May 21 ’09

The Mainframe Revival: An Interview With CA’s Chris O’Malley

by Mary E. Shacklett in Mainframe Executive

Mainframe Executive recently visited with Chris O’Malley, executive vice president and general manager for CA’s Mainframe Business Unit. A 23-year veteran of the IT industry, he is responsible for defining and executing CA’s mainframe strategy. We asked him about CA’s new mainframe initiatives, and how they will impact mainframe sites and the development of System z’s next-generation workforce.

Mainframe Executive: There has been a lot of talk recently about a “mainframe resurgence.” Have you seen this in your business?

Chris O’Malley: Yes, we have. Two years ago, everyone was talking about a mainframe “renaissance.” Now it’s being called a “revival,” and the scale of this revival is shocking a lot of people.

ME: To what do you attribute this mainframe revival?

O’Malley: There are two things at play. First, there has been movement away from the model of distributed processing that began in the ’80s, when many in the industry were declaring the mainframe “dead.” Today, we see many companies taking a critical look at their new and existing workloads, and asking hard business questions to determine the best platform. These companies are recognizing they need excellent Quality of Service [QoS] to manage their mission-critical workloads, and the mainframe uniquely fulfills this business requirement. Second, there’s a shifting of dynamics with the introduction of the System z10. Both IBM and CA have done an excellent job with the price/performance ratio, and many companies that have gone through a cost per transaction analysis have determined that the z10 can process their transactions at half the cost of a distributed environment.

ME: Is this generating new mainframe business from companies that never had a mainframe before?

O’Malley: With an economic recession, companies are looking at a host of scenarios when it comes to upgrading their operations. This includes companies with traditionally distributed computing environments that never before had a mainframe in their operations. One example is a Midwest insurance company with a distributed computing environment that decided to “shop around” from a business perspective before pursuing their next upgrade. The company was running SAP in a distributed computing environment and executive management saw a substantial savings if the company made a decision to migrate to a z10 with z/OS and Linux on System z. They also saw they would get the benefit of superior QoS in security, reliability, and scalability.

ME: One challenge has been that as mainframe sales have risen, the number of skilled persons able to support mainframes is declining with the graying and retirement of the mainframe workforce. With the mainframe platform comprising 60 percent of CA’s business, what is CA doing about the problem?

O’Malley: CA has responded with a very powerful strategic initiative called Mainframe 2.0. This is the largest mainframe initiative we’ve ever done, both in scale and investment. Mainframe 2.0 addresses the mainframe revival that’s occurring just as a large percentage of customers’ most experienced mainframe professionals are approaching retirement. Mainframe 2.0 helps IT organizations overcome such resource shortfalls by simplifying mainframe ownership, streamlining the implementation and maintenance of essential mainframe management tools, and ensuring that the next generation of IT professionals can leverage their existing skillsets to effectively manage mainframe environments. This work has been done across the board, but a high concentration of it has been on the user interface to mainframe software. We’ve focused on transforming this interface for the next generation, which are today’s 20-somethings who are graduating from college and joining the corporate IT workforce.

ME: What other enhancements are you planning to simplify System z management software?

O’Malley: We’re beginning to include a set of optimized settings for the software, in addition to automated system health checks. This will be followed by simplified methods of deployment and automated system configuration. All of this will combine to make mainframe management that much easier.

ME: How difficult is it to make product changes of this magnitude?

O’Malley: This is a major commitment for us. We have a broad portfolio of product families on the mainframe. To simplify our mainframe software across the board means that all the groups within CA that are working on this project must coordinate with each other, and they must work in a consistent way. We also recognize this is a project that has a shelf life, and that speed is important. We will have more than 100 system health checks in place by May, which will shock a lot of people. By next May, we will exceed 200 health checks. As I stated earlier, Mainframe 2.0 is the largest project in terms of scale and investment that CA mainframe business has ever done. Five or 10 years ago, the idea of taking on a project such as this would have been impossible, because we had different groups of development people serving unique user communities within customers that did things in their own way. This may have been effective in the past, but customer mainframe roles are changing, given the skills shortage. These roles are expanding by default as much as by design. This critical challenge has given us a unified sense of purpose. People at CA understand the value of the mainframe, and they’re committed to even changing themselves to pass that value on to future generations.

ME: What will your new system management software deliver to System z sites?

O’Malley: There are many things, but one of the principle challenges sites face is growing workloads being managed by smaller staffs. Simply put, the scale of work is outstripping sites’ ability to get it done. Effective management software and tooling are ways to get ahead of this curve and further drive the value proposition of the mainframe within your business.

ME: Over the past several years, the mainframe has been a platform of choice for data center virtualization. What initiatives do you have concerning virtualization that will make it easier for sites to manage in this environment?

O’Malley: We have a large footprint in virtualization tools for System z that easily enables organizations to transition from z/OS to z/VM and Linux on System z. Our customers are looking at mainframe virtualization as an alternative to distributed processing, and we’re delivering new tools to simplify provisioning, management, and security in a fully automated way.

ME: Is it difficult to make the mainframe environment attractive to younger IT staff who have grown up with open systems?

O’Malley: We realize that we have a responsibility to create the buzz to make the mainframe cool again, and we’re going to major universities and speaking about the mainframe and mainframe job opportunities. We also are talking about the attractiveness of the mainframe platform.

ME: How are young people responding?

O’Malley: We have around 100 recent college graduates in a facility in Czechoslovakia. The facility is set up in a courtyard with a Sun Java development center on the other side. These students have a choice of which side of the courtyard they want to work on, and I asked one of the students who chose the mainframe why he decided on the mainframe instead of writing code for the distributed environment. He told me the mainframe was such a workhorse and a core enterprise platform, and that he was blown away with its impact in some of the major organizations around the world and in the world economy— as well as by the opportunity to receive mentoring from some of the brightest minds, many of them with more than 30 years of experience. This excitement from a new generation of mainframe programmers was one of the key reasons I made the decision to develop our first Mainframe 2.0 common service, called Mainframe Software Manager, at our Prague development center. Our 20-something programmers are developing graphical interfaces and Java applications on the mainframe that will enable our customers’ 20-something IT professionals to get maximum business value from the mainframe platform for another 30 years.

ME: With the mainframe in a revival and with a future skills shortage to contend with, what other things does the mainframe community need to do?

O’Malley: One of the things the mainframe community wants and needs is a voice that stresses the reality of what is happening in the mainframe market. It’s very important for all of us, including customers, to be more vocal. We have to become advocates for this platform and for what it can do. The mainframe is no longer perceived as it was 15 years ago, when many were declaring it dead. It’s a high-performing, cost-effective platform. We need to ensure the business community fully understands two things: that today’s mainframe is a uniquely powerful and cost-effective platform, and that its unique value is particularly compelling—both during the economically challenging times we’re having today and for the long-term growth that organizations are pursuing for their futures.