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Episode #1: Steve Steuart - AWS Head of Mainframe Migration and Modernization
Episode 121st June 2021 • mainframeXchange • Rob Anderson (Advanced)
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In our first episode, Rob chats with Steve Steuart from AWS about the Mainframe Migration Competency Program, baldness, and how AWS have been investing in what we do here at Advanced.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

If you want to reach out to us, you can email Rob here or drop him a message on LinkedIn. Head to oneadvanced.com/mainframe to find out more about what we do.

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Transcripts

Rob:

Hi everyone! I’m Rob Anderson, and this is the mainframeXchange. In this episode I sat down with Steve Steuart, Global Head of Mainframe Migration and Modernization at Amazon Web Services (or AWS), and we talk about everything from Covid to baldness. And he gives us some really great insight into what’s driving folks to migrate mainframe workloads to the Cloud, how to set yourself up for success in your own modernization projects, and all the cool stuff that AWS has been investing in when it comes to moving the mainframe to the Cloud and retiring big iron.

Opening jingle:

Rob:

Welcome to the show, Steve. We're so happy to have you here. You've been a very busy man here recently.

Steve:

[laughs]

Rob:

Big transition, you know. AWS has put a lot of muscle behind the mainframe modernization practice. And you know, I hope I'm not exposing too much here, but you've put almost three decades worth of experience behind mainframe migrations and modernization, so they couldn't pick a better guy.

Steve:

Thank you.

Rob:

You know, I'm sure you've probably seen what I've seen and that is… you know, Covid aside, the popularity of migrating workloads to the Cloud has skyrocketed in the past 12 to 18 months.

We’ve just finished wrapping up an annual survey that we do at Advanced called The Mainframe

Modernization Business Barometer Report. Nice short title, and… you know, close to 97% of the folks that we surveyed had active Cloud migration plans or were moving in that direction already, which isn't any surprise to anybody, and I thought one of the more interesting statistics was that 87% have plans to migrate at least one legacy system to the cloud in the next 12 to 24 months. So it is on like Donkey Kong, so they say. You know, given your history in the space and where you're sitting right now, what do you think is driving this stuff?

Steve:

It's the craziest time. I mean, I've never seen anything like it. I think that unfortunately it’s like a perfect storm, in that you know: a) We've delayed the decisions to do something. And now you have an ageing workforce, and actually, you know, pure research talks about something like 64,000 people turn 65 every day, and so the baby boomers are retiring. So we’re at the passing of the time moment, and then smack in the middle of this, the baby boomers are ageing, right, and retiring off. And then you have Covid that kind of forced, you know; “Yeah, we're going to do digital.” And some of the mainframe folks are kind-of digital, but then they said “OK, we have to be digital.” And the gap from where they were and where they needed to be was too far. That was forcing a lot of digital strategies, and then the next thing that happened was the availability of, you know, trying to get access to data quickly. But you know, [you need] the agility, right? If you're competing with a born-in-the-Cloud company that doesn't have to deal with quarterly releases or annual releases, or whatever, [the agility is the] least likely [thing] the mainframe folks have. [So they’re asking] “How do I become more agile?” So a lot of these things kind-of fed to the transformation of workloads to the Cloud.

Rob:

Yeah, it's wild. I mean, 78% of folks that we had surveyed said that Covid was a huge factor in driving their modernization plans.

Steve:

Right.

Rob:

It was all over the news too, you know. I mean, there were states falling apart; and, you know, Cloud-native companies like Zoom were taking off and it was a big stress test for folks.

Steve:

Right. Everybody was at the edge of the… you know, the diving board; looking, and then you got that big push! [laughing]

Rob:

[laughing] Yeah.

Steve:

You're in the Cloud! You were jumping and it was kind of fun. And then when one company goes, and then more and more. I mean, I've never seen an increase of different types of companies jumping. I mean, they were already in the car, but we're talking about these workloads… and look, you know, Modern Systems and Advanced and… you know, we've been around for a long time. I'm in accounts where literally two years ago I was talking about; “Hey, let's talk about transforming your mainframe workloads to Cloud.” You know, [the] guys [were] calling security and escorting me out. And these companies are now actually doing it!

