EVOLVE21 - Rocket Software brings open source to the mainframe for 'modernization in place'

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright October 7, 2021 Audio mode
An interview with Rocket Software founding CEO Andy Youniss and his successor Milan Shetti, reflecting on mainframe modernization with the aid of open source software.

Rocket Software founding CEO Andy Youniss at EVOLVE21
Andy Youniss, Rocket Software (screengrab from EVOLVE21 keynote)

Modern software development techniques such as DevOps, CI/CD pipelines, open source software (OSS) and API-centric integration are associated with the very latest in digital technology. Yet one of the paradoxes of this latest generation of software engineering is that it's leveling the playing field for many older technologies and IT assets. Whereas in the past any modernization of legacy assets typically meant a lengthy and costly replacement project, today it can equally mean leaving existing assets in place and connecting them into the latest digital development environment.

One vendor that's at the heart of this 'modernization-in-place' approach is Rocket Software. The company was an early proponent of open source for mainframe environments, contributing its own tooling to the Linux Foundation's Open Mainframe Project. In 2018, it joined with IBM and Computer Associates (now part of Broadcom) to launch Zowe, a framework of software services for interacting with IBM's z/OS mainframe operating system. Andy Youniss, Rocket Software's founding CEO, explains:

We got together and said, we need to put more open source on the mainframe. We need to put an open environment, so that new, next-generation engineers can walk up to a mainframe, and they don't even know it's a mainframe. It looks like everything else ...

We've proven this with next-generation engineers. College students, high school students, can literally walk up to a mainframe and start developing on the mainframe with their favourite languages, with their favourite tools. It looks like any other modern-day computing environment, because it *is* any other modern-day computing environment.

Bringing mainframe resources out of their traditional proprietary environment and into this more modern context means that these legacy assets remain just as relevant today as they always were, he argues. But IT needs to embrace this new world. He says:

The mainframe, whether it's your critical infrastructure, whether it's your data, whether it's applications, are as modern as anything else. But you as the community, you have to embrace that. You have to want to go there.

If you live in the old world, if you live in the legacy world, if you live in the proprietary closed world, you won't be able to modernize as quickly as you could if you embrace these new, open environments.

Enabling modernization in place

At its EVOLVE21 virtual conference this week, there was plenty of evidence of those modern environments on display. Rocket Software announced new tools from ASG Technologies, which it acquired earlier this year. These include updates to its DevOps value stream management platform, adding support for deployment via Docker containers and new toolchain integrations to execute tasks in Ansible and Xray for automated deployment and testing. Meanwhile, a new version of its TMON product line connects mainframe, distributed and cloud performance and capacity data through Apache Kafka into a common PostgreSQL data store, making it available to IT analytics tools such as Splunk, Elastic and Datadog.

Having these new options that can keep mainframe assets relevant is particularly appealing at a time when enterprise IT has to move more quickly. Youniss says:

Taking advantage of all of your years and decades of investment in your current assets, is actually really interesting to customers. The COVID pandemic has made it even more so. What I mean by that is, our customers need to react more quickly, more digitally, more technically savvy, right now, than ever before. They actually don't have as much of an appetite for the risk of re-platforming or lifting and shifting. Those things take a lot of money, they take a lot of time, they bring on a lot of risk.

Instead, Rocket focuses on making those resources safely and securely accessible to other environments, for example offering multi-factor authentication for both users and programmatic access. Milan Shetti, currently President of Rocket Software and soon to be CEO, says:

Those are some of the enabling technologies for modernization-in-place, which is actually giving comfort for customers to more and more pivot towards modernization plays, than high-risk and unknown rewards on replatforming ...

We don't see customers wanting to proactively move their data. That's where the modernization-in-place is coming from. The access is highly distributed, as in, it's platform agnostic, it comes from many sources. But the data is in a tried and proven system of record, still staying where the data was originally created.

The other big news at the conference this week was the revelation that, after more than 30 years as CEO, Youniss this November will hand over the role to Shetti, who will also retain his current title of President. Shetti joined the company last year from Hewlett Packard Enterprises, where he held senior executive positions leading storage and infrastructure divisions. While stepping back from day-to-day executive duties — and spending more time pursuing his longstanding musical interests — Youniss will continue to provide advice and guidance as Executive Chairman. The company is in safe hands, he believes:

The values [of humanity, empathy, trust and love] that Milan talked about, the culture ... is deeply embedded into the company. That's what I'm most proud of. Now I know that Rocket, the next generation, the next era, whatever we want to call it, will run true to those values. Milan and his team will make different decisions that I would have made, of course, but they'll make those decisions within this value system that we have spent almost 32 years building.

My take

Many enterprises still rely on and trust mainframe technology for mission-critical data processing. For many years, they've pondered various options for migrating off those venerable platforms, but today it seems that the move towards a more componentized, API-centric and open-source approach to IT has opened up a new and less tortuous path to modernization. It's probably worth noting too that bringing mainframe assets into this new Tierless Architecture makes it easier to ultimately swap out those capabilities to different platforms. But for now, most organizationa have other more pressing priorities, and meanwhile bringing open-source software to the mainframe has given the technology an unexpected new lease of life.

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 and view now.