Data: Challenge & Opportunity

Data Challenges

Researchers claim that the average smartphone user glances at their device roughly every seven seconds. Do you? It’s an impulse that each of us experiences within our daily lives, whether at the airport, the bank or the shopping mail, but also in workplace. Why is this so? Well, mobile technology has unleashed the power and desire for instant information that’s readily available to all using our device of choice. The mobile economy is underpinned by data. This quest for information, engagement or even entertainment requires instant, readily accessible access to this valuable resource and without it that same mobile experience would be well, not nearly that exciting. But the demand for data is not isolated to those searching for the latest sports scores or for that needed holiday recipe.  Business organizations have the same need to unlock the value of their business data and leverage that information to make smarter decisions leading to new market opportunity. But for many businesses, it’s not quite so simple.  There are a number of challenges that must be addressed.

Many core business systems are written in the COBOL language.  In fact, over 70% of business transaction processing is supported by COBOL technology.  It continues to be the lifeblood of core business applications in the airline, insurance, banking, manufacturing and retail industries as well as a prominent piece of public services IT infrastructure. But unlocking COBOL data is not easy.  Traditional COBOL systems utilize COBOL data files for information access and storage. Retrieving data from these systems requires a knowledge of the COBOL language but also an understanding of the application itself. This creates challenge for an organization that desires to gain real time access to data for business intelligence, analytics or reporting needs. COBOL data is not relational which makes the use of modern tools difficult for analysts and developers, alike.  Applications underpinned by COBOL data files also experience application reliability and serviceability issues. COBOL data files can and often do become corrupted which compromises business continuity and reduces application up-time. Also, even during scheduled application maintenance, application recoverability can be slower than desired. So, how can you overcome these challenges and what are the options?

Options

In an effort to gain easier access to COBOL business applications, some will utilize tools to extract, transform and load data into a new repository. Other options include mirroring the data or creating copies for analytics and data warehousing purposes. The challenge with these options is that the data, itself, is not relational nor available in real-time which means the data is immediately out-of-date. Re-writing these COBOL applications is often considered an option too in order to achieve the benefits of SQL and RDBMS.  Doing so, however, can be risky and costly to the business.  Additionally, the size of the average COBOL application codebase is large and is often measured in millions of lines of code (MLOC) which means the prospect of changing or re-writing these systems to accommodate RDBMS or SQL integration is almost unobtainable for many.  So where do we go from here?

A Better Bridge – For the Old and the New

There’s a better path to achieve the benefits of SQL and RDBMS without application code change. For business analysts and end users seeking to gain real-time access to relational data or create custom reports without the assistance of the development team, a new data modernization toolset enables you to utilize modern, off-the-shelf reporting tools such as Excel or Crystal Reports to access existing COBOL application data with ease. And for developers and technical teams seeking to utilize the power of SQL alongside modern RDBMS platforms to improve application uptime or reliability, a supplemental toolset is available to bridge existing COBOL business applications to relational database management platforms, including SQLServer, Oracle IBM DB2 and PostgreSQL.  With these solutions, organizations can unlock the power of business data, enabling all to make smarter decisions that drive opportunity and new digital business.

New Solutions

Today, Micro Focus is delighted to announce a new innovation- a set of data modernization solutions to enable analysts, developers and management teams to better align their core systems of record with modern relational database management technology. With Relativity and Database Connectors, you’ll have the ability to unlock the value of business application data and leverage the power of SQL and RDMBS to gain access to business information, improve application reliability and better manage RDMBS costs while expanding application usage. To learn more about these new and exciting tools and how to get started on your own journey to data modernization, we encourage you schedule a complimentary value profile meeting with us. During this consultation, we’ll examine your business and technical goals and help align your data modernization needs to solutions that meet your objectives. As the demand for data only continues to rise, fueled by digital business and the mobile economy, we must find new and innovative ways to leverage core business systems to unlock both the power of data and the competitive advantage that it delivers.  Click here to learn more and get started with this complimentary service offering.

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.

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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.

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#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!

Linux – the new workload workhorse

Linux continues to gain in popularity, and there are more deployments each year, even in the mainframe world. What’s driving all the interest and, frankly, all the workload? We deployed Derek Britton to find out.