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

And they’re the same people! So there's been a definite shift in thinking and embracing of that, that I think is really what's been going on.

Rob:

Yeah, and it's funny 'cause I think that all of these projects, as you know so well, are complicated. They are extremely unique;

Steve:

Yes.

Rob:

And [I’m] not [trying] to, you know, trash mainframes. Mainframes are incredible machines, they are. They’re very reliable, super-robust and great at transactions; and I think a lot of folks prior to this sort-of “stress test” that came from Covid and some of the economies of scale that we're seeing from the Cloud came. They said “Look, I've got other problems to deal with,”

Steve:

Yeah.

Rob:

"The mainframe works."

Steve:

Well yeah, But the way I look at it is that [I say]; “Look, I'm a mainframer. I'm a COBOL developer. I've been doing that for many, many years. And… you know, I made the transition. But the reality’s that mainframe has been a wonderful invention. I mean, the JFK Moon Shot Speech actually created the mainframe for the Apollo mission. The mainframe put us on the moon, but it's the Cloud that’s going to put us on Mars”. And it’s that transition of just technology; and there is a [unintelligible], and it's happening right now. It’s [one] that we have to embrace. We’re seeing more and more competitors be[coming] more and more agile, leveraging the Cloud, and going after these types of workloads and moving. It’s something that… you know, at AWS we're looking at the mainframe workload as strategic, because our customers have been asking; “What are we going to do about these? It’s great that we took these X86 servers, but what about all this other stuff?”

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

And so that's a lot of the reason why we're making the investments that we're making; in going after this strategic workload for our customers.

Rob:

Yeah, and I mean you know the cost; it's always a part of the equation, and… you know, in recent years, not only from a technology perspective, but simply from a Moore's law [and/or] cost perspective the delta between… you know, MIPS and MSUs versus Cloud consumption is so huge.

Steve:

Right.

Rob:

And the only, at least in my opinion… most of the risk that was perceived was the “If it ain't broke, don't fix it” stuff and now that we've experienced the Covid “stress test”, there's really nothing standing in the way.

Steve:

Well, the issue is that if it gets broken, who's going to fix it? That's the problem, right?

Rob:

[laughing] That's right.

Steve:

[laughing] Yeah, it's not broken now, but the problem is people are leaving; and I love that Moore's Law [comment] – that is so true. Nobody envisioned that… you know, back when they went to IBM, they said “Hey, we’re going to focus on the personal computer, and Intel was born and all that stuff that these chips are actually running. Newsflash, the Cloud’s been running mainframe-sized workloads for years.

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

I mean, I work for Amazon. That's a mainframe-class workload, 24/7: thousands and thousands and millions and millions of SKUs; order processing; credit card processing; inventory, PCI, security - all that stuff available, 24/7. That's mainframe-class workload, right there! We don't have a mainframe. So you are able to run the mainframe workloads in the cloud; they've been doing it for years. And we're seeing bigger and bigger mainframe workloads. And probably the biggest difference that I see is that, well, “I've got, you know 300,000 MIPS. And there's no way you can run that”. Go “No, you have multiple LPARs that equate to 300,000 MIPS, and you do it one piece at a time and come up and plan it, and talk about it as to how you want to do these things; and proper planning and understanding the integration points in the dependencies and all those things. It can be done, for all types of size workloads.

Rob:

Absolutely, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Steve:

Exactly right.

Rob:

Yeah. You know it's funny because you think about it. Every time I have a conversation like this, I end up getting… I don't know if I want to call it hate mail, let’s stop a little short of hate mail, but some commentary about… you know, “Listen COBOL, the mainframe - it's all viable; it's all great”. And I don't necessarily disagree. But there's something to be said about the fact that nobody is doing Greenfield development on brand new mainframes;

Steve:

Right.

Rob:

And few, if any, kids in college are studying… you know, how to write programs in CA Gen and Natural, that's for sure. So I should tell you everything you need to know.

