Enterprise Executive Mar-Apr 2015 : Page 14
MAINFRAME DECISIONPOINT: Aggressive Leverage or Toxic Disinvestment? It 14 | is always important for companies to cut cost wherever possible. But businesses don’t exist to cut costs. They exist to generate value. So, cost-cutting campaigns that undermine the ability of a company to deliver differentiated value will always backfire in the long term. BY CHRIS O’MALLEY E nt e rp r i s e E xe c u t i ve | March /Apr il 2015 >
MAINFRAME DECISION-POINT: Aggressive Leverage or TOXIC DISINVESTMENT?
It is always important for companies to cut cost wherever possible. But businesses don’t exist to cut costs. They exist to generate value. So, cost-cutting campaigns that undermine the ability of a company to deliver differentiated value will always backfire in the long term.
This distinction between reasonable cost cutting and toxic disinvestment has become particularly crucial when it comes to the mainframe. With IT under pressure to support so many different initiatives— including Big Data, analytics, mobility, IoT telemetry and software-defined everything— there’s a temptation to shift resources away from the mainframe.
It can also be very tempting to accept the extremely deep discounts being offered by mainframe software vendors within inferior application development and performance solutions that know how much financial pressure IT is under—and are trying to take advantage of that pressure to consolidate control over their enterprise accounts.
But enterprise executives must muster the fortitude not to succumb to toxic mainframe disinvestment. In fact, we are at a turning point where the long-term winners and losers are likely to be separated by whether they invest in the ability to aggressively leverage their mainframe application assets—including code, data and the power of the platform itself—or instead, allow those assets to languish because they were distracted by end-of- quarter discounts and shiny new technologies of the hour.
the millennial turning Point
There are three primary reasons why this is a critical time to strategically re-invest in the mainframe, rather than succumb to toxic disinvestment.
First, and foremost, is the generational shift in mainframe application stewardship. As veteran mainframe developers retire, IT must ensure that a new generation of millennial IT professionals is fully equipped to maintain and advance mainframe systems of record.
This is a non-trivial challenge. In fact, it is not unlike what the industry faced with Y2K—except rather than confronting a hard deadline with the threat of instant system failure, IT organizations are confronting a multiyear window with the threat of gradual irreplaceable system deterioration. But the stakes are just as high. In 1999, your business was at risk unless you remediated your date issues. In 2015, your business is at risk unless you remediate your staffing issues.
This shift in mainframe application stewardship requires more than just recruiting and training. It requires significant re-tooling as well. The next generation of mainframe developers, managers and analysts need tools that allow them to quickly gain mastery of complex, mission critical COBOL and PL/I systems. They need tools that allow them to work with mainframe and non-mainframe data in a common manner. And they need collaborative tools that let them work in more community-like models with similar development agility and velocity regardless of platform
In addition, because the broader digital environment continues to evolve at such a rapid pace—and because nobody can fully predict exactly what kinds of capabilities millennials will want or need even a mere six months to a year from now—they need tools that get upgraded more frequently than once a year. And those upgrades can’t just have token feature enhancements. They have to genuinely and innovatively address the evolving requirements of mainframe teams that will be under intense pressure to meet the relentlessly evolving expectations of digital business.
The Software-Based Economy
Those evolving needs are the second factor that make this a critical time for mainframe investment. We are on the cusp of another technological revolution—one that may actually dwarf the advent of distributed computing or the dawn of the Internet era in terms of scale, impact and complexity. Ubiquitous wireless connectivity, miniaturization and self-learning heuristics are making the Internet of Everything a reality. The result is market disruption on a global scale. Seven years ago, Airbnb didn’t exist. Today, it books more rooms than the world’s largest conventional hotel chain. And technically it’s not even a hospitality company. It’s an application company.
Every company in every industry has to be on guard against similar software-driven disruption. So, the code and data running on mainframes isn’t just some “legacy” assets requiring minimal maintenance. It is critical intellectual property that companies have to leverage if they’re going to survive and thrive in the new digital marketplace.
