The assumption that large, established enterprises—from insurance companies to government agencies—can’t adopt Agile processes or DevOps is based on the falsehood that legacy technology stacks won’t allow for it; that existing traditional mainframe applications or legacy applications that large enterprises are built on are incapable of adapting to these approaches.
Accelerated Strategies Group recently released the new research report, “5 Crucial DevOps Strategies For Cloud and Mainframe 2020,” sponsored by ASG Technologies. In this episode of DevOps Chats, Jeff Cherrington and Anna Murray with ASG Technologies joins Mitch Ashley, CEO of Accelerated Strategies Group, to explore how mainframe app teams embrace DevOps, its processes and tools to equip software teams so mainframe apps continue to provide businesses with vital systems and capabilities far into the future.
The audio file of the conversation is below, followed by a transcript. Enjoy!
Mitch Ashley: Hi. I’m joined by some special people, some folks that I really enjoy working with from ASG Technologies—different from the ASG that I work with. [Laughter] So, I’m joined today by Jeff Cherrington and Anna Murray. Thank you, both, for being here.
Jeff Cherrington: Well, thank you very much, Mitch. I’m Jeff Cherrington, I’m Vice President of Product Management for Systems with ASG Technologies. Many of you may know ASG. We’ve been in enterprise infrastructure management software for over 40 years, and certainly hold a prominent position as well in enterprise content management. We’re very keen to have the conversation today around how traditional infrastructure—meaning the mainframe—aligns with new DevOps initiatives in the enterprise.
Anna, if you would introduce yourself.
Anna Murray: Sure. Hi, my name is Anna Murray, and I’m a Senior Product Manager with ASG Technologies, and I work with Jeff Cherrington. And I have extensive experience with automation across platforms and data centers, as well as agile transformation for teams.
Ashley: Excellent. Jeff was saying before we started that he used to work in radio—you can tell. [Laughter]
Ashley: You’re very comfortable behind a microphone—no doubt, no doubt. We were talking about everybody’s on video these days, so that’s awesome.
Murray: Right. [Laughter]
Ashley: Well, great. You know, we’ve been doing some work together and we do have a report coming out to kind of pre-announce that. We’ll be talking about that a little bit later. But there’s a lot of myth about DevOps and mainframes. I know even some analysts—I won’t name any names—have said they’re two different paths, you shouldn’t try to do both. I think the jury has started to change their mind on that.
Why do you think some of those myths have existed of, “No, we can’t do DevOps on mainframe environments?” Do you wanna start, Jeff?
Cherrington: I think I will, and then I’m sure Anna’s got some thoughts that she’ll want to contribute. You know, it’s certainly a reality within the industry that we’re going through a generational shift around our leadership or IT, whether it’s infrastructure or application development. There are those who are still working daily, like myself, who represent the traditions of IT from the very beginnings back in the 1960s, and then there are others who are certainly much younger and certainly have much different experiences, which may not include any exposure to the mainframe. And, as a consequence, there might be some resistance, there might be a little bit of anxiety about the technology, and it can be formidable to approach if you don’t have the appropriate background.
The things that we’d love to talk to, though, is that the mainframe as traditional technology still performs incredibly important roles within the enterprise. And at the end of the day, DevOps is much more about technique than technology, and it can apply as easily to mainframe and should as it does to any other part of the IT infrastructure.
Anna, do you have some thoughts to build on that?
Murray: Sure. You know, as I think about the generation gap that you’re talking about, I kind of come on the other end, but I’m Gen X. And so, we were the generation that said, “Oh, the mainframe’s dying,” right? [Laughter] So, that—obviously, I’ve learned that’s totally wrong, and the generation coming after us is coming in to learn the mainframe and realize how powerful it is, right?
And so, I think a lot of the leaders that are coming in are coming from this generation that didn’t even think about mainframe for a while, right? And so, they did all their planning and their agile transformation and their DevOps transformations thinking about the cloud and all of their Windows and Linux and Unix servers and didn’t even think about the mainframe.
And so, I think that’s the other side of the gap that happens. As the younger leaders are coming up, you know, especially, I would say blame my generation the most, right? [Laughter] Because there’s this gap, and—learn more and make sure you’re talking to both ends of the spectrum and learn about crossing the gap.