Steve:

Right. Yeah, you do get the folks in the cheap seats screaming at you as you do these things, but you know, I, I think from and if you look at all the patterns that exist for transformation that we prescribe to, and some that Modern [Systems] aligns - that you know, there is a leveraging of the Cloud for development. Some customers are OK staying on the mainframe, you know, and that's OK too for a customer.

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

And there's others that… you know, I prescribe to that [as] the reason why you can't find COBOL developers, why you can't find TSO/ISPF COBOL developers, but if it's in an IDE like Eclipse and Visual Studio, maybe it’s a little easier because that's what's hard about it. So you know, [what] we do in one of our patterns is the, you know, rehost pattern; to “lift-and-shift” of existing COBOL to modern COBOL. So it totally depends as to what our customers want to do, and we’ll support that journey for them.

Rob:

Yeah, and in speaking of which… you know, AWS commands more than 30% market share in the Cloud space. And as I mentioned at the top of the show, you guys have invested a ton of time and resources and attention to your Mainframe Migration Competency Program. In fact, you're as far as I know, the only Cloud provider with the formal Mainframe Migration Program that's got… you know, a good bit of funding standing behind it. Can you tell us a little bit more about what's going on and what that's made out of?

Steve:

We’re listening to our customers, and our customers are basically asking “what are we gonna do about these other app legacy platforms?” But if you look at… I'll just tell you the story. I mean, this is my personal epiphany, in that I was at re:Invent in 2019 in December. And then there was… you know, Andy Jassy. Andy Jassy comes out, and he has the DMS truck and they're cleaning out the garage and there's a mainframe and he says, “Look here, look what we got. We got the mainframe here.” That's the first time that… you know, I saw the CEO of a major Cloud provider say that we want to go after the mainframe. And that was like a “wow”, you know? And… you know, that was an epiphany moment for me, and so that was in December. In March of 2020, I'm at AWS and so… you know, they started looking and building, and building that, and in… [unintelligible] November of 2020, we pre-announced the Mainframe Migration Competency Program; where we want to certify the folks that have that. And Modern [Systems] was one of the charter members of that pre-announcement, and then in March of 2021 we formally announced fifteen Partners, five Tooling Vendors and ten Consulting Partners to do mainframe transformation for customers, and these are not just anybody you can just go and pick. These are people that have been there, done that. They had to do ten, ten mainframe migrations. So we have fifteen Partners, each [have] done ten. That's 150 mainframe migrations just between that ecosystem.

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

So that's a very powerful message for our customers that we are building the team… you know, within our ecosystem, within our Partners, identifying the best tools. Pro Serve is investing to provide services within AWS as well. To do that, we have: a framework; best practices, the WWSO organization is investing in people and resources to be able to describe the value proposition of transition, making workloads to the cloud, or leveraging the cloud for their existing mainframe workloads. And it all starts at the top. And so that's… I'll say, Andy Jassy. He kind-of put the stake in the ground back in November of 2019, and here we are. It's amazing how fast things moved.

Rob:

It really is. It's unbelievable. And you know, it's funny because I think you you've got the the prescription well balanced, you know… everyone is going to the cloud. AWS has such a great market share and a phenomenal reputation of being fast-moving, innovative and going in the right direction. And when it comes to mainframe modernization, the name of the game is experience with successful delivery.

Steve:

Right.

Rob:

You know, anybody can throw a tool together if you… you know, retired and wanted to put a consultancy in place, it's pretty easy to do that. But when it boils down to having [it] locked-in, delivered successful[ly] over and over [through] mainframe modernizations; and partnering with folks who have done that, that's a powerful tool.

Steve:

So it is, like I said… you know, when I first met Cameron [Jenkins, Head of Sales at Advanced], I had a full head of hair, and I think Cameron had a full head of hair.

Rob:

[laughing] I can't imagine Cameron with a full head of hair.

Steve:

[laughing] But I mean it just goes - I mean, that's gotta be… oh my gosh. It’s got to be easily 20+ years [ago]. Easily.

Rob:

Yeah, wow.