Reports suggest that there continues to be a significant uptick in the number of deployments on to Linux servers worldwide. In November 16’s IBM Systems Magazine article “Why more z Systems customer are running Linux”, for example, we are told that “nearly 50 percent of z Systems clients are using Linux”. We also know that Linux overtook other UNIX systems in terms of market share as far back as 2013 (source: Linux Foundation).

Meanwhile, the 11th annual BMC Mainframe Market survey (source: BMC) reports that 67% of mainframe organizations have witnessed increasing capacity this year, with the percentage respondents using Linux in production rising to 52%.

Now, across the broader market, what incarnation of Linux might be chosen is a topic all of its own. Data centers running Enterprise versions of RedHat, SUSE or Oracle variants is an option, as is using a Linux-based Cloud deployment, as would be the ground-breaking LinuxONE technology or the new Linux on Power platform from IBM, or indeed running a Linux partition on their mainframe. The flexibility, choice and power is certainly there to leverage.

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Why Now?

One of the obvious questions this throws up is what sort of workload is being deployed on to Linux? Or, put another way, what is driving organizations and their IT teams to choose Linux (or any other modern environment for that matter) as a production environment? The aforementioned IBM Systems Magazine article confirmed that IBM has (Linux) clients “doing payments, payroll, mobile banking … critical applications”. It goes without saying that some production workload is much more at home on z/OS, but IBM sensibly provides the options the market is clearly looking for in the digital age.

And tempting as it might be to talk about all the benefits of Linux, open source and other recent innovations from the vendors, this isn’t what drives change. Businesses drive IT innovation – changes in circumstances are behind many of the smartest IT decisions. Necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case innovation. So what are those needs?

Accelerating Market Footprint

One of our clients looked at branching out into new territories. Their core systems needed to be replicated across new data centers in each country, a fairly typical situation. However, the uniqueness and scale of the operation made matters difficult for provisioning IT operations as quickly as the business plan wanted. They were looking for a faster way to have tried-and-trusted IT systems up and running, supporting their new regional centers.

Smart Data Compliance

A financial services client was also looking at international expansion. However, due to data privacy laws in the new region, they were unable to manage the new operation from their head office. Instead, they needed to establish the right – low-scale, yet compatible – IT footprint in the new region. The question therefore was what viable options could replicate existing mainframe business functionality at a lower scale?

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Reaching New Clients

A very successful mainframe applications provider with an aggressive growth strategy was looking for further market opportunity. They identified that their market penetration and growth plans precluded them from establishing sufficient growth with their existing model. One important option to them was to investigate reaching clients in their market who were currently not using their prescribed deployment platform. Simply put, they needed to explore more platform options to support market growth.

Getting Fit for Purpose

New demands of fresh, critical workload create questions about priority and bandwidth. Some clients we know have adopted a headlong approach into big data and in-line analytics. Their view is there is no place better than z/OS to run these core operations. The question this creates is how to provision the necessary headroom without incurring unplanned increases. Of course, there’s always a commercial answer, but oftentimes the capacity available on Linux is simply waiting to be leveraged. Sometimes, some traditional z/OS workload might not all be equally important – some of it might be a historical circumstance. It then becomes a question of choices. Moving standalone priority B workload around might be viable and support higher priority z/OS projects.

Flexibility is Key…

The above scenarios represent real situations faced by large enterprises. What do all these drivers have in common? Probably the simplest way to label it is the issue of flexibility. Responding to change, rapidly, is driving IT innovation. Finding smart ways to deliver bomb-proof systems – core applications that already add value, already support the business – into new channels to support, quickly, going into a new territory, splitting data centers, reaching new clients, sometimes where the traditional platform isn’t appropriate for the model, is the demand. Linux makes sense as a viable, enterprise-scale solution in a growing range of cases.

…and so is the application!

For so many of the world’s largest IT organizations applications literally mean business. They keep the operations ticking over, and without them the organization would be unable to function. Many of those systems have been relied upon over years, built on the solid foundation of the COBOL language. COBOL’s continued evolution in its 6th decade, and Micro Focus unrivalled support of COBOL across dozens of leading platforms mean when bullet-proof core systems need contemporary levels of flexibility, COBOL and Linux are the natural, low-risk option. It’s no wonder that Micro Focus sees more and more Linux deployments of COBOL applications than ever.

