The New Age of Cloud Computing

We are at the dawn of a new age of cloud computing. Gone are the days of big monolithic applications. In the past, you needed to group functions together to make them easy to find and use. Today, businesses are clamoring for ways to create smaller functional components that can be recombined in new ways for new business opportunities. Mobile computing and the intense competition that startups are posing to large companies are key drivers of this change.

People who see this as a serious threat to large businesses are missing the opportunity for enterprises to grow and diversify. Imagine what could be accomplished if those large monolithic applications were broken down into services that could be recombined to serve the dynamic needs of new business models. These enterprise capabilities could be made available not only to the lines of business but also to some of these smaller competitive startups. Imagine if your competition were relying on your services. Their wins become your wins.

Providing Value With the Cloud

This is the future of cloud computing. As people realize that the benefits of Infrastructure as a Service are limited and don’t address the real problems in an enterprise (i.e., the need for agility), they will start to focus on the real problem, namely, “How do I create application quickly that takes advantage of all the value I have invested in through the years?”

These services are the new focus of cloud computing, taking business and utility functions found in the enterprise and recombining them in new ways. This will start people focusing on providing new and powerful functionality quickly in extremely consumable ways.

Imagine writing an enterprise application in an afternoon that not only uses mainframe functionality, but also uses data found from social media and communicates to users through their smartphones. This is not science fiction; this is available to you today.

There is a new team in IBM focusing on creating new services on z/OS that will provide mainframe capabilities to applications running anywhere in the enterprise. Running on x86 and need to encrypt data? No problem, just call this encryption service. Need to share data or provide a lock across the data center? Call a service. Services that are quick, easy to get and use, and reliable will be the tools of enterprise applications of the future.

A Speedy Service

One enterprise embracing this model created a caching service on z/OS that used VSAM and record-level sharing to hold and share the data across a sysplex. Nodes in an x86 cluster would put data into this “caching facility” and pull out content when needed. Since these x86 nodes communicate with z/OS via Representational State Transfer with JSON payloads over HTTP, it is easy for them to program. Using VSAM and RLS, it can run in multiple LPARs sharing across the sysplex. Combine that with Sysplex Distributor and you have a fast, highly available caching service. The team that created the services was seeing a four-millisecond response times. Not too shabby for a file-based tool.

When this team went to the developers to talk about using the service, they met with a fair amount of initial resistance. The myths about the mainframe (e.g., it’s old, it’s slow, etc.) were brought out and the developers were reluctant to try the service. The team finally convinced the developers to try it. When they did try it they were impressed. They loved the performance and it was always available.

About six weeks later, the team noticed that the MIPS usage for the service had doubled. They went to the developers and asked what had changed. They wanted to understand what happened that would increase the usage. The developers told them that they hadn’t changed any code. They did, however, mention it to other developers, and the mainframe service became incredibly popular in the distributed world. The team instantly started to create ways to make it easy to provide the service (and of course meter usage) to multiple development communities. Today this service continues to be popular in the enterprise.

Developers are Instrumental

While the work that has been done so far has been focused on utility functions that z/OS does well, this is only the beginning. The real value to the enterprise will come when the transactions and business operations that are currently locked up in those monolithic applications are set free as services to the enterprise. When the data, transactions and base business function are reorganized as services that can be used anywhere, the business becomes quicker and more agile.

The time is right for a sea change in platform usage. In the past, platform selection was based on loyalty to a platform, politics or code dependencies. The idea that everything had to happen on a single platform was based on the need for execution speed and slowdowns associated with network activity. As those restrictions disappear, the focus will be more on getting the best possible power out of the environment you have. Businesses will win if they have two components: a powerful set of services and the ability to wire them together quickly to create new business applications. The mainframe will be a major player providing services.

The new world of cloud computing will focus on two different types of developers: scripters and hardcores. The hardcores will be focused on creating powerful services that are at the heart of the enterprises capabilities. Those services will be linked with other services—both internal and external—by scripters who will create new applications in minutes focusing on uniting these services in unique ways to support emerging business models.

In the beginning, the hardcores will focus on decomposing their current monolithic applications into services. This will be tricky, as many monolithic applications tend to have multiple components that are interconnected. Hardcores will spend a fair amount of time breaking down those interconnections to build stand-alone services. As those services become more prevalent, the power of the enterprise will become a force to be reckoned with.

Meantime, scripters will be focused not only on internal services, but emerging external services. Businesses that can take advantage of emerging trends in social media, mobile and new technologies will be the winners of the future. Good scripters will focus on business applications as well as knowledge of new and emerging services in the industry.

Make the Cloud Work for You

Today, the enterprise is often competing with businesses that use managed service providers to create niche competitive services. In the future, the enterprise will not only provide the capability to existing lines of business, it will become the managed service provider that fuels these competitors. In this way the enterprise will use everything that has made it successful as a way to springboard to do things that no niche provider can do alone.

In its infancy, cloud favored x86 because everyone focused on the simple components that could be done quickly and cheaply. The problem is that business is by its nature a complex entity. This will only increase as the unstructured capabilities that the new technologies change the ways people interact with businesses. The mainframe was built from the ground up to handle complex business problems. It is poised to be the service provider for complex business capabilities.

The successful enterprises of the future will be the ones that can link the powerful capabilities of their existing business systems with new systems that interact with people in unique ways. The old way of computing was focused on making you work in ways that make it easy to determine answers quickly. This new cloud model is focused on providing all the value of getting quick answers in a way that morphs to the way you want to work.

Frank De Gilio is a Distinguished Engineer in the mainframe development organization with a global focus on helping clients modernize their z/OS environments. He is the cohost of the "Terminal Talk" podcast and the IBM System and Technology Group’s CTO for Mainframe Modernization.

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