Dale Vecchio has spent many years in the mainframe business, including 18 or so years with Gartner covering the mainframe beat. Today, he works as chief marketing officer at LzLabs, which recently conducted a survey with Microsoft on mainframe use: info.lzlabs.com/lzlabs-microsoft-…ation-survey-2018
The results may or may not surprise you depending on your views on mainframes. It seems that a very high majority of mainframe users would like to ditch their mainframes if they could. There are some other interesting results here as well.
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone, it’s Alan Shimel, DevOps.com, and you’re listening to another DevOps Chat. Happy to be joined by our guest who’s actually in London today, and he’s Dale Vecchio. Dale is with LzLabs. Dale, welcome to DevOps Chat.
Dale Vecchio: Thanks, Alan. Great to talk to ya.
Shimel: Great to have you here. So, Dale, let’s first do a little sort of level-set. Give us a little bit of your personal background, maybe your journey, and then tie that into how you come to LzLabs and what they’re about.
Vecchio: Sure, Alan. I’m currently the chief marketing officer at LzLabs, which was a startup company out of Switzerland designed to help customers move mainframe workload to modern x86 open-cloud environments. But, before that, I was 18 years a Gartner analyst, covering the mainframe. I probably took 10,000 inquiries over those years, to mainframe customers all over the world. And I used to joke I was the only Gartner analyst with a theme song, and it was called “Should I Say or Should I Go” by The Clash.
Vecchio: ‘Cause mainframe customers weren’t quite sure if they wanted to stay or they wanted to go, and I said, “Well, here’s the challenges and opportunities if you stay; here’s the challenges and opportunities if you go. You make the decision. I don’t have a dog in this fight.” But I was 18 years a mainframe software vendor. I grew up as a mainframe application developer and assembler, Citrix programmer, the whole nine yards, so I’ve been dealing with this platform, on one way or the other, for four decades.
Shimel: Yeah. You know, Dale, it’s funny; you get to a certain age, not that I’m saying you’re old, but I am, and you get to a certain age and you’re surprised how many people that you’ve dealt with, that you run into, who, actually, their root’s in IT, where “I was a mainframe developer. I was writing code on mainframes back in ’70s, ’80s, even ’90s,” and that’s very different, of course, than generations past, people who’ve come into the workplace since 2000, let’s say, or whatever.
So, Dale, you have that historical perspective. Look, there’re people who – and, like you said, you have a dog in the race. I’m in the same boat. Right? We get cutting-edge DevOps, Agile people who say, “If it’s not on the cloud and SaaS, it just can’t keep up to today’s pace,” and then I run into a lot of people whose businesses still run on mainframe. You guys actually did a survey – I think it was in conjunction or in partnership with Microsoft?
Shimel: On kinda people’s attitudes towards their mainframe, if you will.
Vecchio: That’s right. Because I’ve always found the challenge for the mainframe, moving forward, is not a technical one. It’s a great box; I’ve always been a fan of the box and the hardware. The problem is that people have lost faith in it being the only platform in town. I mean, you can’t say, “I can’t run mission-critical workload on the cloud or in x86.” I mean, I don’t know how – how does Amazon do it? Or eBay? Or Google? Or Facebook? Or any global startup in the last 20 years hasn’t been built on a mainframe, so there are technical options. But the disciples of the mainframe – as you said, baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 – even if an organization says, “I wanna have young developers,” your decision-makers, you database administrators, your system programmers, those guys are not young.
Shimel: Right. They cut their teeth on ’em.
Vecchio: And I always used to say that the biggest decider of whether customer wanted to stay on a mainframe or not was the age of the CIO ’cause, if you want an older CIO, as you said, you grew up in the world; you understand the value proposition of the box. If you’re a younger person, not so much. So that skill survey that we did, we wanted to get some objective measures from 500 senior IT leaders around the globe – “What is it you think about this platform?”
There’s two things that came out of that that was pretty shocking. First off, almost everybody has open-source, cloud, and Agile development as key components of their IT strategy, moving forward. Now does that say the mainframe can’t participate in those? No. Is it where you’re mostly likely to find those things? Probably not. So that’s the first part. The second part was 94 percent of the respondents said they would consider getting off the mainframe, number one, which is a shocking number to me.
Vecchio: I didn’t say they will. Said they were –
Shimel: No, no.
Vecchio: Which, 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have got that kind of number. But I think the one that was more surprising to us was that half of the mainframe companies that we surveyed have lost faith because IBM is more focused on the cloud and Watson. And they not even sure that the keeper of the flame is as focused on that platform as, say, Compuware, who is 100-percent focused on that. I mean, they have a great DevOps story.