Putting the mainframe in the hands of millennials is therefore not some unfortunate necessity brought about by the inexorable march of time. It actually represents an epochal opportunity for companies with decades of investment in mainframe code to see what a new generation of innovators can do with that code and data to ensure the competitive future of the business.
An Unmatched Platform
A third reason that forward-thinking investment in the mainframe is so important today is the platform itself. IBM has done an incredible job of engineering the z Systems platform to be the most powerful, scalable, reliable and secure computing environment on the planet. The economics of the platform are extremely compelling as well—especially when it comes to incremental costs for additional workloads. After all, you don’t have to hire more people when you add 1,000 MIPS or 20 TB to your mainframe. But in the distributed world of high marginal total cost, you have to staff up and hope you still have room in your data center.
The latest advances in z Systems architecture make it even more relevant to a world of massive mobile transaction volume, real-time analytics and cloud infrastructure. So, rather than retreating from the platform, global financial institutions and others are driving more workloads its way.
But you can’t take advantage of z13’s speed, security and efficiency if you disinvest in mainframe application stewardship. And, as the forces of scale and speed drive even greater demand in the coming years, you won’t get to participate in any of the other advances IBM is likely to bring to the platform in the coming years. So, sure, it makes sense to invest in Hadoop and OpenStack and other such technologies as they emerge. But not at the expense of the mainframe.
Investing in Agile
Of course, it’s all very well and good to encourage enterprise executives to invest— rather than disinvest—in the mainframe. But what shape should that investment take? What distinguishes smart, value-centric allocation of limited budget resources from mere inertia-driven spending as usual?
Clearly, one of the hallmarks of smart re-investment is the embrace of Agile-enabled tools. A shift from conventional mainframe monolithic toolkits to Agile-enabled toolkits supports more aggressive leveraging of the mainframe in several ways.
Agile accelerates the delivery of necessary new functionality. Given the speed at which the digital environment is evolving, IT organizations can no longer afford to wait 365 days to get the new capabilities they need. These new capabilities are important for enhancing the applications that are already running on the mainframe and for improving the way those applications support and integrate with systems running in the broader distributed/cloud environment.
In addition, truly optimized exploitation of the z13 platform’s power will ideally entail developing and running entirely new application workloads on the mainframe— rather than falling into the rut of running all new workloads on commodity x86 machines. IT organizations can only become more aggressive about developing these new mainframe application workloads (especially on z13-resident virtual Java and Linux instances) if they have new tools that inspire millennials to do so.
Agile ensures alignment of new functionality with real-world needs. Agile doesn’t just entail fast delivery of software deliverables. It is also a means of continuously ensuring that those deliverables are tightly aligned with users’ requirements, as they are most currently understood. As noted above, this is especially important today given that no one can credibly claim to be able to fully predict exactly what sort of tools a new generation of millennial mainframe innovators will need a year or more from now.
IT organizations therefore don’t just need new tools. They need partnerships with tool vendors that are committed to a dynamic, ongoing dialog with the market and a radically new degree of responsiveness to that dialog. Mainframe software tools’ innovation agenda, or lack thereof, can no longer be imposed by mainframe software vendors. They must be driven by the requirements of millennial mainframe innovation teams inspired to find new solutions to new challenges.
Agile demonstrates shared commitment. Another way to understand the importance of Agile is to think about what it means if a mainframe tool vendor is not embracing Agile. A failure to embrace Agile is not only an indicator that a mainframe tool vendor does not have the right vision for the platform going forward. It is also likely an indicator of that vendor’s disinvestment in mainframe development.
That simply doesn’t make sense. IT organizations that plan on aggressively re-investing in the mainframe in order to better achieve their business objectives over the next three to five years need partners that are on a similar investment trajectory. Agile delivery is the most convincing and concrete demonstration of a shared commitment to that trajectory.
Chris o’malley is CEO of Compuware. With nearly 30 years of IT experience, he is deeply committed to leading Compuware’s transformation into the “mainframe software company for the next 50 years.” His past positions include CEO of VelociData, CEO of Nimsoft, EVP of CA Technologies’ Cloud Products & Solutions and EVP/GM of their mainframe business unit, where he led the successful transformation of that division.