How to turbocharge mainframe testing & development and improve your time to market

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“I feel the need…the need for speed!” 

That famous line from Top Gun  may be  about flying fighter jets but  it  could just as easily be the motto for  modern  businesses  that  are desperate to improve time to market. To keep up with stiff market competition and respond to customer demands, enterprises need to be able to deliver new software, products and services at break neck speed, but are often held back by their lack of IT agility. Thankfully, enterprise architects have their own Maverick and Goose double act to call upon – faster development  and  testing for their most critical applications.

By  modernizing  mainframe testing and development practices, organizations  can lay foundations for the future and achieve faster time to market without completely uprooting from the mainframe that is the backbone of company  IT. They can also upskill their workforce and ‘upcycle’ mainframe applications in the process.   

Traditional challenges  

Enterprise architects are under increasing pressure to deliver speedy time to market to meet the expectations of end-users and customers.  Doing so requires overcoming some fairly embedded challenges.   

This includes testing and development being on a completely different schedule to the rest of the company’s development practices. All too often, you are left with testing delays that are at odds with your organization’s agile aspirations. 

For instance, at  one  previous  employer, I had to wait in a queue for a year and a half to get a project onto the solitary mainframe testing environment!  This isn’t a unique experience though, I’m sure many reading this will relate. But are these challenges just something we need to accept, or is there a better way? 

Deliver what your business needs, when it needs it 

Traditionally, mainframe modernization has seemed time-consuming and costly, but it  doesn’t  have to  be,  and a new approach could make life  easier  with  wide-ranging benefits  for the business.   

When it comes to testing, one solution could be to decentralize testing for these applications in, for example, a Linux-based environment off the mainframe. 

The first benefit of taking this path to modernization is achieving true interoperability of mainframe application testing, and  bringing that testing exactly in line with the  other development pipelines of the  organization so that test environments for mainframe applications can be spun up continuously. This is key to being able to develop and test with fewer headaches, streamlining  the  all-important time to market process.   

A containerized  approach  allows  true flexibility. Each project can have its own test region, testing  environments can be treated as other non-mainframe test environments,  providing  common process structures across an IT department,  reducing the testing timeline  and  saying goodbye to  forced  downtime when the  month-end batch runs. 

Conservatively,  in a traditional mainframe infrastructure let’s  say testing  has to  shut down one day  every  month to free up all resources for production.  With 20 working days in a month, that is 5% of your time lost. If you can get that 5% in productivity back  by using modern test environments off-mainframe based on Linux,  you’re  significantly enhancing  test speed and efficiency. The separation of containerized testing  also allows you to  develop remotely and offline if needs be. In theory, you could be  half way  up  a mountain in  Snowdonia  with your laptop  and get the job done!  

Taking the testing and development process off the mainframe and onto  more familiar and intuitive development environments also  opens  the opportunity for software engineers from other departments to be  cross-trained  to maintain and test mainframe applications too.  Applications in COBOL, Java, or any other language, can now be developed, maintained and tested continuously by any trained software engineer. Being able to utilize these development environments to maintain and modernize legacy mainframe applications provides the best platform to upskill developers, and suddenly, your mainframe skills base has expanded. 

And let’s not forget cost benefits. With mainframe testing and development happening in a modern environment of your choice, you’re able to take advantage of scalable pricing in open and cloud architectures, which are built to accommodate the needs of today’s organizations. 

Acceleration in action

Sounds fairly compelling, right? But don’t just take it from me.

BPER Banca, one of Italy’s foremost national banks, is a great example of what happens when you’re able to introduce these next steps into your process.

BPER Banca migrated select core banking services to Software Defined Mainframe (SDM), with the goal of improving its test efficiency. 

By migrating to SDM,  the company could  begin the move towards continuous testing and deployment for its core banking applications. And, in  migrating applications and data piece by piece, migration was straightforward, development speed increased  and time to market for its application portfolio was accelerated.  

Platform for innovation  

Utilizing technology such as  SDM  for the purposes of faster development and testing can have radical benefits for your mainframe team and the  business as a whole.  It means testing environments can be spun up continuously for any application and deployed on your environment of choice – even on the mainframe. And all of this can be achieved by any trained software engineer within the company, with no loss of interoperability and minimal cost implications. 

What this means is that you can preserve the magic embodied in your  company’s legacy applications and teams and combine them more easily with modern development pipelines and testing tools. You finally have the freedom to deploy your most critical assets on a platform for innovation and achieve that all-important time to market.