Shimel: Yep. Well, look, all of the mainframe people have developed a DevOps story, right, Dale? Whether it’s IBM – as you said, the keeper of the flame – or the Compuwares, the CAs, and there’s a few others we’ve dealt with that are mainframe vendors and stuff. Here’s how I kinda – couple of things. First of all, that 50-percent number on people’s perception about IBM’s focus on the mainframe? I get it. You know, I go to IBM Think every year. It’s this huge – it’s in Moscone this year and it’s a huge floor. And you look at how much is dedicated to mainframe versus the shiny, new objects.
Last year – well, it’s been Watson for a few years, but, this past year, it was the – not “cognitive.” What’s the new computers? It was like a copper machine – eh, whatever. I forgot the name of – it’ll come to me, I’m sure, while we’re talking. But, anyway. But, yet, when you look at the bottom line, when you look at the revenue – and I’m not a stock pundit and I’m not here giving anyone investment advice, right?
Vecchio: Nor I. Nor I.
Shimel: Their revenue still comes, way, way, way more than they would like to really tell, comes from mainframe.
Vecchio: Well, their profit does. Their profit does.
Shimel: Their profit. Yeah.
Vecchio: Yeah. That’s for sure. I mean, this is a challenge for anyone with a mainframe. It’s not a bad box. You’re faced with the challenges of skills decline. Most of the, if not all of the, vendors in the space are very focused on maintenance revenue. And why would anybody buy Rocket or CA, why would an investor look at that, unless they were managing the maintenance revenue streams? So that doesn’t bode well. This is not about whether that box is any good; it’s the dynamics of the market are working against it.
Shimel: I get it. Yeah, by the way, it was “quantum computing.”
Shimel: That was brought up _____ _____ _____.
Vecchio: Oh, yeah, quantum computing. Yeah.
Shimel: Yeah. That was definitely the shiny bullet at last year’s Think. And you’re right. Look, you got Chris O’Malley at Compuware and he’s all mainframe and he’s not shy about it either. CA – a lot of people are saying the whole reason Broadcom bought CA was for mainframe – I don’t know if I buy that either.
Vecchio: Well, for mainframe revenue.
Vecchio: For mainframe –
Shimel: Well, more for using the mainframe customer base to go sell routers and switches, which I’m not – we’ll talk about that offline. But let’s stick to the survey. So, yeah, I can understand the 50 percent. It doesn’t jive, of course, with IBM’s profits, but here’s my kind of basic nitty-gritty on this issue, Dale, is, yeah, we’d all – look, I’d like to get a different car. I’d like to do something different. The problem is that trillions – and it is literally trillions of dollars that have been sunk into mainframe. I don’t know how many organizations can just afford to walk away from that.
Vecchio: Well, this is sorta the challenge, when you talk about this, is it becomes a very black-or-white conversation. People talk, “Oh, you’re saying the mainframe is dead?” No, we’re not saying the mainframe is dead. All we’re talking about is mainframe’s getting marginalized to the high end of workload. If you went back 20, 30 years ago, there were 30,000 or 40,000 mainframes. Now there’s maybe 3,000 or 4,000 mainframes. Well, sure, they’re much bigger than they were, so there’s been some consolidation, but, even in the number of customers, there are fewer.
One of the things that I always found, the time I was at Gartner and even out of what these survey numbers tell me, is they want to get off. They want to. They don’t because they’re not sure they want the risk, number one, and, number two, they don’t have to ’cause they still have the people. But, as those – every single one of them in that survey, 85 percent of ’em, said, “Yeah, we have got a problem.”
So you’re either gonna fix the problem or you’re not, and that gets us to the whole conversation about DevOps – just “Can I bring my hammer to the mountain or the mountain to my hammer?” Can I bring all of that DevOps, Agile mindset to a platform where the culture is a 180 degrees from that? You know, all of the things on a mainframe were designed for security, reliability, availability; they weren’t there for speed. There’s not all the automated testing. People don’t understand these applications and what they do. You know, we used to joke, “These aren’t legacy systems; they’re leprosy systems,” ’cause nobody wanted to touch ’em ’cause they might lose a body part.
So how are you gonna do Agile and DevOps in that environment? So is it technically possible? Absolutely. Does Compuware have a compelling story? Absolutely. Have they convinced enough that you believe that the future of the mainframe is bright or it’s gonna continue to decline? I –
Shimel: I don’t know. I mean, I guess time will tell us that. I’ve often thought, “Why can’t you duplicate the resiliency, the power, if you will, of the mainframe?”
Vecchio: Ah, that’s a great question, Alan. Because part of – the mainframe was very much a scale-up world. You know, if you wanted more processing power, you added more MIPS. One single operating system, unified database, transaction monitors, et cetera. It is absolutely 100-percent unique _____ _____. Everything else is scale-out.
