Christopher O’Malley is one of the leading voices in the DevOps for mainframe community. He is relentless in advocating how the mainframe platform can not only exist but also thrive in today’s Agile/DevOps environments. His evangelism keeps his company, Compuware, front and center in the mainframe DevOps discussion and it really lifts the entire market.
In this DevOps Chat, we catch up with Chris to talk about the latest release of Topaz, trends in the mainframe market and what we can expect in the near term.
Chris is always a great interview with lots to say and this interview is right on point. As usual, the streaming audio is immediately below, followed by the transcript of our conversation.
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone, it’s Alan Shimel, DevOps.com, and you’re listening to another DevOps Chat. This DevOps Chat features a return of our friend, Chris O’Malley, CEO of Compuware. Chris, happy 2019 and welcome back to DevOps Chat.
Chris O’Malley: Thank you and glad to be here, Alan.
Shimel: Absolutely. You know, Chris, it is. It’s 2019; DevOps continues to mature. And I think one of the trends that we’ve seen, certainly over the last year and I expect it to even accelerate this year, is changes are coming to the DevOps and mainframe market. Right? Mainframes aren’t going anywhere; in fact, shops that are using mainframes, I think their footprints are increasing, rather than decreasing.
And, from what we see in our readers and in talking to them, is that they are eagerly anticipating new developments, new functionality, that their mainframe software will offer, that will allow them to leverage DevOps types of foundations, DevOps types of functionality. And, I mean, DevOps and Agile and, really, code word: continuous delivery, all of these new ways that we’re defining the modern software factory, if you will. You’re in the driver’s seat for it, right, Chris? I mean, Compuware is kinda leading this charge. What do you see – you know, put on your analyst glasses here. What do you see in the market?
O’Malley: Well, first, just confirming what you said about the mainframe, is that the z14 has been awakening, I think, for customers and analysts, in terms of its success, so the z14 is the most successful mainframe model in over a decade. It’s had five consecutive quarters of year-over-year growth, which probably hasn’t happened in maybe forever. And, as you said, the reason that’s happening is the mainframe is still unmatched in terms of its reliability, its performance, its security, its transactional efficiency. And all of those things, all those virtues, are incredibly important in a digital age, where you try to basically create a customer experience through software. So the mainframe, as you say, it’s not just doing well; it’s actually doing better than historically because of the digital age.
O’Malley: So, just giving my disposition on the mainframe and the mainframe’s role within DevOps, I think, if you kinda zoom out a little bit to make sense of what’s happening to the mainframe, you gotta start first with the fact that all of these companies that use mainframe are of a mindset that “We’ve gotta be customer-centric. We’ve gotta serve our customers, whether they’re individuals, if they’re federal agencies, whether they’re citizens or it’s business-to-business.” But, for 100 years and for 100 years from today, companies that are the most customer-centric, obsessed with customers, do the best.
And, when you look at kinda this modern age, to do well from a customer-centric perspective, you’ve gotta create awesome digital experiences. And that’s done by writing software. So companies – you know, and Amazon has taken the lead in a lot of these kinda more newer-age companies. They’re incredibly good at taking ideas that matter to customers – and, again, it’s usually through digital means, increasingly – rapidly turning those into deliverables that make a difference. And, whether it’s centered on creating these awesome experiences and when they kinda look at the measures of what they’ve gotta do better to turn those ideas into deliverables, they’ve gotta be really good at velocity, how fast they do those things. They can’t do it in ways that compromise quality, so quality has gotta be something that’s constantly getting better and they’ve gotta become more efficient.
I mean, in the manufacturing space, they talk a lot about getting rid of non-value-added efforts and thinking about retooling things that are a cause for technical debt, that encumber your ability to increase velocity and improve quality, so you’ve gotta fixate on the efficiency side of it. So these three metrics are emerging as foundational to improving things like customer sat and improving financial performance.
So, when you start now getting closer to large enterprise IT, you’ve got a mainframe, these ideas that matter to customers don’t neatly fall either on the mainframe, in terms of the coding work that’s gotta be done or the cloud or some other platform, almost always, these ideas span these platforms. So there’s a necessity to improve velocity, quality, and efficiency across the entire enterprise.
So, you know, the mainframe, historically, has been this kind of silo-ed organization that had its own culture, its own set of processes, its own set of tooling. And, as you said, the mainframe’s not going away for all the right reasons. In terms of creating these awesome experiences, reliability matters. Performance matters. Security matters. How efficiently you do that, from a cost standpoint, matters. But you gotta draw the mainframe to be a like system and make it different only in syntax from these other platforms.
So there’s a strong move within these large enterprise ITs to break down this silo, get rid of a house divided against itself, bring the mainframe into a culture that’s centered on innovation, not on maintenance, bring it from waterfall to Agile, to bring it to a tooling set that’s familiar to non-mainframe platforms, the products like Jenkins and SonarSource and SonarLint or Paris. All these type tools that are used aggressively to improve velocity, quality, efficiencies on these other platforms, bring these to bear on the mainframe.