Cherrington: And actually, the way I like to phrase it now is far less to use jargon like “generational gap,” but instead talk about generational bridge, because that’s what I’m seeing.
Murray: That’s so much better, yeah.
Cherrington: We’re seeing that the younger IT professionals are identifying that there’s great opportunity to work with mainframe in the coming years. And so, we see Millennials, or is it Gen Y—the generation after yours, Anna—who are stepping forward and saying, “This is really interesting. The mainframe does all of the technologies, it supports all of the technologies that I learned in uni, university. I can do Java, I can do TCP/IP connections, I’ve got great sources for strong cryptography, it supports Unix, I can put Linux onto a mainframe LPAR—this is a good space to be in.”
And so, more and more, we’re seeing that the people we engage with are a mix of people that are my age with the white beard or the gray beard and a mix of young, fresh faces that are really eager and really excited to get involved, and who come predisposed to new techniques such as DevOps.
Ashley: You know, there’s so much important things that both of you said. One is that in DevOps, there is no technology definition of what it applies to, and it’s very easy to associate it with Cloud Native and maybe newer applications, because that’s where it sort of grew up initially.
But DevOps is really about how we create software, not what technology we use to create software. And it’s about how teams collaborate, it’s about how you share information, it’s about how you get different functions from the business together in a collaborative team to kinda do things earlier in the process, do automation. All of that applies to the mainframe, of course, and there’s tools to do much of what we’ve talked about. Maybe you can say a little bit about how people approach DevOps in the mainframe environment.
You wanna go, Anna?
Murray: Right? Well, you know, when you approach DevOps in the mainframe environment, it’s not so much just about the mainframe environment, but the company. The whole organization has to be behind DevOps, and there has to be leadership saying, “Hey, this is something we need across silos,” right? And then you have to look at the tools available to you. DevOps is a lot about the toolchain itself. There’s hundreds of tools in that toolchain, and so, you have to start looking for solutions that are gonna meet your needs and help you cross those silos.
Cherrington: You know, it’s certainly true that everybody resists change. I think that’s an innate part of human nature, but both Anna and I have seen that things of this nature can come forward, can be used with teams that are mainframe-centric, perhaps have been doing things the way they’ve been doing them for 10 years or 20 years or 30 years.
And there’s natural resistance. “Gosh, you know, I’ve done things the way I’ve done them successfully for so long, why should I change?” Certainly, I’ve seen agile adopted by mainframe development teams, sometimes kicking and screaming, but once the resistance curve is overcome, it becomes very productive and becomes very natural.
And I think we’re at that stage now in terms of adoption of DevOps for the entire enterprise infrastructure, from Windows all the way to the mainframe and onto the cloud and even onto mobile, even as there are initial reactions of going, you know, “How can this apply? This is not something I learned when I went to my classes to learn more about the mainframe at SHARE in 1995 or 1985.” But we have proof points.
We have large international enterprises, we have small regional enterprises that are coming forward and saying, “I must have mainframe. It plays a critical role for things that I need to do, particularly around payments processing, anything that needs highly available, real-time online absolute reliable performance. And it is only part of my infrastructure, and I need to treat how I develop there the same way I treat developing anywhere else.”
Ashley: You were talking about, also—so many apps are not just a mobile app, right? There’s a whole back end to it, oftentimes sharing data, even talking transactions between multiple systems, one of those or multiple may be mainframe applications. You know, and if I step back for a minute and think about our current environment and how much things have accelerated in doing sort of these digital transformation, digital experiences for customers, organizations are looking to both strategically move quicker, but also be able to react opportunistically and sometimes based on conditions. And it seems like some of the flexibility with DevOps makes it easier to coordinate some of those activities across multiple applications. So, if you do have to do three different release to make up one new capability, that comes together much easier.
Cherrington: It does. You know, the thing that I always look to as I engage with anything around business is, to use an old phrase, “why is the juice worth the squeeze?” And while we talk about DevOps a lot because of its elegance, because of its collaboration, because of the ways in which it makes development easier, the real juice of the squeeze is time to market. The whole reason to consider DevOps is how can we get something we need to get in terms of new technology enablement to market quickly, more quickly than we did before, but not sacrifice quality.
