Unified AppDev – DevOps Mainframe Efficiency

While the DevOps methodology appears to promise significant improvements in efficiency, it relies on significant changes to internal practices in environments which are – frankly – quite hard to change. In his third blog in the series Derek Britton explores whether taking a smarter approach to mainframe DevOps might bring the goal of development efficiency within reach

Introduction

‘We’re all about smaller, focused teams, working on manageable sizes of work, with a regular and clean delivery process’. That’s Agile, or Scrum or one of its equivalents, talking. DevOps, to paraphrase, would respond ‘that’s fine, but let’s include the testing  teams as well, so those regular deliveries can stand up to scrutiny over quality, fitness for purpose and  user feedback‘.

Using a focused, multi-skilled team to work together on manageable deliveries and testing the whole delivery as a single unit of work? Well, frankly, it takes courage to argue against it. Anyone doing so would be presumably thinking wistfully of protracted waterfall models with huge projects that never fully sign off the scope and cannot test that volume of changes in the time allotted, where precious skilled resources are pulled from pillar to post to rectify unplanned issues. Leaving that all behind is certainly a good strategy. But how does that stack up for the mainframe environment?

Regular and Clean Delivery Process?

These are where the problems could start.

Of course, the mainframe processes are regimented and rule-based, yes, orchestrated and established, certainly.

But the frequency of delivery is based on the payload, other priorities, resource availability, and often – crucially – mainframe resources too.

And ‘clean’ is slightly subjective perhaps, but there’s nothing simple about the quality of required deliveries. Rudimentary errors such as compile errors aren’t uncovered until the next day. The COBOL team has their part, the Java team another – and what about the middleware? Even straightforward debugging or basic unit testing requires QA to be on stand-by to help set up the environment, as well as sys-admin.

So, clean? A little tainted, maybe. One Micro Focus customer faced an application change reality – not uncommon in the mainframe world – where regular challenges faced the beleaguered development team and application development cycles were slow compared to other language teams [though the mainframe applications were where the business value resided]. The cause was diagnosed as a combination of cumbersome tooling and restrictions in available mainframe processing time.

Delivering applications composed of mainframe COBOL and distributed Java assets was becoming more regular, and therefore more critical, yet the teams involved were split by structure, process and technology usage. Collaboration over bug fixing, unit testing and QA was extremely difficult.

The Solution – AppDev Sans Frontiers

The solution was as dramatic as it was straightforward. A single, unifying toolset, as modern as it needed but mindful of more established technology.

DevOps Blog 3 image 1Figure 1 Smart z/OS development with Enterprise Developer

Micro Focus’ IBM mainframe application delivery suite flagship – Micro Focus Enterprise Developer (figure 1) – enabled the teams to use a common development toolset, independent of scarce mainframe resources. The powerful Eclipse-based IDE provided freedom for mainframe developers to work in isolation when necessary, but also share source code and other application resources as a group, without burdening the busy mainframe.

To summarise the net benefits for this particular customer – and many other current Micro Focus users:

  • Composite core applications can be developed, debugged and unit tested using a single development environment
  • COBOL and Java application developers can collaborate and interact at a development level, using the same environment

All application developers, including mainframe COBOL developers, can achieve improved levels of efficiency, through access to contemporary development tooling. Over 25% efficiency improvements are possible.

DevOps Blog 3 Image 2Figure 2 – Side by side COBOL and Java development, courtesy of Micro Focus

Figure 2 illustrates how Micro Focus technology literally provides side-by-side development for both COBOL and Java application assets from within the same Eclipse IDE.

Additionally, customers looking to unite COBOL and Java, for example, can utilise Enterprise Test Server as a basis for composite application testing, without imposing further on mainframe resources – perfect for integration and functional testing.

A timeless, ageless solution

Furthermore, many customers are also grappling with questions over future resourcing. After all, these COBOL systems have outlasted any reasonable prediction of their life-span, such is the robust and enduring value of both the applications and the underlying technology. Micro Focus’ development tools helps with this – it is a smooth introduction to a more efficient development model for mainframers, but it is also a perfect training ground into the mainframe world (and the COBOL language) for the younger developers with no such background.

In a recent article, a 19-year-old intern at a technology company described a two-hour learning process during which they learnt how to code in COBOL, using a contemporary IDE and had built their first application. In our client scenario, the results were astounding – skills are now no longer a concern, as the average age of the mainframe developer for this client has been reduced to 26.

Unity is Strength

The Micro Focus environment now acts as the basis for all core application development work in that organization; such has been the far-reaching benefits to the technical teams in meeting efficiency targets. So whether the application development requirements are directly connected to the mainframe, fully offloaded, or whether the language requirements are COBOL, Java, PL/I or a mixture, there is a unified development framework for all.

The phrases ‘shorter development cycle’ and ‘increased release velocity’ are often cited as the major outcomes of adopting DevOps. One measurement the client shared was that, thanks to reduced mainframe dependency and improved tooling; a full core system compilation task has been reduced from a full day on the mainframe to 23 minutes under Enterprise Developer.

Find Out More…

Better development efficiency through modern tooling and collaboration is not the only DevOps objective. But this was a major issue with this client. And their goal was improved efficiency to provide better services, faster to their clients.

Micro Focus technology acted as a platform for improvements in working practices to enable a step change in efficiency, based on central DevOps principle of collaborative development. Visit us to learn how Micro Focus can assist your DevOps adoption and resolve your mainframe skills questions.

In our next and final blog of this series I will take a look at the DevOps challenge of testing efficiencies, in the context of mainframe application delivery.

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