How DevOps is influencing mainframe modernization strategies

13/02/2024 minute read Tim Jones

In order to remain competitive and relevant in a world driven by efficient service, businesses require speedier development methodologies to bring products and services to market faster. Traditional mainframe teams, characterized by their siloed operations and protracted release cycles, are increasingly seen as anachronistic.

Enter DevOps: a revolution in the way organizations around the globe approach mainframe applications. By fostering a synergy between developer and operational insights, DevOps enables swift provisioning, deployment, and monitoring of these applications. Its primary goal is to dismantle the barriers that have long separated mainframe development and operations teams, fostering a culture of collaboration, automation, and continuous delivery. In doing so, it empowers these teams to respond swiftly to business demands, delivering improvements at a pace unheard of in traditional frameworks.

But how exactly are organizations integrating DevOps into their mainframe environments?

The challenges

According to the survey we conducted for the 4th Annual Mainframe Modernization Business Barometer Report, tooling and resources for integrating mainframe systems into the DevOps pipeline has been the biggest challenge for organizations in adopting DevOps practices for their mainframe systems, with more than half (52%) of the 400 IT leaders we surveyed sharing this viewpoint. One application manager for a large professional services company in the Netherlands told us:

“The mainframes we use often rely on legacy technology stacks and programming languages that aren't inherently compatible with modern DevOps methodologies. Let's take an example of our core services catering to industries like finance, healthcare etc. which runs on a mainframe and uses COBOL, making automation and continuous integration complex.”

In most circumstances, attempting to apply DevOps to the legacy environment unchanged is a recipe for disaster. Procedural codebases, pre-relational databases, and mainframe infrastructure are often unmalleable, and the concepts that DevOps embraces are central to object-oriented languages and concepts. Our survey identified other significant issues faced by organizations in adopting DevOps practices for their mainframe systems:

  • Difficulty aligning mainframe development processes with agile and continuous integration practices (45%)
  • Resistance from traditional mainframe teams to adopt DevOps methodologies (38%)
  • Lack of understanding or awareness about the benefits of Mainframe DevOps (33%)

To overcome these issues, organizations should start with culture. Create an environment where cross-functional teams can work better together and automate the longest and most time-consuming processes. Getting that first positive result is a crucial proof point that reduces the intimidation of changing longstanding processes.

“We have extensively embraced DevOps practices leading to high levels of automation, streamlined processes, and a strong DevOps culture,” the CIO of a large energy supplier in the EMEA region told us. “This holds true for both our general IT operations and specific mainframe DevOps initiatives, ensuring maximum benefits of DevOps across all aspects of our IT environment. Although, mainframe DevOps adoption within our organization is more advanced compared to the broader IT ecosystem.”

It is also important to note that increasing the frequency of feature implementation with DevOps requires a decrease in the amount of time it takes to validate new features. This is where a deep understanding of both the architecture and expected behavior of the environment, gained through modernization, can prove invaluable. Our survey found that 66% of organizations reported significant improvements in DevOps adoption and/or maturity as a result of mainframe modernization initiatives. Furthermore, 96% of respondents reported that mainframe modernization led to better awareness and integration of DevOps practices in some form.

Taking the first leap: Automated Assessment

Any system that acts as a transaction engine for core business functions over a long period will have been augmented, tweaked, and extended multiple times by a multitude of developers. Taking the first leap towards DevOps with legacy core business systems often involves conducting an Automated Assessment.

This process provides complete visibility into the legacy system, enabling organizations to isolate and remove unused components from the modernization process. Automated Assessments are cost-effective and provide an optimal foundation for transitioning towards DevOps.

For more information about our own Automated Assessment tool, feel free to get in touch with us.