Conclusion

Is Linux alone here? Not at all. One could easily argue that other UNIX variants and Windows are viable production systems for many application workloads. That’s not the argument here – platform viability is the choice of the customer. What’s important is that organizations need to be able to make smart decisions to support rapid business change. Advancements in technology such as Linux, alongside the power and portability of COBOL, help them do just that.

Latest updates to Micro Focus COBOL Development and Mainframe Solutions now available

Building a stronger sense of community–It’s a topic often discussed across many industries and technical professions and coincidentally, also a favorite topic at Micro Focus #DevDay events. Amie Johnson, Solutions Marketing strategist at Micro Focus digs deeper into this topic and uncovers some core reasons why community matters while also sharing some exciting product news for COBOL and Mainframe enthusiasts.

If you haven’t attended a Micro Focus #DevDay event in the past few months, let me recap that typical attendee experience for you.  It’s a day jam-packed will technology demonstrations, interactive Q&A sessions, hands on labs and much more.  Its eight hours of technology focused discussions designed for the COBOL and Mainframe developer. If you look closely though, you’ll also see something else, beyond the tech – community development.  I’m always pleased to see attending delegates in engaging conversation with other peers often sharing their ‘COBOL’ stories.  This sense of community both educates, and builds best practices while establishing long term relationships for all involved.  It also removes any perceived isolation that could occur if such conversations did not occur.  You’ll also see many of these experienced professionals talk shop, exchange stories from the past and seek answers to needed problems and questions. In many ways, #DevDay is the place where enterprise developers belong and where everyone knows your name.

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This week’s events in Dallas didn’t disappoint with a strong focus on COBOL application modernization, and performance, along with a desire to ‘sell that strategy’ upwards in the organization.  With thousands upon thousands of COBOL applications supporting everyday activities including banking, insurance, air travel, equities trading, government services and more; it’s no surprise that (for many attending) COBOL remains a solid choice for core business. Most acknowledge though that there are external pressures, though, to consider new solutions, perhaps even re-write or re-place those applications with new technologies. Underlying complexity and cost, however, often sideline those projects in favor of less risky approaches to modernization.  After all, these (COBOL) applications are essential to business success and the tolerance for business is often very low.  But there’s pressure to modernize with an eye to embracing new models, new tech and the future.

Micro Focus Continued Investment in COBOL and Mainframe Technologies

The goal of course, through event discussions is to ensure that all guest leave the event feeling it was valuable and delivered some practical skills which they could use when back at the office.  Yes, many attending are interested in the Micro Focus investment strategy for COBOL and Mainframe tech.  We cover that with ample detail and discussion ensuring all understand that COBOL is just as modern as the thousands of new programming languages available today—and they see it too through many demo examples.

This future proof strategy for COBOL ensures that applications, many of which support global enterprise, continue to function and support the business. Supporting this strategy are the following key data-points discussed while in Dallas:

  • 85% of surveyed customers believe their COBOL applications are strategic to the business
  • 2/3 of the survey respondents that maintain these COBOL applications are seeking new ways to improve efficiency and the software delivery process  while modernizing their applications to work with next gen technology including relational database management systems, Web services, APIs and integrate with Java and .Net code environments

These drivers underpin the continued Micro Focus commitment to support the widest variety of enterprise platforms.  Today, over 50+ application platforms are supported providing maximum choice, freedom and flexibility for anyone using COBOL. This capability coupled with a continued annual R&D investment of $60M reaffirms that COBOL is ready for innovation whether it be .NET, Java, mobile, cloud, or the Internet of Things. And this week brings even more exciting news as we released the latest updates to our COBOL Development and Mainframe technologies.

Mainframe Development Solution Updates

Versions 2.3.2 of Enterprise Developer, Enterprise Test Server, Enterprise Server, and Enterprise Server for .NET are now available.  The Micro Focus Enterprise product suite helps organizations build, test, and deploy business critical mainframe workloads with an eye toward future innovation and market change.

Highlights in this latest update include:

  • Latest platform support – including Linux on IBM Power Systems and Windows 10 – future-proofs applications.
  • Ability to extract COBOL and PL/I business rules to copybooks makes code re-use easier so developers can work smarter and faster.
  • Enhanced CICS Web Services support helps customers more easily meet the demand for web and mobile application interoperability.
  • Improved mainframe compatibility simplifies re-hosting and extends modernization options for customers deploying to .NET and Azure.

