisions can result in costly missteps, loss ground to the competition or possible threats to the security and reputation of the business.

Micro Focus and SUSE: Harnessing Innovation Together

Last year’s SUSECon event saw Kevin Loosemore, executive chairman for Micro Focus, which now includes SUSE – talking about the synergies between these two brands. Which makes sense if you look at the shared list of customers. Micro Focus and SUSE serve 20,000 customers around the world. More than 90% are among the top 100 of Fortune Global companies. Many trust Micro Focus and SUSE technology to keep the most mission critical systems running smoothly, or what SUSE kernel guru, Vojtěch Pavlík characterizes as, “the things that are not seen, but are supposed to work perfectly.” SUSE Linux Enterprise runs stock markets, air traffic control systems, even space programs. And whether you think COBOL is dead or making a comeback doesn’t matter, because 70% of banking and financial transactions come from applications written in COBOL (some in Mainframe environments running SUSE Linux). These systems have to work perfectly – everyday.

SUSECon is microcosm of what we do to help our customers meet today’s challenges. We truly listen to our customers, discuss their challenges and opportunities, and then leverage our hard-earned wisdom from years of developing solutions to meet their unique needs. Both Micro Focus and SUSE collectively have 65 years of experience helping customers retain the valuable business logic within their core applications so customers can run those apps on enterprise-class IT systems in any environment. We make significant investments and work diligently to ensure everything works perfectly so your systems can adapt for future success. But delivering innovation requires more than the sum of one company as Nils Brauckmann, general manager at SUSE acknowledged in his keynote, “is not just about innovation,  innovation is really important but equally important is that we take this innovation and together with our partners, harness it. Having the right type of partnerships to get the job done is awesome.”

This approach is working. This year is the 15th anniversary of SUSE on the IBM mainframe – appropriately celebrated with beer and birthday cake.  Further evidence of the company’s ability to develop strong business partnerships to foster innovation is the caliber of the shows sponsors including Dell, SAP, IBM, Intel, Fujitsu, and Microsoft and support from open business initiatives including Eclipse Foundation, Linux FoundationOpenStack, WSO2 and, just announced at the show, Cloud Foundry Foundation.

Harnessing Innovation at the Application Level

Increasing IT agility today is all about the ability to quickly build and deploy high quality, next-generation applications that are open, secure and highly available so IT shops can innovatively tackle rapidly changing business needs. Both Micro Focus and SUSE are popular in the app dev community for offering some of the best dev tools. Micro Focus helps you take advantage of valuable business logic within your core systems as your design and deliver new services to serve new customer requirements. While SUSE helps you build and easily manage portable application stacks that can deploy anywhere from the mainframe to Amazon EC2 and even OpenStack (think software defined data centre). In the Micro Focus session, attendees learned how we can help you improve business agility, reduce cost and accelerate time to market for core COBOL business applications when ported to an open architecture, running SUSE Linux Enterprise. In the future, our customers can expect greater collaborate between SUSE and Micro Focus teams to deliver expanded value to their core business applications.

 Harnessing Innovation at the Hardware Level


Well, the real pressure is on when it comes to leveraging today’s fast changing hardware environment. Digital demands from mobile, big data, and Internet of Things require your software support billions of transactions making high performance, high throughput solutions more relevant than ever before.  In particular, this topic resonated for Micro Focus and SUSE’s customers that are passionate about LinuxOne, IBM’s effort to enlarge the ecosystem for Linux on the mainframe. IBM presented a live version of this open source demo from the Open Mainframe Project. The buzz and excitement around these speedy, RESTful mainframe systems (LinuxOne Emperor and Rockhopper) was infectious. Our customers can look forward to ways in which SUSE and Micro Focus can help you leverage the power of the mainframe platform alongside the innovative capabilities of Linux to deliver to enterprise services like making it easier to adopt DevOps.


The SUSECon experience successfully captured our approach to helping our customers adapt and succeed. Every business has its unique requirements, strategies for growth, competitive differentiation, but the key to success is often how are these goals best achieved?  We help you see how you can start from a position of strength, leverage what already works and build a sound strategy for future growth and innovation.


Teaching today’s reality to tomorrow’s technologists.

Mark Plant investigates bi-modal IT and what that means for new entrants to the Information Technololgy sector. How do we balance older and newer technology and ensure that students of today are equipped with the right IT skills for tomorrow?

Bi-Modal IT?