So that’s what’s causing, I think, the mainframe to be in this kind of disrupted state of trying to get the culture to move, getting people to think and behave differently, to embrace this kind of new order of how work is done, Agile techniques specifically, and to get away from – you know, the mainframe has always been selectively automated in incredible ways. I mean, the transaction volumes it can support are unmatched within the marketplace, but it’s selective automation, not intrinsic automation, which is a big part of what DevOps tries to push. And getting rid of non-value-added work on the mainframe and getting to the point that the value-added work can be done, again, faster, greater-quality, greater-efficiency.
So that dynamic is now gone from kind of innovators and early adopters within the mainframe market, you’re now getting into more of the early majority, so you’re seeing it more prod-based, in terms of people looking at the mainframe as that “We’ve gotta make this like any other platform.” And I think the success of the z14 makes sense, why it’s doing so well. Not just better than the z13, but better than previous releases over in the last 10, 20 years, so it’s exciting times in the mainframe. And I think its success is gonna be something you see emerging over the next ten years.
You’ll see fits and starts and, obviously, problems, but one of the things that’s making me so excited – you’re seeing successes in the market that are outrageous. We’ve got customers at Compuware that are increasing their development productivity by a factor of 4, I mean, a 400-percent increase in productivity, so they’re getting 4 times the number of story points completed within a release cycle. They’re taking testing time from weeks to minutes and with better quality. And, when that is understood by customers, you know, if you can go from weeks to minutes, that’s a lot of non-value-added work that you’re doing, right? That’s like burning money in the parking lot because a customer’s not gonna give you more money to do the same or less quality in what you can do in minutes, as opposed to somebody that’s a laggard doing it in two weeks.
O’Malley: So you’re seeing these amazing success stories. Again, it’s not just our tools; it’s _____ –
Shimel: No, no, it’s important – Chris, it’s that 10X, right? Everyone’s looking for that 10X. And we’re starting – you know, 4X is great; 5X is better. We’re getting those – we’re hearing success stories, the 10X success stories, with mainframe. And it goes back to something else you said, that, instead of people saying, “Oh, I’m winding down my mainframe or I’m migrating mainframe,” no, I’m looking at a ten-year roadmap on mainframes. It’s not – a couple years ago, there was this – I don’t know – fake media, fake news, about “Yeah, well, it’s here now, but we gotta kinda wind down.” What you’re saying about the z14 is exactly right; it’s bigger than anything that’s come before it, in essence, right?
Here’s another thing, though, Chris, and I’m interested in your take: kudos to the mainframe software market and vendors, who are recognizing – not all of ’em, not all of ’em, but the ones who are, the enlightened ones, who are recognizing this and are capitalizing on it by bringing the tools the market wants to bear. It’s more than just the hardware, right? The hardware’s phenomenal – I’m not gonna deny that; IBM has done amazing with the z14 – but the software vendors, including Compuware, right – take a bow – have really delivered. You guys have a new release coming out or just came out, is that right?
O’Malley: Right. It’s the 17th consecutive quarter that we’ve come out with new capabilities, upgrades to our classic offerings and integration with awesome and preferred DevOps tools, so, yeah, we’re very excited about this newest release.
Shimel: So talk to me. Give me the three biggest things that get you excited on this release, Chris.
O’Malley: So, each quarter, we’re turning the crank in terms of trying to nail the jobs that are changing, right? As I explained earlier, when you’re going from waterfall to Agile and from selectively automated to intrinsically automated, you’re trying to go from maintenance to innovation, the jobs that people have to do change radically. And they change radically in ways that are difficult to achieve. I mean, when you’re working on the mainframe, you’re working with large code bases, large in terms of the quantity of those code bases and also the size of any one of them.
So these techniques, at a high level, just seem obvious, but the practical things that need to be done from an innovation standpoint to help people to nail these things, it takes a lot of innovation. I mean, we’ve had to do a lot of work to get to the point where you’re seeing orders-of-magnitude improvement in the way people develop, the way people test, so this latest release is just another chapter in that story.
So we came out with Topaz team profiles, so that’s a good example of a capability that allows those that are working on systems to basically be able to store their configurations, the inputs and outputs of these applications, the test artifacts that are used, and build those artifacts and configurations in ways that can be shared broadly within teams or across the organization. That’s important for a couple things – one is the work to do that, you wanna do it once and then do it once for every one ’cause, in the DevOps mindset of continuous improvement, you wanna get rid of things that aren’t value-added, things that customers won’t pay for.