And that’s what we see time and time again is, we have something we need to get to market. I want to present new capabilities to my customers through an app on the phone because that’s where people live their digital lives. But at the back end, it’s dependent upon the mainframe for things such as account balances, customer statuses—an unending list of capabilities that still remain on the platform as the best place for that type of activity to occur.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. You know, I’m thinking about just the recent experiences with the reactions to COVID and contactless delivery, inventory, product inventories are often something that’s still on the mainframe, has been for a long time, and now, you know, retail stores, as well as a lot of others, have to be able to maintain a really accurate enough inventory and also present that to the customers so they know, what store can I go at to pick up whatever I’m looking at buying.
I’m curious, too—I know that ASG Technologies has some of your own products, your own technology around this idea of orchestration across platforms because you work both mainframe and non-mainframe environments. Talk to us a little bit about how you approached coming up with that product and maybe a little bit about how it works and what it does.
Murray: Sure, I’ll jump in for a little bit here. You know, you talk about orchestration—that’s combining your toolchain, right? You’ve got all the little pieces of your DevOps toolchain, and you need to figure out how to connect all the dots and bring it together and, you know, ASG has been doing automation and orchestration for a long time, but we’ve changed our focus into bringing in the development part of that toolchain, right?
Operations has been kind of a focus of automation for a long time, and now we have to pull in all of the development pieces that happen and the configuration management that happens, and all of those—there’s lots of little tools there, right?
So, we haven’t tried to come at the market as trying to provide all the tools, but we’re trying to provide some of them, right, and we definitely want to orchestrate as many as possible, right, and cover the entire environment for the customer. On the mainframe, the most popular thing we’ve been working with recently is JCL Management. Every mainframe’s running JCL, right? Nothing happens on the mainframe without it, and so making sure that there’s a DevOps interface to your JCL Management solution is really important. And so, we’ve made an investment in making sure that ours has both an Eclipse plug-in that makes it easier for the developers to interface with that JCL as well as a RESTful web service API so that it can be integrated with building of the products and crossing across the silos to other products.
Cherrington: And certainly, in the approach that we’ve taken, we look to be a good citizen of the DevOps enterprise community, and the work that Anna and her team have done, we ensure that we support the most popular integrated development environments for doing this sort of work. So, the JCL quality assurance and management offerings that we have for the mainframe are also certified for the Compuware Topaz integrated development environment and for the IBM—what’s the name of it again, Anna? It’s—
Cherrington: IDZ. What was the rational development environment that’s now rebranded?
Murray: Yes. [Laughter]
Cherrington: As well as any other Eclipse compatible IDE that a customer may want to use.
Ashley: You know, it’s interesting, just thinking about all the, a number of the terms that you both used in just those last two comments, you know, mainframe 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have been talking about, I don’t think, RESTful IDE—all the tools that we kinda think of as sort of in cloud applications, much of it is the same toolset, a lot of the same ideas, just working with integrating some other different tools that are specific to the mainframe environment.
Cherrington: It is, and you know, I certainly want to encourage those who are listening and watching—and particularly, those who may be ASG customers now or are considering becoming ASG customers—to join us at our worldwide customer conference, a virtual conference this year, EVOLVE, that will be occurring on October 6th and 7th, because we will be making some significant announcements about extending support in this area, including opportunities for creating interfaces to mainframe applications that can extend all the way to mobile, if that’s of use to a customer.
We’ve had a lot of excitement coming into this, we have a lot of partners and customers who are going to be presenting, and there’s a great deal of energy that we’ll be putting forth around our DevOps support and DevOps enablement.
Murray: And can folks sign up? How do they register to attend the virtual conference? Is that on your website?
Cherrington: It’s on our website if you come to www.asg.com, I’m sure you’ll find something right on the home page that says EVOLVE 2020 and it’ll give you the opportunities to get, well, involved.
Ashley: [Laughter] EVOLVE and involved at the same time.
