It’s Time to Think About Mainframes in New Ways

The mainframe has a well-deserved reputation as the workhorse of IT operations. But it also has a growing edge as a platform for enterprise innovation.

The idea is to let the mainframe do what it does well — managing enterprise-class applications and data — while also integrating it more fully with the modern IT environment through the cloud, open source software, application program interfaces and modern methodologies such as DevOps.

“You can integrate all of that together and find the sweet spot where you’re getting the most value out of the platforms you’re leveraging,” said Sujay Solomon, Manager, Product Management for Broadcom, which provides semiconductor and infrastructure software solutions.

Solomon highlighted three advantages of bringing open, cross-platform enterprise innovation to the mainframe.

The ability to leverage all the benefits of open source tools/frameworks

Traditionally, mainframe developers have worked in a silo, using their own tools and processes. In part, that’s because mainframe-based applications and data often require high levels of security and privacy.

However, such concerns do not mean that mainframe developers can’t leverage open source tools and take advantage of all the innovations they make possible, said Solomon. “It’s just done in a very structured, formalized fashion, where there’s approvals needed before you can use that software,” he said.

One option is to work with open source organizations, such as the Linux Foundation or the Eclipse Foundation, that have a history of providing secure, enterprise-grade software, he added.

The ability to minimize disruption by modernizing-in-place

When it comes to the mainframe, agencies tend to be wary of any changes that might disrupt operations. For example, while they might want to shift to DevOps, they can’t afford for their mainframe staff to take a lot of time away from work to learn new tools and methodologies.

The solution, said Solomon, is to allow existing staff to continue working with legacy tools while providing new staff with modern tools. “The beauty of this approach is that it’s not one or the other,” he said. “People on the same team could be working on the same pieces of code and managing the same deployment, but each using the interface they prefer.”

The ability to attract new talent and expand the existing skills base

As long as mainframe operations stick to legacy tools and processes, they will struggle to hire new workers. In part, that’s because the latest generation of IT talent is being trained in open source and DevOps, not in mainframes.

But it’s more than that. Modern development tools and methodologies also cultivate a more collaborative development process, Solomon said, “which ultimately makes the product better and the team better as a whole.”

Broadcom knows it’s not easy to get started with bringing open source and DevOps to the mainframe, but they also know it’s important. With that in mind, Broadcom works closely with customers to develop a roadmap for moving the mainframe into the open world, Solomon said.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “Looking Forward: 5 Tech Trends Shaping 2021.” Download the full guide here.

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