Vecchio: Like, “How could I take a scale-up environment and move it to scale-out?” And that’s what we’ve tried to do with our software-defined mainframe, is to give someone the ability to move an application without recompiling it, without changing the data, down to an environment that now will do scale-out. So just take full advantage of Linux, of OpenStack, of cloud-deployment models, take that exact same application and now I can run it in a scale-out world. That’s only the first step because you’re gonna wanna maintain it and then you’re gonna wanna transition to modern languages. But it’s a lot easier to take advantage of the innovation and community of open-source off the mainframe than it is on, you know?
Vecchio: Sure, IBM has Linux on the mainframe. Sure. But you tell me where the community and innovation is going. Right? It’s going to cloud; it’s going to x86; it’s going everywhere else.
Shimel: You know what? It’s going – well, look, you could run containers and stuff on mainframe, but, look, when I’m talking to startups and even enterprises now, Dale, who are “high-performing IT organizations,” let’s call them, right? They’re not Google and they’re not Facebook, but they’re not necessarily iron miners or something, right?
Vecchio: Yeah, okay.
Shimel: They’re talking about things like Kubernetes and serverless and microservices, and I’m not saying that you couldn’t run these on a mainframe. I’m just saying I don’t think – I don’t know if it’s the right tool for the job. You know, one thing I learned as I grew up: I was never a handy guy, Dale, right, but tools make the man. Right? And –
Shimel: You know what I’m saying? And so I –
Vecchio: Tools are your – Alan, you’re 100-percent right. And this idea of bringing DevOps to the mainframe, which is Compuware’s story, depends on two things. First, you have to have the tooling, as you said, to make that happen, but much, much harder. And I even read some of the posts up on DevOps.com about this – the culture is the challenge.
Vecchio: So you can’t just try and take the culture and bring the tools into that world and expect it to take. It’s not gonna do it. Now – so we’re sorta the other way around. We’re saying, “Bring that workload to the world where DevOps readily – ”
Shimel: That culture exists. Right.
Vecchio: Right? Now are you gonna keep running those applications? No, but, to your point, they’re not so easy to change, in a big way. But, if I can get out of the complexities of the operational environment – ’cause DevOps is a combination of operations and Agile development, as you all understand – sure, I can do the Agile development; how do I deal with the operational side of that? How do I do all of the automation that’s required? How can I take a fix – can you imagine trying to roll out one-tenth of the fixes that Amazon does in a day, on a mainframe.
Vecchio: Very, very difficult to do.
Vecchio: And I would ask you, any large customer that you speak to, if you said to them, “If you had to do it all over again right now, would you build it on the mainframe?” And I’ll bet ya seven out of ten would say, “No.” So the challenge for mainframers is it’s hard to get off, but the challenges of staying are not free either. So, to me, bringing DevOps and Agile to the mainframe is 100-percent reasonable, intelligent story. I haven’t seen it be successful. And I think the dynamics of the workforce are in play.
Shimel: Yep. So, Dale, we don’t have a lot of time, but I wanna ask you, so I’m not as familiar with your company; this is our first conversation. I’d love to see some case studies of companies who have sorta migrated to software-as-a-mainframe kind of thing and see what their experience has been, and so forth. How _____ _____ _____ –
Vecchio: Yeah. Well, that’s –
Shimel: How long are you guys offering this?
Vecchio: That’s just a perfectly reasonable thing to do and I’ll see, when we’re offline, if we can’t make that happen. There’s two parts to this whole conversation of moving mainframe workload. One is the infrastructure side, the operational side, and the second one is the applications, running the application technology itself. And our solution is designed to allow you to move the applications and get rid of the infrastructure side and take full advantage of a Linux, VM, OpenStack, OpenShift container world in order to do that. That’s the first part of the conversation. There is not many people that we speak to who aren’t intrigued by the notion of cloud.
Vecchio: Whether it’s public or private.
Vecchio: Once you say that, what you’re saying is “I want to be in an Agile, scale-out world.”
Vecchio: Now the problem is so few of the vendors left in the mainframe world are actually innovating. And I assert Compuware’s one of ’em, but, for the most part, they seem to be more interested in managing a maintenance revenue stream. That’s not really conducive for what we’re trying to accomplish.
Shimel: Understood. You know what, Dale? We’re gonna need to continue this conversation ’cause we’re about out of time, but let’s do that. Fascinating stuff. And you know what? People make fun of mainframes and say, “Boring,” but this really is fascinating stuff, right? And it’s real-world ’cause there’s still a lot of stuff running on those mainframes.
Vecchio: Nobody wants to get off because it’s a bad box. ‘Cause it’s not. I mean, it’s an incredible piece of engineering. No question –
Shimel: Yeah, it really is. It’s still a _____ _____.
Vecchio: Also, it’s hard to get out.
Shimel: All right. Dale Vecchio – was it CMO or VP marketing?
Shimel: CMO at LzLabs. Thanks for being our guest on DevOps Chat today. Good luck and we’ll be speaking to you soon.
Vecchio: My pleasure, Alan.
Shimel: All righty.