So, in creating this capability, we allow now, as teams get spun up, right, you get a team that’s gonna work on a two-week sprint, you want them, out of the gate, to be productive. So being able to share profiles day one, with people that may have never worked on these systems before, is crucial so that you’re productive in the first minute of the first day.
You also have situations where you’ve got, instead of technical debt issues, maybe a team, a large team, that you wanna go after certain work. It’s gonna help to improve the future throughput of the incremental efforts you have, from a development perspective, in the future. And you’re gonna bring large groups of people to work on something and that may be an outsourcer that you’re engaging; it may be new college recruits that you’re engaging. But you, again, want those people to be as productive as possible, as quickly, so, if you’ve got an experienced person on your staff that can create all those configurations and then share that broadly, again, you’re gonna lessen the ramp-up time for them to do their effective work.
So, again this is another example of us thinking about the mainframe going from waterfall to Agile, at scale, and having a scenario where it’s not just people that have been on your staff for 30 years, working on the same subsystems of your applications, every day for their entire career. Now, ’cause ideas are paramount and where people work has more to do not with what they know but what the company wants to do in better servicing their customers, so there’s more of a randomness to the work and a changing nature to the work, and what you work on is fluid. So we’re really thinking deeply about the implications of that and, for profiles within Topaz, that’s a major step in the direction of getting a different way of working within IT.
The second thing that we’ve released is another Jenkins plug-in. Jenkins is a central part of CI/CD pipelines, in terms of the automation side of it, and we’re constantly thinking about “What are the things or plug-ins that need to be created to make the mainframe equal to any other platform in all ways, other than syntax?” So JCL, Job Control Language, is a very important part of how programs are run within the mainframe. Creating a plug-in to help bring it into the CI/CD pipeline efforts and the automations efforts was a crucial thing that needed to be done, so it’s a contribution, from an artifacts standpoint, that, again, takes another step for our customers.
And then, lastly, is in the area of testing. Compuware is the leader, if not exclusive, provider of unit and functional testing as a combined offering. It’s a necessary part of the job that people have to do within Agile, with this concept of shifting left. The developers aren’t just coding; they’re coding and testing, both in terms of bugs and performance, and becoming much more extended in terms of their role. And so their accountability and responsibility is bigger.
So they need tools, like unit and functional testing tools, to participate within a two-week sprint process so that their deliverable, at the end of that cycle, is one that’s close to bug-free as possible and not putting future work into the system where it comes back as some quality issue 6 months later, 12 months later, when it runs into production, or, you know, as usability concern. So these three things are another turn of the crank, if you will, and Compuware’s offered to help customers nail these jobs, these new jobs that are created within kind of Agile work environments and DevOps work environments.
Shimel: Excellent. Anything else on the new release before I go off on another direction?
O’Malley: No, it’s just we’re very excited ’cause we released a technology called “zAdviser,” six months or so ago, which is a method of collecting what business KPIs for customers and then looking at, actually, stats relative to our products, so we can see kind of the behavior of developers. And we’re working with companies collaboratively to treat their people as they should, like high-performance athletes rather than slaves in a Roman ship galley. You can say, “Work harder. Work faster.” Well, you’ve gotta be constructive in helping to share best practices and methods that have a positive effect in things like velocity, quality, and efficiency.
So, with every release, we’re seeing a significant increase in this KPI performance, so, as we’re talking about earlier, the mainframe is certainly on a march to become a first-class citizen within the digital age, within these enterprise customers, but the more _____ –
Shimel: I’m sorry; go ahead, Chris. Go ahead.
O’Malley: Go ahead.
Shimel: Well, no, I was gonna say, you know what I find interesting is, yeah, we’re talking about the mainframe machines, but so much of your focus is on the people, on the developers, on the team, because, at the end of the day, that’s the gold. Right? That’s the almost irreplaceable asset, are the people and the developers and the IT teams that are working on these mainframes. And it’s about empowering them. Right? So I think that it’s the right place to put the focus.
O’Malley: Yeah, people –
Shimel: Yeah, I –
O’Malley: Just to restate the obvious here, but people matter most. When you think about the mainframe in the context of Agile and DevOps, asking people to change their role, though they’ve been around for 30 years, 40 years, dramatically – I mean, the day in the life in Agile and DevOps is vastly different than the day in the life of status quo. And it’s important that, as leaders, you’re promoting the appropriate culture and getting people to understand why they need to change, important that you’re giving ’em the necessary education, teaching them how to be effective in Agile sprints. I mean, that’s a different way of working. I mean, it’s not that you’re working 24 hours a day, but you’re definitely working in a more intense way. And then products matter then. The tools have gotta be enablers, not things that fight against your efforts to adopt this new culture and Agile nature.