Examples of customers using these solutions include, B+S Banksysteme, City of Fort Worth, and City of Inglewood.

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COBOL Development Solution Updates

In COBOL development, the latest version of Visual COBOL 2.3 Update 2 includes the latest updates that helps you organize and manage core IT systems developed in COBOL, providing a pathway to new IT architecture and access to modern tools for enterprise application development.  This release includes over 100 customer requested enhancements and support for the latest enterprise platform updates and 3rd party software.

Highlights in this latest update include:

  • New support for the JBoss EAP platform
  • Updates for the latest releases of supported operating systems
  • Over 100 customer requested fixes and enhancements

Examples of customers using these solutions include Dexia Crediop, Heinsohn Business Technology, and The County of San Luis Obispo..

For Micro Focus customers on maintenance the latest updates can be downloaded via the Supportline portal

So check out these latest COBOL and Mainframe solutions.  Read how these customers are embracing next gen technology alongside their existing core business systems.  And for those interested in joining the COBOL community at the next Micro Focus #DevDay, check out our events calendar here.  Save your seat and join the conversation.

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Innovate Faster with Lower Risk at Micro Focus DevOps Interchange 2016

Mark Levy blogs about the upcoming Micro Focus DevOps Interchange 2016 with over 60 technical sessions focused on how to design, build, test, and deploy applications faster, with less risk in a repeatable, reliable and secure way. DevOps Interchange will be a great opportunity to network, get solutions for your problems and share your ideas and solutions.

Marketing and Innovation

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management said, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” Marketing is required to understand the needs of the customer and innovation is required to build the product or services that fit those customer needs.

Innovation provides competitive differentiation in the markets where you have to be consistently better and smarter at creating customers than your competitors.  Businesses have been using innovation as a competitive weapon for centuries to create value and differentiation, but only recently have businesses been using software to enable and accelerate business innovation.

Building and delivering software has always been a difficult race against time. I was a software developer for well over 10 years and I was always racing to a date. But over the last several years, that race has entered an even more challenging phase. Several market forces are at work, putting the pressure on the business to deliver business value faster, with better quality, and at a lower cost to the customer.

With the explosion of mobile, there is a newly empowered customer who is forcing the business to deliver quickly to prove out business ideas and innovations. If the business is not responsive enough, low switching costs enables the customer to easily migrate to another competitor.  Additionally, digital competition is everywhere. Firms that use software and the cloud to disrupt established markets can move faster than more traditional businesses because software-based services can evolve faster and offer the opportunity to out-innovate market incumbents.  Epic battles are already being waged across many industries between incumbents and software powered companies.

Finally, the impact of software has dramatically increased across all kinds of business. Today, business innovation is often driven by information technology, which itself demands changes to software.  Software development and delivery has to change or the business will be at risk.

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Innovate Faster with Lower Risk

Today, every enterprise IT organization is under pressure to simultaneously respond more quickly to enable business innovation, and at the same time provide a stable, secure, compliant and predictable IT environment.  IT must maintain and update the “Enterprise Software Engine” that is running the enterprise, i.e., keeping the lights on, while also providing capacity to support business innovation.  These are not mutually exclusive but actually form an integrated value chain that leverages the traditional systems of record with the customer facing systems of innovation.  These pressures have given rise to Enterprise DevOps as all enterprises must enable the business to innovate faster with lower risk.

Enterprise DevOps is all about building and delivering better quality software, faster and more reliably. IT organizations that implement Enterprise DevOps practices achieve higher IT and organizational performance, spanning both development and operations.  Technical practices such as Continuous Delivery lead to lower levels of deployment pain while speeding up application delivery and improving quality, security, and business outcomes.  The DevOps culture promotes a generative, high trust, performance-oriented culture which enables good information flow, cross-functional collaboration and job satisfaction.  This all leads to higher levels of productivity enabling business innovation with lower risk.

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Micro Focus DevOps Interchange 2016

This very important topic will be the main focus of Micro Focus’s first annual global user conference, DevOps Interchange 2016 , September 18-21, 2016 in Chicago, Ill.  Micro Focus’s own John Delk,  Product Group GM at Micro Focus, will kick off the conference with his “Vision 2020” look at how software development and delivery technology will change and how we must adapt and embrace it. We have also invited Gary Gruver, author of “Leading the transformation – Applying DevOps and Agile principles at scale”, to give a keynote talk about DevOps, where to begin, and how to scale DevOps practices over time in large enterprises.  With over 60 technical sessions, focused on how to design, build, test, and deploy applications faster, with less risk in a repeatable, reliable and secure way, this conference will be a great opportunity to network, get solutions for your problems and share your ideas and solutions.  I hope to see you there!

