The Mainframe: Transitioning to a DevOps Culture

I recently participated in a panel discussion at Share in Providence, Rhode Island. We were discussing and exploring the cultural challenges facing mainframe teams as they embrace DevOps practices.  Here are some of my observations:

Firstly DevOps is not an option for the mainframe, it is mandatory in my opinion. For too long the mainframe was the quiet “enterprise” citizen residing in the basement, making the world go around. As long as there was high availability and high CICS or IMS transaction rates, all was good. The mainframe has endured through many decades of technologies, boom and bust economies, and space shots. It has an amazing story and is arguably the most advanced platform in the world.

So where is the challenge?

But, as the panel discussed – there are challenges facing the mainframe:

• The Baby Boomer generation makes up the vast majority of the current mainframe demographic and with their retirements already upon us, how are companies going to attract new, younger talent to develop and maintain mainframe apps?
• Many believe you have to be agile or implement a bimodal strategy to do DevOps on the mainframe; however, neither is true. Accelerating application delivery is the number one reason companies implement agile development methodologies, but agile by itself is often not sufficient, and bimodal does not work well either as it just creates bigger silos that do not map with the value stream of the business
• The era of large, infrequent, monolithic software releases is over. Modern applications are supported across a complex, distributed and heterogeneous set of environments, and frequent changes to the systems of engagement tend to drive changes to the systems of record, requiring organizations to improve the flow of change through all systems in the value chain.

Change and continuous improvement

Mainframe teams have to embrace the DevOps culture of change and continuous improvement. They need to break out of their silos and take the initiative. One of the main principles of DevOps is the creation of a generative, high-trust culture that supports continuous improvement. Without it, you will not move forward and improve as an organization. I have written about how to hack IT culture. It’s no longer about MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) but about MTTR (Mean Time to Repair). It’s no longer about strength but about resilience. Define the desired characteristics, actions, and behaviors, then design or update the system to reinforce those behaviors.

Culture is an organization’s pattern of responses to the problems and opportunities it encounters. It starts with culture and people and ends with business value. Only with a DevOps culture will the mainframe environment attract new talent and deliver at the speed the business requires while still maintaining the mainframe legacy of quality and security. Mainframers were the original unicorns, they need to rise up again to the challenge.

Want to learn more? Check out the latest DevOps Drive-in with DevOps author Gary Gruver on scaling DevOps in brownfield environments.

 

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