How IBM Helps Keep Clients up to Date With IBM Z Technology
The IBM Client Advocacy and Systems Assurance team and the RevitaliZ program help keep clients up to date with the latest IBM Z technology.
Kelvin Hawkins, vice president for Client Advocacy and Systems Assurance, IBM Systems, Image by Bryan Regan
By Adam Oxford11/01/2019
Everyone has their favorite anecdote about a mainframe system in a corner of the data center, quietly running a critical business application for a couple of decades or more, while the world of servers around it has changed beyond recognition. It might be processing ATM transactions, or running an important part of an ERP system, but to its owners, it’s just there, doing its job, and it’s so reliable and secure that the time just never seems quite right to upgrade.
You know the ones—the tales in which the last engineer who knew how to actually code for the platform left years ago, and no one realized because it just carried on doing its job, day after day, year after year.
As worldwide sales leader for IBM Z*, Eduardo J. Ciliendo has more of these stories than most. Thanks to what Ciliendo describes as a “perfect storm” of driving factors, however, more clients are seeing the value in keeping up to date with the latest technology. They could get two decades’ worth of value out of a single asset, but fewer are choosing to do so—and for good reasons.
“Running older systems has a much higher total cost of ownership than staying up to date,” explains Ciliendo. “The software licenses tend to be more expensive, they take up more floor space in the data center and their power consumption is higher, for a start.”
A significant part of Ciliendo’s job is to help clients understand where these cost efficiencies can be made, and then help them make the move. Since 2017, he’s helped run the RevitaliZ program, which benefits clients who haven’t moved in many years. Through RevitaliZ, IBM teams work with clients to provide the technical and financial support they need to move to newer platforms, and it’s been a huge success.
“We’ve seen a lot of clients who have been waiting to decide what to do with their existing systems who have committed to staying on the platform and start to modernize their infrastructure,” says Ciliendo. “It’s been a huge shift.”
RevitaliZ has those mainframe-in-the-basement anecdotes in its sights.
“I was recently working with a client in South Asia who was running a system from 1994,” Ciliendo explains. “We demonstrated to the CIO why it was the right time to move, and he agreed. It’s a challenge moving a system that’s 25 years old to new technologies, but with a package of services from ourselves and our partners, we were able to move the client in less than a year’s time to a current system.”
The ability to freeze a platform for two decades is unique to IBM. But Ciliendo said that he left the project with a tongue-in-cheek warning to the CIO. “I said that I don’t want to come back in 20 years and have the same discussion. There’s real value in staying current.”
Fighting Data Gravity With z15
As IBM z15*—the new generation of IBM technologies—hit the market in September, the technical argument for staying current is easy to make. Clients want the stability and security of IBM Z, and they also want to be able to do encryption everywhere, data analytics within their transactions, blockchain and more. All of this is native to the new technology platforms.
Ciliendo says that there’s enormous demand for fighting “data gravity” and being able to overcome the delays inherent when processing large volumes of transactional data and performing analytics. This includes applying techniques such as hybrid transactional/analytic processing (HTAP), which enables real-time analytics on OLTP data that resides on the mainframe. Again, this is native to the new platforms, as is containerization and orchestration with Kubernetes, which is critical for new application deployments and rapid innovation.
Because the IBM z15 has all of these features built in, clients can save millions of dollars on third-party integrations and applications.
“We’ve also seen a shift in the industry that has placed much more emphasis on resiliency and security,” he continues. The latter is thanks partly to market awareness of the damage data breaches cause, but also thanks to new regulations, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
Resiliency is increasingly valued because organizations and their customers expect services to be available 24-7.
“What we’re seeing is that lots of clients have looked at moving from the platform as part of a digital transformation project,” Ciliendo says, “but then realized that the outcomes they want to achieve are really hard—if not impossible—on alternatives.”
Typically, says Ciliendo, there are four key sticking points for clients who are thinking about upgrading. The first two—cost and the lingering perception among some in the C-suite of mainframe technology as an old platform—are easily addressed.
And for clients who are challenged with a skills shortage, IBM is tackling the issue by investing in academic courses and initiatives such as Master the Mainframe. Thanks to these programs, more young developers are seeing mainframe as a platform for innovation and a place to build a career.
The technical aspects of an upgrade remain, however, and no one can pretend that retooling applications to run efficiently on modern hardware is an easy task. But IBM does offer answers.
Bridging the Technical Gap
Kelvin Hawkins, vice president for Client Advocacy and Systems Assurance for IBM Systems, and his team are responsible for helping clients upgrade to newer IBM systems. They work closely with clients to plan and help them avoid common challenges that crop up. Being able to access the experience and technical capability that Hawkins and his team offer is a key value proposition.
Running older systems has a much higher total cost of ownership than staying up to date. The software licenses tend to be more expensive, they take up more floor space in the data center and their power consumption is higher, for a start.
Typically, Hawkins says, clients who are moving to new infrastructure assess their environment and prepare for success with a migration plan. When this isn’t done completely, the client may run into serious problems. Preparation is key.
“My job is ‘Saving Client Ryan,’ ” Hawkins jokes. “I typically only get involved when clients have significant issues, and that’s usually because they didn’t do the right level of assessment and implement the right resiliency strategy before they started a migration.”
Helping clients plan around these issues is vital. The most common mistake that Hawkins sees, however, is lack of prior assessment before migration.
“Anyone who goes through a migration wants to see the ROI in terms of productivity, security and resiliency,” Hawkins says. “A lot of clients run into problems achieving these results because they don’t plan the migration appropriately.”
Hawkins advises clients to modernize their applications in place and prepares them for the new environment before they begin the migration.
“Many clients wait until the migration has taken place to modernize their applications,” he explains. Then you’re introducing a lot of new factors to account for when you try to figure out where any performance and compatibility issues are.
“You wouldn’t do brain surgery while you’re up walking around. You’d do it in a stable environment. We always recommend people modernize in place. If you’ve been running an application on one platform for five years, you know how it performs, you can tune it and modernize it and get it ready to move onto a new system.”
IBM Support Lends a Hand
In some ways, the built-in resiliency of IBM Z systems to keep critical applications running can actually lead to trouble. Many client issues related to lack of planning can be traced back to their level of trust in the platform to function no matter what.
Anyone who goes through a migration wants to see the ROI in terms of productivity, security and resiliency. A lot of clients run into problems achieving these results because they don't plan the migration appropriately.
“Because of the famed IBM Z, you don’t need to think about resiliency as much with this IBM platform, at least at the architectural level, but it’s still a requirement,” he says. “Bad things can still happen, and you need a multisite disaster recovery plan in place.”
In fact, when problems such as power outages or natural disasters occur, that’s when people will need to rely on IBM Systems the most. The local and world economies still need to function through these unplanned natural incidences.
“You still need to buy generators, food or water, for example,” Hawkins says. “The workloads that we run are mission-critical applications. These are the ones that are important to the world in terms of transacting, banking, security and insurance.”
The IBM support team works closely with clients to prepare every aspect of a new environment before a migration begins, from capacity planning at the data center to teams who can analyze the performance of an application in a new environment.
With the right planning and execution, clients can have full confidence in the platform—and be ready to run their mission-critical applications. The IBM Z platform is the world’s most secure transaction system and is supported by the world’s greatest advocacy and assurance team.
Adam Oxford is a freelance writer based in South Africa. He’s covered technology-related issues for more than 20 years.
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