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Great technology never gets old – Linux celebrates 25 years!

As Linux celebrates its 25th birthday, there’s plenty of good cheer going round. Derek Britton grabs a slice of cake and looks into a few of the reasons to celebrate.

Happy 25th Birthday Linux

It’s quite hard to imagine a world without Linux in it, but in reality one of the industry de-facto standard operating environments has just reached its quarter century anniversary. This blog looks at the story of how we got here.

In the IT world of 1991, the desktop market was just blossoming, the personal computer was becoming more powerful, intel were breaking Moore’s law with reckless abandon, and Microsoft were starting to get their act together with a brand new exciting development that was to hit the streets a year later, called Windows. The server market was also expanding. An interminable list of organizations including IBM, HP, Sun, TI, Siemens, ICL, Sequent, DEC, SCO, SGI, Olivetti were building proprietary chips, machines and UNIX variants. UNIX had already by that stage enjoyed significant success since making the leap from academia to commerce, and everyone was trying to get a share of the spoils.

Faced with such a crowded market, how did Linux take off?

The phenomenon that was the Linux revolution has been ascribed to a number of factors, including the market desire for choice, technical freedom, and value for money.

The products on the market at the time were entirely proprietary and cost a lot of money. A vendor lock-in and an expensive contract was not all that appealing to CIOs looking to derive value from their investments in what were ironically referred to as  “open systems” (given the proprietary nature of the systems in question).

Linux plugged the gap in the market of true openness. Because the ownership was in the hands of the community, there were no proprietary elements. And the open source nature of the kernel meant that provided you had a piece of suitable hardware, Linux was basically free to use.

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Technical Altruism

The devisor of Linux, Linux Torvalds, set about improving on other UNIX kernels available at the time, but took the stance that the project should be entirely open. While the idea was his, he merely wanted to invite others to help the idea take root. Indeed Torvalds’ own view of the name was that it sounded too egotistical, and for the first 6 months of the project, the acronym FREAX (an amalgam of “free”, “freak” and “x”) was used as the working title. Only later did he accept that Linux might work better.

Whether such altruism would yield any fruit is easy enough to quantify. Recently, the Linux Foundation released the Linux Kernel Development report stats showing that more than 13,500 developers from 1,300 companies have contributed to the Linux kernel since 2005. Moreover, it isn’t just hobbyist techies in academic labs. The same report indicates that among the top organizations sponsoring Linux kernel development since the last report (which was published in March 2015) included industry giants such as Intel, Red Hat, Samsung, SUSE, IBM, Google, AMD and ARM.

Linux – A Global Player

So much for contributions to the kernel itself, but what about the whole environment, and what about deployments in industry? Did Linux make any headway in the commercial world? Of course the answer is resoundingly affirmative.

Consider just a few of the Linux implementations:

  •  Thousands of major commercial, academic and governmental organizations are now Linux devotees
  • The number of users of Linux is estimated at 86 million, according to SUSE.com
  • Android, the de-facto mobile device environment, is Linux-based
  • The world’s most powerful supercomputers are Linux-based
  • Some of the world’s largest companies, including Amazon and Google, rely heavily on Linux-based servers

Little wonder then that in 2013, Linux overtook the market share of all other proprietary UNIX systems.

But if its open source, who will pay for its future?

A question mark about whether an open source (read: free) environment could be commercial sustainable must also be answered. Arguably the best way to do this might be to look at the health of the organizations who seek to make Linux a commercially viable product. These are the vendors of the various Linux distributions, such as SUSE, Red Hat and Oracle.

Looking at the health of the Linux line of business in each case, we see highly profitable organizations with trend-beating revenue growth in a tough market sector.

Consider all the other players in the sector with their commitment to Linux. IBM has invested millions of dollars in Linux, introducing a new range of Linux-only mainframes branded as LinuxOne. Meanwhile in what might have been seen as unthinkable a few years ago, Windows vendor Microsoft has launched partnerships with Linux vendors including SUSE and Red Hat to provide a collaborative cloud hosting solution.

