How to use your expert knowledge to manage mainframe applications in an open systems environment

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As a Client Solution Architect at LzLabs, I oversee the technical elements of customer mainframe migration journeys. This means I speak to mainframe specialists every day – from infrastructure and application management experts to architects – so I appreciate there are some trepidations about migrating to open environments.

Potential downtime and service disruption, operational changes due to switching to working off the mainframe, and fears around job roles and job security come up fairly often.

Fortunately, the reality can be far more positive than some of the scare stories you may have heard.

In fact, whether you’re approaching retirement or in the middle of your mainframe career, migration to the open systems world can create new and exciting opportunities for you and the applications you know so well. 

No fear, just familiarity

They say familiarity breeds contempt but in the work setting it helps maximize efficiency and maintain continuity – something I’m sure you’ll agree is a must in the world of mainframe modernization. So, it should be music to your ears to learn that working on LzLabs’ Software Defined Mainframe (SDM) is very familiar and comfortable. 

The skills required to operate and run the system remain largely the same as when working on the mainframe. Because mainframe applications are lifted and rehosted rather than rewritten, the JCL scripting language doesn’t change (unless you want it to) and connections between different applications and databases are all preserved. Even with mainframe workloads running in an open systems world your knowledge and role remains vital for the continuity and functioning of these core applications in their new surroundings.

The only real change is the GUI as the entry point, but this in itself is a huge benefit as it offers greater simplicity and visibility of ongoing jobs and transactions. 

Opportunities not upheaval 

Migration is no longer a major upheaval requiring total overhaul thanks to an incremental approach. You can continue to utilize your existing skills and knowledge whilst benefiting from far more freedom to modernize, change, eliminate silos, and bring in others.

The simplicity and freedom of open systems environments brings new opportunities, including:

Upskilling

Direct Linux access provides scope to learn new programming languages and use open source tools – allowing you to expand your own areas of expertise, provide added value to the business, and discover new ways of working. For instance, one retail customer I worked with opted to write in Python following migration because he found it gave him more flexibility to work on and across different platforms. A lot of customers I work with also take the opportunity to expand their skills using one of the most common Linux Bash scripting language as it is easy to learn to write common routines that can interface with SDM to automate daily routine tasks.

Flexibility

Working off the mainframe gives you quicker access to new solutions and functionality with fewer constraints. For instance, because you’re only paying for commodity infrastructure, you can spin up new instances in the cloud more quickly and keep them for a few weeks whilst essentially paying as you go. 

Skills appreciation

Mainframe professionals have always been vital to keeping their organization running, but now with more business functions able to interact with and make use of the applications and data previously housed on (and locked in) the mainframe, your role becomes even more valuable.

Setting yourself up, and the business

Moving to an open systems environment also makes it easier to future-proof yourself, colleagues, and the business.

Training the next generation

Broadly speaking, the next generation is familiar with Linux but inexperienced on the mainframe. This creates a barrier to training on the mainframe which has lots of macro hurdles to overcome. Teaching newcomers in an IDE for they are familiar with – and looks very familiar to you already – removes these barriers and flattens the learning curve for both teacher and student.

The administration and operations of the SDM using the web-based User Interface also makes it easy to perform daily tasks for developers from a wide range of backgrounds.

Making data accessible

Core IT applications, whilst stable and effective, can become siloed on the mainframe. In the open systems world, these applications and associated data is unlocked making it directly accessible to other business departments and providing exciting opportunities for anyone looking to apply their skills in new areas.

Letting applications flourish

Those nearing retirement can see the applications they have developed and maintained continue and take on more prominent roles rather than be phased out. With reduced complexity, they can flourish for years to come.

Leaving a legacy

The word ‘legacy’ has taken on a negative connotation in the IT world, but the dictionary definition is a positive one that relates to leaving something behind that has value.

Moving mainframe applications into open environments can help cement a positive legacy by giving mainframe specialists, and the applications they understand better than anyone, a new lease of life. Rather than diminishing your role, this migration journey allows you to transfer skills into a new environment, take advantage of new opportunities for growth, and put applications you know inside out at the forefront.