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EVOLVE21 - time for IT modernization to embrace the mainframe

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 1, 2021
Next week's Evolve21 event highlights IT modernization trends and approaches in which mainframe computing continues to play a vital role

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(© WavebreakMediaMicro -

Despite the exhortations of vendors encouraging IT leaders to move their enterprise applications to the cloud, many remain stubbornly resistant. Perhaps a clue to how this will turn out lies in the history of the mainframe, which despite forecasts of its demise stretching over many decades, remains a foundational element of many an organization's IT infrastructure today. Modernization doesn't mean shifting everything to a new platform. Instead it's about allowing all the various elements to coexist while continuing to do what they each do best.

This middle way will be front-of-mind for delegates at next week's EVOLVE21 virtual conference, which for the first time brings together two longstanding businesses in the field of core IT infrastructure, following the acquisition by Rocket Software of ASG Technologies, the conference host. You can register for the event here and access all of diginomica's coverage in our dedicated event hub here. The union of the two companies reflects the market reality that enterprises are looking to work with vendors that can bring together a wide range of tools to help them in their modernization journey. As Kyle McNabb, Senior Vice President, Product Marketing at ASG Technologies, explains:

We spend a lot of our time right now with senior leaders of IT infrastructure and operations, and their teams, doing a few things around improving their workload automation, improving their value stream orchestration, and helping them embrace DevOps, as a part of that modernization story, and eliminating barriers from scaling DevOps to different parts of their infrastructure.

For many established large enterprises, mainframe computing remains a significant component of that infrastructure, and must respond to the demand from both customers and colleagues to digitally transform operations and become more agile. McNabb tells me:

If you're a large financial services or insurance or healthcare firm, you can't throw away what you've got and start over. You've got to take what you've got. You've got to leverage it and modernize it, and get yourself in a position where, from a skillset standpoint, and from a mission-critical technology standpoint, you can be responsive and keep pace with what's going on in today's world.

Those mainframes aren't going anywhere, he adds:

if you want to embrace cloud, that's great. But we also know too, you're going to keep running large workloads on-prem, on your mainframe, because, dammit, it works. And it works well.

What's driving mainframe usage

Mainframe usage is still increasing, says McNabb, with some of that growth in volume now driven by transactions that originate in applications running on Azure, Amazon and other public cloud platforms. The need to turn around data faster so that it's available on demand is contributing to those rising workloads. He explains:

As more organizations become more data-driven and data-centric, and how they want to execute their transactions and deliver more intelligence throughout the organisation, we're seeing that drive an increased usage of — guess what? — the mainframe, because it processes data more effectively than what you can do in the cloud, and elsewhere.

Trust is also an important factor. Data privacy regulations are becoming more stringent, and keeping data secure is a big concern. Many organizations are uncomfortable with storing sensitive Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on unfamiliar cloud platforms, whereas they know what they're doing on the mainframe. One of ASG's biggest product lines is its Mobius platform for storing transaction documents and managing the unstructured data they hold. It's increasingly connecting into applications that run on the cloud, while serving as a secure store for that data. McNabb explains:

We've got examples now, where some large financial services institutions are managing their content on the mainframe, but they're running the content-rich processes — all those difficult and challenging interactions we have with content and processes and systems — they're running it on a distributed environment, or they're increasingly starting to deploy this stuff to the cloud. But they're making sure that those statements, those bills, those checks, whatever it is that that is powering, that is actually in an environment that they know and trust. And they trust the mainframe.

Accommodating these hybrid scenarios means using tools that can decompose data objects and processes so that they play well in an API-first, microservices environment. Rocket also offers low-code tooling that is popular with partner ISVs and professional coders as well as power business users. Gartner's 'hyperautomation' term will be an important theme during the conference, as a shorthand for bringing together various tools that help achieve faster solutions. McNabb elaborates:

Whatever type of process orchestration or value stream orchestration you want to use and assemble through our tools, [we want to] make it very easy to plug into those. Hyperautomation, for us, is using our capabilities to help you automate more, and making it easier for our customers so that when they do identify, 'Hey, I have to go use something that's best in class,' it can be easily plugged in.

My take

A few years ago, a lot of people were talking about the notion of 2-speed IT, or as Gartner preferred to call it, bimodal IT. I never bought it, along with many other analysts including Intellyx's Jason Bloomberg, who at the time commented:

The reason so many CIOs fall for Gartner’s bimodal IT canard may be because of the perceived intractability of modernizing legacy IT systems. Many enterprises have been struggling with modernization for years, often with little but consulting bills to show for their efforts.

We've since moved on, and today efforts are increasingly focused on bringing all of an organization's IT together. My term for this is Tierless Architecture. Whatever you call it, the priority is to connect up what's there, as few organizations can afford the luxury of converting existing IT assets when there's so much new stuff they have to put in place. A renewed urgency along with a sense that it is now becoming possible to forge those connections means that those many years of struggling with modernization may finally be coming to an end, and it can actually happen. Or as McNabb tells me:

You'll hear us say this over and over again. It's about accelerating modernization — getting people to stop talking about it and actually helping them do it.

For more diginomica stories from EVOLVE21 visit our EVOLVE21 event hub. The virtual event runs from October 5-6th and sessions will be available to view on-demand. Click here to register now.

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