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Now it’s old, we need to get rid of it, right?

Well we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? It’s getting on a bit so we need to replace it. Like mainframes, like COBOL, like CICS, like Java. These technologies have enjoyed significant anniversaries recently. And in not one single case can you justifiably argue that the age of the technology means it warrants discontinuing. Indeed, most of the ideas might have been formed some time ago, but not unlike Linux, in each case the community and vendors responsible have continued to enhance, improve and augment the technology to keep it relevant, up to date, and viable for the modern era.

In technology, the myth that age implies a lack of value is diametrically incorrect. In IT, age demonstrates value.

No surprises.

At Micro Focus, we love Linux, and we’re not surprised by its success. We’ve long since advocated the use of innovative technology to help support existing value IT investments. Systems and applications that run businesses should be supported, enhanced, innovated, and modernized. At a low cost, without any risk. That’s what Micro Focus has done. Whether it’s with the applications themselves or with the underlying operating environment, building and operating today’s and tomorrow’s digital infrastructure is what we do best.

Indeed, speaking of birthdays, Micro Focus is 40 this year. Enduring value is no stranger to us. Now, who brought the candles?

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?

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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”.

DevOps – pressing ahead

In an IT world that seems to be accelerating all the time, the clamour for faster delivery practices continues. Derek Britton takes a quick look at recent press and industry reports.

Introduction

In many customer meetings I tend to notice the wry smiles when the discussion turns to the topic of IT delivery frequency. The truth is, I don’t recall any conversation where the client has been asked to deliver less to the business than last year. No-one told me, “we’re going fast, and it’s fast enough, thanks”.

The ever-changing needs of an increasingly-vocal user community guarantees that IT’s workload continues to be a challenge. And this prevails across new systems of engagement (mobile and web interfaces, new user devices etc.) as well as systems of record (the back-office, data management, number crunching business logic upon which those systems of engagement depend for their core information).

Moving at pace, however, needs to be carefully managed. Less haste, more speed, in fact. Gartner says a quarter of the Global2000 top companies will be using DevOps this year. Let’s look to another deadline-driven entity, the press, for a current view.

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Banking on DevOps

Speaking to a conference of over 400 at a DevOps conference in London, ING Bank global CIO Ron van Kemenade says investment in new skills and a transition to DevOps is critical as the bank adjusts to a mobile and online future through its “Think Forward” digital strategy.

“We wanted to establish a culture and environment where building, testing and releasing software can happen rapidly, frequently and more reliably. When beginning this journey we started with what matters most: people,” van Kemenade says.

Putting the focus on engineering talent and creating multi-disciplinary teams where software developers partner with operations and business staff has led to more automated processes, a sharp reduction of handovers and a “collaborative performance culture”, he adds.

Speaking at the same event, Jonathan Smart, head of development services at Barclays, talked up an eighteen-month push by the bank to incorporate agile processes across the enterprise

Over the past year-and-a-half, the amount of “strategic spend” going into agile practices and processes has risen from four percent to more than 50%, says Smart, and the company now has over 800 teams involved

To accelerate its own transformation, BBVA has adopting a new corporate culture based on agile methodologies. “The Group needs a cultural change in order to accelerate the implementation of transformation projects. It means moving away from rigid organizational structures toward a more collaborative way of working”, explains Antonio Bravo, BBVA’s Head of Strategy & Planning. “The main goal is to increase the speed and quality of execution.”

Worth SHARing

Little wonder that the IBM mainframe community organization, SHARE, is continuing a significant focus on DevOps at the forthcoming August 2016 show in Atlanta. Tuesday’s keynote speech is called z/OS and DevOps: Communication, Culture and Cloud”, given by members of the Walmart mainframe DevOps team.

Meanwhile, an article featured in Datamation, and tweeted by SHARE, provides further evidence and arguments in favour of adopting the practice. It cites a report from “2016 State of DevOps Report” which says, “[Developers using DevOps] spend 22 percent less time on unplanned work and rework, and are able to spend 29 percent more time on new work”

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Time to Focus

Of course, Micro Focus are neither strangers to SHARE nor to DevOps. At a recent SHARE event, we attended the DevOps discussion panel, discussing technical, operational and cultural aspects.

