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Can Your Mainframe Dance?

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:40 PM

The mainframe is the most powerful, reliable, scalable, secure and cost-effective computing platform on the planet. Unfortunately, it has not historically been the most agile one.

But that’s about to change. So if you want to optimally leverage the power of your IBM z Systems environment to deliver competitive advantages to your business, it’s time to teach your mainframe to dance.

Here’s why.

The Mobility Imperative

Mobility is transforming the way people work and live. It’s also transforming the way companies interact with their customers. Top-performing employees and top-buying customers want to be able to cross items off their to-do lists at any time from any location. So mobile apps—both employee- and customer-facing—are the key to better business performance.

There are two truths to keep in mind about mobile apps, however. One is that mobile development is a moving target. No one ever gets their apps right the first time or the last time. That’s because mobile development must be highly iterative to keep up with customers’ constantly evolving needs and expectations. Plus, as developers monitor user behaviors, they can constantly discover opportunities for app improvements.

The other is that mobile apps depend heavily on multiple back-end systems. So to deliver great mobile apps, you have to be able to slice and dice data, transactional capabilities and business logic from your IBM z Systems environment in whatever way is required. You also have to be able to do this quickly in order to iterate your mobile apps at an appropriately rapid pace. And, most likely, you have to do this in concert with the various other applications and databases you have running on your distributed and/or cloud platforms.

Simply put, mobility demands agility. So if your mainframe DevOps team is slow, your company’s mobile deliverables will suffer. And that, in turn, can have serious business consequences.

Mainframe Agility: More Than Just Quick Coding

One common misconception about mainframe agility is that it only requires the ability to quickly turn around code requests. This is only partially true. Yes, it is important to be able to modify existing COBOL applications and/or spin up new Java programs in your z Systems environment. But mainframe agility is much more than that.

Agile workload management, for example, is also important. Mobile workloads can be very volatile. One day, a certain database query may show very little activity. The next day, that activity can spike through the roof.

To handle these kinds of spikes, you have to be able to monitor resource utilization on a very granular basis. You also have to be prepared to respond if a spike in activity for a given process is creating a performance bottleneck because mobile users have very little tolerance for sluggish performance.

You have to be able to continuously relate workloads to costs to keep your z Systems environment financially optimized. This is a non-trivial issue given that spikes in mobile workloads combined with less-than-perfectly-engineered code can dramatically increase rolling four-hour averages on your LPARs—resulting in much higher monthly software licensing costs.

And agility isn’t just functional. It’s also organizational. So, ideally, you should have some way for your non-mainframe developers and data science pros to understand your mainframe data and business logic in the context of the other back-end resources at their disposal. That way, your ability to deliver new app capabilities won’t get slowed down by endless email threads and hard-to-schedule conference calls.

Agile Mainframes Need Agile Tools

In addition to requiring functional and organizational agility, mainframe teams seeking to keep pace with the relentlessly evolving demands of an increasingly mobile world need highly agile access to new tools.

This is not something mainframe teams have previously experienced. Historically, mainframe vendors have upgraded their tools annually—so mainframe teams have become accustomed to waiting a long time to get new features and capabilities.

But in today’s fast-moving world, those extended product cycles have become problematic. Mainframe teams have to innovate more aggressively, so they need tools that help them do so.

Also, mainframe-related work is increasingly going to be performed by millennials who have grown up with rapidly iterated technologies. Most of them can’t comprehend the notion of a vendor that doesn’t constantly refresh their toolkits with new, relevant capabilities.

In fact, above and beyond these three specific aspects of mainframe agility—functional agility, organizational agility and agile access to new enabling technologies—most mainframe teams will need to make a profound cultural shift to become more responsive to the rapidly changing needs of the business and its customers.

Ultimately, such a cultural shift requires strong leadership from the CIO. So if you have leadership responsibilities for a mainframe-enabled IT organization, it’s time to start thinking about how you can transform its culture and its processes to make it more agile. The z Systems platform itself is already ideal for delivering great mobile apps to your internal and external constituencies. Making the most of that platform is up to you.

Dennis O’Flynn is vice president, Product Development of Compuware, which empowers the world’s largest companies to excel in the digital economy by fully leveraging their high-value mainframe intellectual property—and which uses Agile methodology to release new market-driven mainframe tools on a quarterly.

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