And, you know, I really try to express to IT leaders, “You gotta think about these things ’cause – ” you know, we use this example, the Gallup survey. Gallup survey have been doing this thing for 20, 30 years of employee engagement in large enterprises, and what’s most interesting about it is, over 20, 30 years, the employee engagement statistics haven’t really changed. And it’s disturbing when you actually hear about them. Two-thirds of employees in most large enterprises are not engaged, half of them are kinda, “It’s a job; I don’t care that much,” and 16, 17 percent are actively disengaged – they try to sabotage the efforts of the companies.
So one of the biggest problems is engagement and employee engagement, and so I try to get people to understand – people matter hugely. And you’ve gotta give ’em the culture necessary to thrive in this more competitive age, you’ve gotta give ’em direction in terms of the process, the way that work is done, but you gotta give ’em the tools. You know, asking ’em to use mainframe tools out of a NASA movie from 1965 and thinking that something’s gonna happen is incredibly naive, so –
Shimel: Absolutely. You’re not landing people on the dark side of the moon with that. Chris, we’ve got a few minutes left. I wanted to touch on another subject – we didn’t really kind of pre-talk about it, but I’m sure you’ve got some great views on it – I was out in Seattle last month for KubeCon, you know, Kubernetes, cloud-native. It’s a funny question to ask the mainframe guy the cloud-native question, but, certainly, containers are no strangers to mainframes.
O’Malley: I mean, they’ve been on the mainframe for –
Shimel: 20 years, maybe more, right? 25. So anything specific to Kubernetes in the Topaz or Compuware kinda roadmap that you can discuss right now? Or what effect do you see on your world?
O’Malley: Yeah, so, when you think about kind of the flow of work in large-enterprise IT and what developers are fixated on, I mean, part of it is innovation and functionality that they’re trying to build, which is most important. I mean, that’s the value-added efforts of developers that make a difference in the eyes of the customer. And you wanna do that as quickly as you can, with the greatest degree of quality.
But the other things you gotta think about are things like quality itself. I mean, if you get anything that you release that’s got bugs in the system, how rapidly you can respond to it. That’s always part of the work that’s being done and I don’t know of any organization that doesn’t have some degree of bugs. And bugs may be software written improperly – and, again, our tools are helping to fix that – or usability issues, integration into other systems.
There’s also the work of compliance and security that you gotta do, but this last thing is this thing, technical debt, right? That any code base that’s had any life to it, has meandered through the efforts to serve customers, it’s something that grows over time. And it has nothing to do with mainframe; it happens everywhere. You know, the cloud – you know, Amazon’s got debt. And you gotta deal with that technical debt, so, as you’re dealing with technical debt, the smart approach is to start using more of these modern techniques. SOA was kind of a philosophical approach to breaking down these larger systems into smaller subsystems. When I think about API enabling, REST Y enabling these kind of smaller chunks, but you also wanna think about containerizing, using these as a form of containers, Docker being the method of creating the container, Kubernetes of being the way of managing these.
So we do see this playing an increasing role _____, as people start really looking at affecting technical debt ’cause that gives you the biggest bang for the buck. I mean, you certainly wanna do it with any new functionality you’re doing, but you’ve got some huge numbers of lines of code that you’ve developed over four years that works awesome. I mean, it’s really good working code, but making it more manageable and getting rid of that technical debt. Part of that equation is RESTful APIs; it’s containerizing it and managing it more in a cloud-like fashion. So, yeah, you’ll see us enabling those tools.
Our approach has always been to go to the edge of the mainframe and then we stop. We take care of what we know best and getting rid of these esoteric differences, but then, when we go off the edge of the mainframe, we work with all these other vendors. We allow SonarLint and SonarQube to do its work on COBOL, as akin to what it does with Java or C. Parasoft is a testing framework, allowing our products to work within that orchestration.
So there’s all these tools that work in kind of the DevOps world that are preferred and we’re enabling them, so you should think of us doing things in support of Docker and Kubernetes over the long term. But, yeah, it’s an important part of making mainframe IP one that the throughput can constantly be improved and those techniques obviously help enormously.
Shimel: Absolutely. Chris, I’m sorry to get you going ’cause it doesn’t take much when we start talking mainframes and DevOps, but we’re way over time and I need to wrap up. Hey, we’ll have you on, certainly, next quarter for the – what will it be? – the 45th time?
O’Malley: [Laughs] We’ll be doing this and it’ll be our 1,000th. You and I will be in wheelchairs, talking about it.
Shimel: By then, you should be down in Florida with me, but, anyway, Chris, it’s a pleasure having you on. Continued success with Topaz and Compuware. And we’ll catch up with you soon?
O’Malley: Always a pleasure and anytime I can help.
Shimel: All right.
O’Malley: And thank you for the hard work that you do.
Shimel: Thank you.
O’Malley: _____ important _____ –
Shimel: All righty. Chris O’Malley, CEO, visionary, leader at Compuware, on DevOps Chat with me today. This is Alan Shimel and you’ve just listened to another chat.