I’ve just finished reading a great Forbes Tech article by Kurt MarkoBimodal IT: A New Buzzword For Old Concepts Presents Teachable Moment’  and one word in the title really stood out. Teachable.

The analysts and IT professionals the world over will not be surprised by Gartner’s ability to sum up this age-old issue of balancing ‘keep the lights on activity’ with the constant innovation of our industry into the new bi-modal buzz-word.  The reality of bi-model IT has always been present in the tech industry and teaching what that means, and how organizations can embrace it, will be high on Gartner’s and other Industry analysts agenda.

The two modes:

As the name suggests, bi-modal has to look at the two fundamental states of IT provision. How you might describe that may vary, but in essence it means a combination of apparent opposites – the new and the old; digital and traditional; innovations and incumbent; or more provocatively, bleeding edge and legacy. Of course, you can’t move for academics, training organizations and vendors teaching the new, the latest, the innovative, the cutting edge. But what of the incumbent, traditional, dare I say it “legacy” technology?

Well, at a recent Micro Focus #DevDay in New York City, Lonnie Emard from IT-ology, an IT training and education consortium, stressed the need to equip today’s students and novices with some of the foundational skills of our industry. Reports have emerged of COBOL experts coming back out of retirement of College students who learn COBOL making more money than their non-COBOL counterparts. IT-ology among others have latched on to the continued demand for those skills.

But could teaching this reality to the potential new entrants to the Technology sector could also be a headache for Universities and Tech Institutions when they build their Curricula? How do they balance the demand for bleeding edge IT know-how and equip students with valuable skills that will earn them valuable salaries? The best IT educators will be well aware that Node.js skills alone will not set IT Graduate Resumes apart from their job market competitors. It strikes me that Educators, Students and Employers all have a vested stake in making bi-modal IT education happen.

Learning then Earning

Increasingly it seems that Educational establishments team up with major industry players to arm millennials with these vital skills. IBM’s ‘Master the Mainframe’ 2015 competition is just one example attracting record numbers of students and academic partners. For the first time aspiring Mainframe developers will be able to access to the world’s fastest Linux system via the cloud at no cost after signing up.

Micro Focus too has it’s very own Academic Program that’s aimed at bridging the gap between learning and earning.  If Educators can work with industry partners to ensure such electives are carefully crafted and reflect industry realities then their courses will be perceived with more value and will be oversubscribed. Employers will snap up young talent who are able to apply ‘disruptive’ innovation to established but perfectly functional infrastructures. Its no surprise that at another recent #DevDay event, in DC, Univeristy of Maryland talked about adding COBOL back on to their syllabus and the success of their COBOL-skilled graduates moving into well-paid IT careers as a result.

academic 2

And for the young people we’re hoping to attract? Paying off your student loan faster will admittedly be quite a pull and it’s recognised that today’s IT shops need quality COBOL programmers. But let’s be honest with ourselves: COBOL didn’t ring much of a bell with UCL undergrads when they were asked. But seeing is believing, it’s hard to ignore the commentary of this under-graduate and how they picked up, learnt and recognized the value of COBOL as a contemporary skillset on a train journey in Canada!

Is the clink of cold hard cash enough?

With 64% of Millennials in this study wishing to ‘make the world a better place’ perhaps it’s time to get the word out to the youngsters pursuing a career in Java and .Net technologies? The IDE they’ll be familiar with plugs directly into modern Distributed and Mainframe COBOL which could mean their future apps running seamlessly alongside the ‘so called legacy’ infrastructure they will more than likely find with their first employer.

Take one of our customers, Steria, for example. Faced with a lack of skills in their application service teams, they adopted a new IDE and a cross-training program and using Micro Focus technology have a fully skilled COBOL and Java development workforce with an average age of just 26.  So, instead of just talking to young developers about the extra money, maybe it’s time we started to talk about the extra value and ability to innovate they will be equipped with? Instead of ‘getting a job’ they will truly be able to begin a career with an extremely bright future and add professional value from day one!

Take a look at our skills solution page, and our Academic program site for more and find me on Twitter if you wish to talk more


2.3: Taste the future Micro Focus Visual COBOL and Enterprise Developer 2.3 Launch!

Micro Focus continues to invest millions of dollars each year in enhancing and expanding its products to meet new technology standards and market demand. The 2.3 release of Visual COBOL and Enterprise Developer in October 2015 is another example of our products’ continuing evolution to support a variety of market challenges. Derek Britton got an early view.