Cherrington: Exactly. [Laughter]
Ashley: You know, the fact that you get to work with so many organizations that are adopting DevOps, I’m kinda curious about two things. How does the mainframe teams approach wanting to learn about DevOps and coming up to speed and trying it, and then how do the existing practitioners maybe outside of the mainframe group that are also using DevOps—how do they see what’s happening in the organization and how do they…do they want to participate, do they support it, are they kinda not sure? What do you see happening, there?
Murray: So, yeah, you know, there’s a mixed feeling. You know, there’s definitely differences between, you know, if it’s led from the top down and people are being told they have to change, right, it depends on how you’ve adjusted the expectations in your team, right? Helping them learn what’s coming and why instead of just telling people what to do makes a huge difference, right?
Murray: We’re all much more interested in solving problems and learning new things together. So, it’s really important conversation is held properly, right?
So, we have some that are really excited that they want to learn and they want to jump in from the mainframe side and grow, and then there’s others that are really just struggling and pulling their mainframe teams along, right? So, one customer I think of, you know, is standardized on Compuware Topaz Workbench, but the developers are less interested in switching over. They have some of the older generation who’s very comfortable with the green screen and they think, “Why bother switching to Topaz?” You know? They just don’t even get it.
Murray: And so, you know, the truth is, we really need to have solutions that meet the needs of all of the people that are part of the DevOps environment, right? So, it isn’t—you know, a very experienced mainframe programmer doesn’t have to use Eclipse, right? They can be quite happy on the green screen and we should let them stay there, right? [Laughter] And we do, our JCL Management solutions have a very robust green screen interface, and then we bridged the gap, as Jeff was talking about earlier, with having those APIs, right?
And so—yes, so the DevOps toolchain is still brought together with something like our ASG Enterprise Orchestrator pulling in the code and grabbing with the API the JCL and making sure that the standards are applied and then bringing them across for compiles and distribution into another environment, right? Not that you compile JCL, but there’s other parts that are related.
Murray: So, you know, you asked—it’s kind of a mixed bag. And we see that, too, right? And as the conversation becomes more common, right, I think we’ll have more people who are more comfortable having that conversation and learning together.
Ashley: Excellent. Well, Jeff has been bitten by the Zoom bug, so he had to call in from his call dropping, so glad you’re still with us, Jeff.
Ashley: You know, we were just talking about the adoption process, and Anna, you were talking about how mainframe teams kind of approach this. I’d like the other side of it. DevOps teams that maybe aren’t in the mainframe group that have been practicing this for a while, maybe a few months, a few years—how do they see this happening, and is there collaboration? Do they pitch in, do they tend to work together or not? How does it go?
Cherrington: Well, some of the things I’ve seen actually goes to either end of the spectrum. For the teams working with the more modern technologies and have to adopt DevOps very frequently, we find evangelists, those who have gotten to the point where they believe in the techniques and the approaches so passionately that they’re out there actually promoting them everywhere they can. It’s much like what we saw with the adoption of agile in the last decade. We’re seeing that same sort of passion surround this approach to development in this decade.
You know, it’s one of those things, we have to keep in mind—DevOps was not even a term within the industry until 2009. I mean, it’s barely a decade old, and it’s in these last five years that we have seen the acceleration for adoption.
Now, having said that, you know there certainly are always going to be pockets within any enterprise where, again, there’s resistance. There are those who are not looking for change and those that, perhaps, while they have embraced the DevOps approaches for their distributed systems or cloud development, look at the ideas of what they have to change or adapt to on the mainframe side and really don’t want to go there. The idea that there might be a long compile that has to be done on the mainframe before the next step in the DevOps process can occur will cause some—a little bit of agita.
And that’s why it’s so important we need to take a look at the strategies that are necessary for DevOps success. I think that’s something that you speak to very eloquently, Mitch. And out of those steps, the one that I think is so critically important is culture shift. Just like with agile adoption, DevOps adoption needs support from the top, and it needs to be constantly vocal support to help people pull through these resistance curves. Resistance curves are natural and the quicker an enterprise gets through them, the quicker they get to a point that they’re delivering new capabilities to market much more quickly.
Ashley: Thanks for your kind words about the culture, too, and I want to get your thoughts on this, Anna. Culture is a lot of things, but I think we’re all human at the end of the day and none of us want to look dumb, right? We don’t want to tackle something we don’t know if we can learn or maybe not kinda look so good in front of our peers if we’re the ones behind the curve.
