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Modernization and the Mainframe as a Service

It’s a well-rehearsed argument that experienced mainframe staff are, generally, getting older and looking forward to their retirement. Not only did the pandemic prompt many people to re-evaluate their lives, but it was among the biggest factors leading to the recent wave of resignations. This has led many organizations to consider the future of their mainframes. The question they are asking themselves is whether it is time to move away from mainframe computing to a more “modern” platform—which only highlights the need to overcome misconceptions that the mainframe is dated technology.

On the other hand, organizations know that mainframes are reliable, available and serviceable (RAS)—a feature that has made them remarkably popular for so many years. In addition, modern mainframes are probably the most secure computing platforms available for any organization, and security of data at rest and in-flight is vitally important for a lot of industries.

Strategic Planning

Although, if you decide you want to stay with mainframes, where are you going to get experienced staff to run them? There are always stories circulating of ex-systems programmers coming back to their old company as consultants and being paid huge salaries to keep things going. Even if these stories are completely true, it’s not a viable long-term strategy for any company.

To be fair, there’s the Zowe project—an open-source project to allow non-mainframers familiar with other computing platforms to work on mainframes using interfaces that they know well. IBM itself was one of the original companies to work on the Zowe project. IBM also has a range of software that runs on a mainframe to make it easier for non-mainframers to work on a mainframe. Ansible, for example, is growing in popularity at mainframe sites and allows an organization’s IT infrastructure to be modelled by describing how all the IT systems interrelate, rather than just managing one system at a time.

Outsourcing Versus MFaaS

However, having non-mainframe specialists using familiar tools on a mainframe is not quite the same as having real mainframe expertise available. One solution that was popular 20 years ago was to outsource your IT. The advantages this gave organizations that went down that route was that they knew how much they would need to spend each month, and they didn’t need to worry about performing maintenance and upgrades any more. That would be the responsibility of the outsourcer. The outsourcer could also supply any support that was required.

Nowadays, these same arguments are being made by companies that are offering Mainframe as a Service (MFaaS). Companies can stop worrying about lack of in-house skills and their IT infrastructure ageing and needing to be updated or replaced. The other benefit is that those applications that have been running for years can continue to run. There’s no need to rewrite anything. Additionally, there are other advantages granted by companies offering MFaaS. For example, following the cloud model, they usually only charge for what you use, so capacity can be scaled up or down. They usually have more than one data center to ensure continuity of service, which means that a company will probably experience even less down time than they currently do.

It is the same argument that has been used by outsourcers for many years, and it is definitely an argument that appeals to some companies and not to others.

Are Mainframes Old?

The idea that mainframes are old technology because they were invented in the 1960s holds no more water than the argument that cars are old fashioned because they were invented in 1886, or aeroplanes are old fashioned because they were invented in 1903!

IBM itself is very keen on the cloud, although Statista estimates that it currently has only four percent of the market. IBM is now offering Wazi as a Service as a way of providing a z/OS development and test environment for developers.

Wazi as a Service

Let’s start with the following question: What is Wazi? IBM Wazi Developer—or to give it its full name, IBM Wazi Developer for Red Hat CodeReady Workspaces—is a development environment that integrates into a DevOps pipeline and gives developers a consistent and familiar development experience. IBM Wazi Developer delivers three key components—Wazi Sandbox, Wazi Code and Wazi Analyze to let users analyze, develop, build, test and deploy z/OS application code.

What IBM is making available to developers (since June 30) are cloud-based virtual machines that they can use as mainframe test and development environments. Users get on-demand access to z/OS and can develop and test the applications that they are working on.

Using Wazi as a Service, users can create development and test systems in IBM Cloud Virtual Private Cloud. IBM claims this can be done in just six minutes. In comparison, IBM estimates that IBM Cloud for z/OS development is 15x faster than using an x86 environment.

Users are able to manage virtual machine-based compute, storage and networking resources in a private, secure space that they have defined. Wazi Image Builder lets users create custom images from their on-premises LPAR. Wazi Image Builder includes a Web UI with role-based access and REST APIs to streamline the creation process.

According to the press release, Wazi aaS is being designed to help developers with the following:

  • Increase speed and agility with on-demand access to z/OS for development and test
  • Accelerate DevOps practices with predictable and flexible consumption-based pricing
  • Reduce the need for specialized skills with a consistent cloud-native development experience

Mainframes Remaining Relevant

The bottom line is that clearly mainframes are not going away any time soon. For some smaller companies, moving to an MFaaS environment will probably suit their needs at this time. For others staying with on-premise mainframes, there is still plenty of exciting stuff that takes the best of other platforms (in this case the cloud) and makes it available for mainframers.