More recently, Micro Focus’s Solution Director Ed Airey penned an informative article published in SDTimes, outlining a smart approach to mainframe DevOps. The rationale, he says, is simple – competitive pressure to do more.

“Competitive differentiation depends on [organizations’] ability to get software capabilities to market quickly, get feedback, and do it again”

Addressing major challenges to make DevOps a reality, in both mainframe and distributed environments, Airey talks about how major question marks facing DevOps teams can be tackled with smart technology, and refined process; questions such as collaboration, development process, culture, skills, internal justification. He concludes with encouraging projected results, “Standardizing on common tooling also enables productivity improvements, sometimes as high as 40%.”

Of course – not everyone is convinced

Modern delivery practices aren’t for everyone. And indeed some issues sound quite daunting. Take Cloud deployment for example.

Sounds daunting? A recent Tech Crunch article certainly thought so.

We are treated to a variety of clichés about the topic such as “ancient realm” and “the archaic programs”. However, the publication failed to notice some important things about the topic.

Central to the piece is whether COBOL based existing systems could be “moved” to another platform. The inference was that this was an unprecedented, risky exercise. What’s perhaps surprising, to the author at least, is that platform change is no stranger to COBOL. Micro Focus’ support of over 500 platforms since its inception 40 years ago is supplemented by the fact that the COBOL language, thanks to our investment, is highly portable and – perhaps most importantly in this case – platforms such as the Cloud or more specifically Red Hat (alongside SUSE, Oracle and many other brands of UNIX too) are fully supported with our Micro Focus range. That is to say, there was never any issue moving COBOL to these new platforms: you just need to know who to ask.

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Moving Ahead

Anyway, I can’t stop for long, we’re moving fast ourselves, continuing the DevOps discussion. Upcoming deadlines? Find us at SHARE in Atlanta in August, or visit us at a DevDay in the near future, or catch up with us on our website where we’ll be talking more about DevOps and smarter mainframe delivery soon.

Introducing Micro Focus Enterprise Sync: Delivering Faster Change

Delivering Mainframe DevOps involves managing a lot more change a lot more often. This might need improving processes, but also demands more of technology. Amie Johnson unveils how Micro Focus is supporting collaborative change.

Introduction

At Micro Focus, we believe mainframe organizations can achieve DevOps levels of efficiency by just taking advantage of modern, efficient tools, agile development practices and fostering better team collaboration. It’s simply a matter of incrementally removing application delivery bottlenecks.

As such, Micro Focus just introduced a new product within our Enterprise Solution set aimed at helping mainframe developers deliver new releases, faster.

Enterprise Sync tackles head on one of the major delivery bottlenecks our customers encounter: coordinating and orchestrating rapid code change – needed in a DevOps model – using conventional mainframe configuration management tools.

The product supports rapid, contemporary parallel development to provide a means to adopt a more agile delivery method across mainframe development teams.

Why can’t we deliver multiple streams?

DevOps promises to eradicate delays in IT delivery. So, in the mainframe world, what’s the bottleneck?

One of the issues is all about how deliveries are managed. As robust as they are, trusted old mainframe configuration management tools weren’t designed to support parallel development, so multi-stream code merges are difficult, manual and prone to error. But, these mainframe configuration management tools hold unique configuration detail and metadata which are essential to supporting critical mainframe applications. So, while replacing such tools completely is out of the question, customers are looking for ways to support a more agile delivery model.

Removing Barriers

The Micro Focus solution, Enterprise Sync, helps solve the bottleneck associated with a desire to introduce parallel development activities. It does this by replicating mainframe source code to a distributed software configuration management platform. Code changes made via parallel development on the distributed platform are automatically synchronized with the mainframe SCM environment, such as CA Endevor. The integration and synchronization effectively introduces a new paradigm of speed and accuracy in delivering parallel development streams for mainframe delivery. This seamless integration with established software change management tools uniquely addresses the need to deliver faster change while preserving the organization’s valuable investment in mainframe processes and their software change and configuration management environment.

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As part of the wider Micro Focus Enterprise product set, Enterprise Sync works collaboratively with our flagship mainframe application development tool, Enterprise Developer, to deliver:

  • Easier parallel development at scale across releases or teams
  • Greater efficiency through management and visualization of code change using modern tools
  • Alignment with current mainframe development process and source code
  • Improved developer productivity through continuous integration of key updates

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Find out more

Establishing a modern mainframe delivery environment may be central to your DevOps strategy. Learn more about how Micro Focus can help with a complementary Value Profile Service. See what’s possible and hear more about how Micro Focus has helped transform mainframe application delivery.