As we’ve mentioned before, the Micro Focus DevDay event provides customers with an ideal opportunity to not only ask real questions of the Micro Focus experts, but also see the technology in action in our live demo sessions. Customers attending our New York and Toronto DevDays were treated to an early preview of the latest 2.3 releases of Visual COBOL and Enterprise Developer. I managed to scribble some notes.

First Principles

2.3 will represent another milestone in Micro Focus’ relentless pursuit of product excellence, capability and usability, as shaped by some fundamental principles. In terms of setting themes for each release, Micro Focus continues to follow its core mantra of –

  • COBOL language longevity
  • Best in class development technology
  • Unrivalled platform portability
  • Support for accelerated IT delivery

At the heart of our investment choices for our products, Micro Focus considers customer input, framed in the context of our core principles, to ensure we continue to provide the capabilities our customers and the wider market needs. Here were a just a few of the highlights.

Visual COBOL

Visual COBOL includes a range of new tech innovations, including:

App Performance

We’ve spent plenty of time and effort optimizing the COBOL deployment environment (often called the runtime), to incrementally improve application performance. Our goal was to achieve improved application performance across all deployment platforms. Although individual customer performance mileage will vary, our internal benchmarks with 2.3 have delivered some impressive results:

  • Up to 30% faster app performance using Windows 64bit
  • Up to 40% faster app performance using  HP platforms
  • Major industry performance benchmarks (USSTEEL and CSAMPLE) are performing between 5-12% faster across all platforms

Developer Tools & Platforms

Micro Focus prides itself on providing class-leading development technology. Part of this is to ensure we are integrating with the latest IDE technology. 2.3 supports the latest development tools from Microsoft – Visual Studio 2015 and the latest open computing development environment – Eclipse 4, further enhancing the developer experience (Figure 1).  Micro Focus delivered the FIRST market support for COBOL within Visual Studio 2015 in August this year.  Interestingly, the new VS2015 IDE was also the platform used by a technology intern at Microsoft as they taught themselves COBOL coding in just a couple of hours! Read their fascinating story here.

Of course, platform support is an evolving investment too. 2.3 certifies against new environments including Windows 10, Windows Server 2012 RC2, and recent releases of IBM TX Series 8.2 and the open source Postgres database. For some clients, an important consideration is that XP is still supported.


New Mobile & SOA technology

An exciting addition to our technology integration story is that we have refreshed our web services toolkit to support emerging standards and mobile technology; specifically the Interface Mapping Toolkit (IMTK) facility now includes support for RESTful web services using JSON, making the provision of COBOL-based web services easier than ever.

On the Mainframe Side

In addition to all the updates in Visual COBOL above, which are also available in Enterprise Developer, our flagship mainframe development product has been updated in a variety of ways.

Smarter Mainframe Development

Building mainframe applications faster, either using established approaches or by looking towards DevOps or agile, remains a primary objective for many organizations. Supporting this objective, we’ve implemented some new usability and efficiency improvements in this release:

  • We’ve added a Web portal for easy access to application knowledge for all users , as well as adding a simple Wizard to assist in building the application repository, to accelerate understanding across all developers.
  • The release includes faster and smarter code editing across mainframe COBOL, PL/I and JCL sources, integrating and simplifying the task of maintaining a range of application source types
  • Based on customer feedback, we have implemented a new facility for fast test data record editing. This includes a structure view and search and filter capabilities. Getting up and running on unit testing has never been easier.

Quality Counts

This release also includes significant improvements to assist in building high quality applications. First, Micro Focus has introduced the concept of ‘knowledge at the point of change’ by making code analysis functions (available via Enterprise Analyzer) but now within the developer’s own IDE. This provides key analysis features directly within Enterprise Developer, enabling activities such as standards checking, performance analysis and application knowledge to be immediately available to the developer. (See figure 2).


Future Proofing

The mainframe environment continues to evolve, and the 2.3 Enterprise product set release reflects our mission to support emerging standards in the host environment. A few additions this time include:

  • Improved mainframe DB2 compatibility
  • Direct access to IMS DB data for batch processes
  • PL/I support extended to include GRAPHIC datatype, more built in functions, etc.
  • Support for FTP commands in Enterprise Server JCL

See for Yourself

Of course, it would be impossible for me to attempt to cover everything that’s been added into a single blog. We’ve barely scratched the surface in fact. However, the products are released alongside datasheets as well as the “what’s new” documentation – download your copy for Visual COBOL and Enterprise today to read more. Additionally, the products are available for evaluation for customers interested in seeing it for themselves.