And I think something that can help combat that is, one of the principles of DevOps is sharing, is really—it’s collaborating, but it’s also sharing. Sharing scripts, process, tools, content, methods—all of those kinds of things which, if you truly adopt DevOps, as you said, Jeff, you can become an advocate and then also help with that transition and very quickly, you know, they kinda get over that curve of, “Okay, alright, I’m not—I’m familiar with this,” as you mentioned, Anna, I can still use my green screen or many of the tools that I’m already using and I’m just adding to kinda what I’ve been doing.
So, your thoughts, Anna?
Murray: Right, well, I’ve recently been having other conversations with partners about this culture shift and it’s become really clear with other companies that are supporting DevOps and those initiatives that you really have to have not just buy-in from your senior management, you’ve got to have active support. You know, they have to sponsor the change.
Because we’ve also seen companies who don’t go through the change, they fail. If it’s from the bottom up only and the senior leadership says, “Okay, yeah, sure, that’s a great idea,” but they’re not actually investing in it themselves, the team, when they hit road bumps—because they will. It’s not, you know, switching to DevOps doesn’t happen overnight. I think we all know that. And over time, you’re gonna hit roadblocks and you’re gonna get discouraged. And who is it that’s gonna lift you up?
Now, hopefully, there’s evangelists that’ll help keep pulling you through and encouraging you, but at the end of the day, if your senior management isn’t coming back in to say, “Hey, guys, we believe in this process, it’s worth fixing, we’re gonna invest in whatever it takes to solve this problem,” then they’re encouraged to keep moving forward, right?
But, you know, there is the difference happening out there where the leadership isn’t always invested in it. And so, that’s what we’re really encouraging when it comes to that culture shift that has to happen, make sure that you get not just buy-in but investment from your senior leadership.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Hugely important and it goes back to the, “Why are we doing this question?” that you talked about also, Jeff. You talked about really responding quickly and getting software out to market or quickly in today’s situation with COVID and uncertain as well as very quickly changing conditions, you know, something could very easily come down from Product Management or whoever to the development teams and say, “Okay, we need to add this capability or change how we’re doing something.” And the team’s ability to react quickly—I mean, they already do today, but even more quickly under these circumstances, I think, demonstrates the value not only of DevOps, but also those teams.
Cherrington: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, it’s always a virtue to be able to get to market quickly. And in the current period of the pandemic, it’s a virtue that actually can impact lives on a broad scale.
As the different national governments are taking the steps that they need to take to provide stimulus and secure the safety of their populations during all of this disruption, one of the things we’ve seen is that there have to be changes to critical traditional mainframe systems for all of this to happen. Certainly, the unemployment compensation that was distributed here in the U.S. touched legacy traditional systems at the state level that perhaps have not been actively developed for some period of years.
And certainly, those government enterprises or commercial enterprises that were pre-prepared to apply their DevOps techniques to making those changes to their traditional offerings, traditional applications were better prepared to deal with this and to deal with the ongoing change as our government’s tried to figure out how to stabilize economies and get us through this challenging time.
Ashley: You’re absolutely right, and that’s one example of many. I mean, there’s insurance claims processing to get your request fulfilled quickly, you know, new medicines—all of that kind of thing. There’s so many areas where mainframe technology is involved today.
Well, I wish we could keep going. Maybe I have to come to the conference to continue the conversation. [Laughter]
Murray: Yeah, we would love that.
Cherrington: You would always be welcome.
Ashley: Well, I appreciate that very much. And so, just a reminder for our audience, the EVOLVE conference is on October 6th and 7th. Go to the ASG.com website to find out how to register; I absolutely recommend doing that. And as I mentioned earlier, we have a research report coming out and the working title of that report, I think, was “Five Critical Strategies for DevOps and Mainframe.” So, we’ll see, maybe that title will stick or something close to that. I’m excited to get that out because that’s been a great effort working with you.
Well, Anna Murray, thank you very much; Jeff Cherrington, also—thank you for joining us today.
Cherrington: Thank you so much.
Murray: Thank you, Mitch.
Cherrington: And folks—stay safe.
Murray: Alright, thank you.
Ashley: You bet.