Achieve DevOps levels of efficiency, flexibility and collaboration. Learn more about the new Enterprise Sync release on the website, or download the product datasheet.

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#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

DLblog

DevOps – a faster voyage of discovery

Tackling IT change is adversely affected by the complexity of the application landscape. Yet, problems getting up to speed in enterprise IT systems might be a thing of the past, as David Lawrence learns in his first Micro Focus blog

Accelerating delivery starts with automating understanding

Anyone been asked to do less this year? Thought not.

Anyone been able to simplify their IT systems recently? Figured as much…

As IT teams continue their turnover, and the rate of change required to keep decades-old portfolios productive increases, the ability to mobilize and plan for change is coming into sharp relief.

Yet, as the article from CIO magazine describes, the impending shortage of COBOL programmers will complicate efforts to keep these assets productive. Moreover, the increasing IT backlog (referred to by others as “IT Debt,” for example in this 2010 Gartner report) illustrates the urgency of improving the productivity of new developers as quickly as possible. A team that has been in place for decades, and has probably created a significant proportion of the portfolio they are now maintaining, will have an easier time keeping up with the backlog than will a team of individuals who are unfamiliar with the code.

Application discovery is a necessary part of the work of a developer, or programmer, who is new to a project or to a part of the application portfolio they are unfamiliar with. Traditionally, it is a trial and error process consisting of searching through tens or hundreds of source files, deciphering cryptic comments and locating references to significant data elements. And the language of these core systems? More often than not, COBOL.

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A DevOps Approach?

The benefits of replacing error-prone manual tasks with automated tools are well understood and form the bedrock of the rationale for the DevOps initiative.

Understanding of an application is crucial not just to get the new programmer up to speed. It’s also necessary for performing due diligence and following good practice. Compliance and oversight rules in organizations I speak with mandate that the impact of a proposed change to an application in production must be thoroughly understood, and usually documented in the form of an impact analysis, before the change can be deployed to the production environment.

DevOps is about automating as much of the application lifecycle as is feasible, to shorten time to production and reduce errors and resulting delays. This includes the early stages of discovery, analysis, requirements gathering, and so on.

The traditional means of discovery and analysis  of mainframe applications is a manual, and usually unbounded task, difficult to schedule and plan.

Automating the Discovery process

If we take the DevOps perspective of seeing what could be done to eliminate application discovery – usually a laborious, manual effort – it holds that this is an activity that is ripe for automation. What if, instead of chasing through one file after another, the programmer had at his disposal, a means to quickly and accurately visualize the structure and flow of the application? Such a solution could be used to not only reduce the effort of discovery, it could also automate another crucial task: Complete and accurate impact analysis. Application updates have been known to fail in production due to an inadequate understanding of the impact of the update.

Application Discovery Benefits

Solutions from Micro Focus and other vendors help automate discovery by automatically creating a visual representation of the application. By revealing artifacts like control flow and data references in an IDE instead of through the ISPF editor, the new programmer’s task of familiarizing himself with a new application is simplified. At the same time, the capability to automatically create impact analysis reports helps move your organization further along the path to DevOps.

Better yet, the same analysis information can be provided not only at the stage of initial examination (potentially scoping out a task for others), but also at the point of change, when the developer needs to know what to change, where and why, and what impacts this will have.

Figure 1Automated analysis at the point of change
Figure 1Automated analysis at the point of change

Conclusion – Automating the Journey

The demographic trends in the IT world are helping to exacerbate the IT backlog issue. People who know these systems may have moved on. Or the task of maintenance has been sub-contracted out to a team of staff who have no familiarity with the system. The increasing velocity of business and new models of customer interaction are additional factors in adding to the workload of COBOL programmers. A solution that speeds up development activities and reduces the risk through elimination or reduction of manual steps, makes a lot of sense. Moving the organization closer to their own DevOps objectives involves automating as much as possible – starting with knowing the systems being changed, using technology such as Micro Focus Enterprise Analyzer, should be seriously considered.

David Lawrence

Global Sales Enablement Specialist

DLblog