But as our investment in DevDay testifies, we are more interested in your application development technology needs, and would be happy to discuss your business requirements and how our solutions can assist. This is our Value Profile service. If you would like to discuss further, get in touch.


Complete the picture – enable Mainframe Testing for DevOps flexibility

In simple terms, mainframe DevOps is a process of ‘joining the dots.’ But until an organization can link all the elements to create a true end-to-end application development process then this will remain an incomplete picture. In our ‘DevOps for the mainframe’ blog series we have already covered off clearing development bottlenecks – but for many mainframe delivery teams, testing requirements remain the biggest barrier to delivery efficiency. In the last of the series, Derek Britton attempts to link continuous integration testing and traditional mainframe QA…


DevOps is as much a point of view as a process. It requires a holistic view of delivery and involves QA expertise, insight and activities as a core component of the release cycle – one of the primary reasons for its growing popularity. Testing experts are involved from the outset. Quality is built-in and quickly verified. A laudable strategy, for sure – but how does this translate to the mainframe world?

Mainframe QA

Core systems are complex beasts. Decades of investment in technology require every last moment of testing time for major releases to meet an exacting and comprehensive QA process. Clearly the best fit for testing mainframe systems is the mainframe itself. But how realistic is this? There are issues…

  • Mainframe production workload has expanded to an unprecedented level
  • Most mainframe environments only offer restricted testing LPARs or allocated MIPS
  • Many mainframe applications have elements away from the mainframe and require a test environment beyond the mainframe itself

Consequently a huge amount of testing must be delivered quickly, putting a strain on finite mainframe resources, straining  schedules and resources. As Figure 1 illustrates, the busy mainframe will inevitably creak under the pressure of the testing burden and plans for faster builds and test cycles become distant dreams. In her book, Mobile to Mainframe DevOps for Dummies, Rosalind Radcliffe rightly states “It doesn’t help to … improve the productivity of the development team if there isn’t an environment for them to develop and run their … tests”.

Unfortunately, the regimented, MIPS-restricted mainframe testing environment is largely incompatible with DevOps levels of continuous integration and parallel testing. More often, a compromise is inevitable and in quality-focused environments, that may impact the schedule.


Modernized Mainframe Testing – an example

One Micro Focus client, an insurance provider, relied on their z/OS mainframe environment to support a multi-billion dollar business. However, business growth, an expanding production workload and the demand for additional services was outstripping delivery capacity. Testing was the major culprit but without the overall MIPS capacity to free up more testing time their primary objective of improving time to market for key application sets remained out of reach.

Their specific requirement was fundamentally two-fold:

  • To commission and invoke faster test cycles while supporting ad hoc and faster-moving delivery cycles. Their processes and capacity needed several weeks to get ‘ready to test’.
  • A testing environment to support testing across a range of composite applications involving developers and testers from a variety of teams.

Flex for test

The client needed a fresh perspective on application testing. Micro Focus’ technology supports the more flexible dev/test model the customer needed. Now, an application change automatically triggers an application build with components being auto-built under Micro Focus Enterprise Developer. A test region starts automatically in a virtualized environment and application load-modules from the build process are copied across, ready for testing.


The scenario illustrated by Figure 2 equates to an almost unlimited number of individual testing environments. Spun up on demand, they enable testing for multiple, parallel product releases. ’Continuous testing‘ is now a reality: test regions are provisioned in minutes. Development teams have an environment for testing application changes – including composite applications spanning mainframe and distributed components. Defects or issues are identified and fixed earlier in the process. The average test cycle has been slashed by half.

Of course, the customer still uses the mainframe for the final system test and UAT, but these slots are more readily available due to greater capacity freed up by the virtualised test environment.

Conclusion – DevOps: The Dev is in the Detail

DevOps for mainframes is not a piecemeal commitment. If the accelerated changes cannot be tested, there is little point in resolving application development backlogs in the first place. So the vision for faster mainframe application delivery must be holistic: application testing must achieve faster throughput for a wider variety of application types. This customer story is typical of the profound impact that Micro Focus technology can have.

While DevOps adoption is far from straightforward, successfully implementing its ethos can resolve some important underlying challenges. These blogs have outlined what contemporary technology can achieve for organizations looking to embrace a more DevOps style model. Looking at the concept in general terms , examining parallel development , considering greater efficiency in development, or improving testing cycles, Micro Focus is providing practical technical solutions to today’s delivery challenges. While DevOps provides the outline, Micro Focus joins the dots to complete the picture.