DevOps and Agile IT save mainframe training from skills quagmire

The problem isn't that new hires aren't familiar with the complex, custom daily tasks of mainframe ops. The problem is that you're still doing them.

Think DevOps and Agile IT are just for application software? Think again. In a transition period fraught with constraints and obstacles, these concepts are simplifying mainframe training and administration.

Mainframe administration resources are in flux. Today's senior administrators are aging out and taking valued system knowledge with them. Outside developers familiar with z/OS environments, rather than Unix/Linux and Windows, are rare. IT organizations must replace this talent under the constraints of wage freezes and lacking resources to train new personnel.

To some extent, mainframe hardware and software vendors tackle these problems. IBM is integrating its Linux and z/OS administrative tools and working with colleges and universities to implement mainframe courses. Yet, CIOs still feel unable to satisfy their overall need for expertise in enterprise and technical architecture administration, much less for mainframe administration skills. Something is missing.

The related DevOps and Agile methodology movements hold the keys to easier mainframe training and daily administration that changes with the times and delivers cost savings. Applying these principles will help the mainframe fuel the business's growth and innovation.

Simplify both halves of mainframe administration

The DevOps approach meshes Agile development and IT, especially around a develop-and-deploy lifecycle. Administrators perform deployment essentially as part of a rolling Agile development process. The goal is continuous delivery -- smaller changes that are implemented more frequently.

Mainframe administrators appreciate that smaller changes mean simpler deployment and that DevOps brings more automation to cut down on rote tasks. One half of the administrator's job now requires much less training. The paradox is that more releases in a given time frame actually make the job easier while ensuring greater value delivery and programmer productivity.

Now you can apply some Agile principles to troubleshooting and maintenance -- the other major part of the mainframe administrator's job. In particular, to speed up response time to major problems, Agile IT stresses highly automated tools that carry out backup, reorganization, batching and other straightforward maintenance duties. This frees up administrators to find out what the customer or business needs in a crisis. Think of it as the mainframe equivalent to Agile development's Scrum idea of the customer representative.

Agile IT simplifies those daily tasks of a mainframe job. Simplification makes it much easier to find fresh personnel or resources to handle mainframe administration, and then train them on the finer points that cannot be automated.

Combine DevOps and Agile IT to create relatively minimal requirements for new administrators and the cost savings will offset necessary salary increases. The added flexibility helps handle future growth on the mainframe.

Don't implement, piggyback

Don't consider this path as yet another major undertaking. Many organizations have ongoing DevOps efforts and there are products and consultants to help. Outsourced administration companies that practice DevOps and Agile operations will fit in with your organization. The key to success is to piggyback off what's already out there in an effective manner.

Place "mesh with our development arm" high on the priority list for new mainframe administrators. It speeds the adoption of Agile practices in IT and adds an active advocate to your group. It is always useful to have an IT or corporate employee champion of DevOps.

Plan how your IT organization will use available resources to get there (simpler mainframe operations that require less training) from where it is today (complex mainframe operations requiring specialized knowledge). Along the way, you'll see cost savings and speedier response to corporate demands.

About the author: 

Wayne Kernochan is president of Infostructure Associates, an affiliate of Valley View Ventures, with more than 20 years of experience in IT industry analysis. This document is the result of Infostructure Associates-sponsored research. Infostructure Associates believes that its findings are objective and represent the best analysis available at the time of publication.

This was first published in May 2014

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