Steve:

Right? In this space, and it's kind-of interesting as this thing has become in vogue, there's a lot of new companies popping out. Some interesting; others are going OK; where do you come up with this technology? But at the end of the day, we want to have tools that have been there, done that - very mature - with people. If you look at like… you know, Barry Tait and Cindy Howard; folks that have been there a long time, and so understand this. And then we need… you know, that artisan of the craft that understands the tools and how to do it, and have that gut. Because there's really no recipe to this.

Rob:

That's right.

Steve:

This is definitely [the] School of Hard Knocks. And at which we all graduated from; [laughing]

Rob:

[laughing]

Steve:

Doing these types of projects over the years.

INTERVAL:

This episode is brought to you by Advanced - a leading provider of application modernization services, with unique expertise in the mainframe modernization market. Find out more at oneadvanced.com/mainframe.

Rob:

Yeah… you know, it's funny that you mentioned Barry and Cindy; some of the heavy hitters in the space;

Steve:

Yeah.

Rob:

You know, I was talking to Cameron earlier; and we were talking about that. You know, the history of Advanced. And 1983 was when it was founded [as Sophisticated Business Systems], and Cindy was one of the original founders. Sophisticated Business Systems;

Steve:

Yeah.

Rob:

Literally wrote the book on IDMS Migrations.

Steve:

Right, yeah.

Rob:

It's yeah, serious business.

Steve:

Yeah, it's almost way back when. It’s amazing, but it's this… you know, there's a lot of these companies that are out there have been there for a long time, and it's like I always state… you know, look at the different companies that have been around for that long. You don't build a company based on failed projects.

Rob:

[laughing]

Steve:

So that's probably a nice testament to what Modern [Systems] has been able to do with Advanced.

Rob:

Yeah, and I hate to keep going back to this this survey, but the results were really so interesting, and I thought it was cool to see that one of the things that was holding folks back from making a choice about how they wanted to attack their modernization was that they didn't really know the space all that well. In other words, they didn't really know what their options were. And one of the big drivers behind reluctance in the past was that they had tried to do modernization and migration in-house. Full rewrite… you know, “pie in the sky”-style endeavor and it failed, and most of the time when you go that route it does. In fact, 77% said that they have started and failed a legacy modernization project before.

Steve:

Yeah.

Rob:

But… you know, that doesn't stop ‘em, and with the right folks and the right destination, that's good.

Steve:

No. And I think that it's important when you're trying to start your journey as to… you know, perfection is the enemy of “good enough”, and so yes, this may not be beautiful, serverless Lambda; and all that fun stuff, because there's a transformation you need to do. You're going to be in a transitional state architecture. But if I'm able to consume new services and able to expose my data to QuickSight or all these other services we currently have [that use] machine learning to predict and evaluate. Is that good enough for the business, as you circle back and add more functionality? is it good enough to do an API Gateway and add more features and functions in new channels to it? And so, let's look at what your journey's gotta be, and that's where the collaboration between AWS and Modern [Systems] can help our customers to achieve that mainframe transformation; to help them with that mainframe transformation journey.

Rob:

Yeah, and as much as I wish my job were easier in marketing that we could cookie-cutter this stuff, these modernization projects are so unique. Every single customer, [and] every single system and ecosystem that surrounds it, is so different that it needs to be attacked and in very specific and customized ways. [There’s] lots of application understanding; lots of information gathering. When you think based on your experience and everything that you've seen; when you think about… [is there] some advice that you could give our listeners around where to get started? You know, I mentioned earlier, how do you eat the elephant? One bite at a time?

Steve:

Right.

Rob:

You know? Do you start with the ears or do you start with the legs? [laughing]

Steve:

Yeah, I think… you know, once you make the decision to do this, this is really a team sport; and you need to identify the team. And the adage of “you're in the bus or off the bus”, I mean, that's really… I have 4 kids. Nothing makes a long journey of a 3-hour drive with working on that, right? [laughing] If you have… you know, everybody agreeing as to what you want to do and where you’re going. It makes it a lot easier [of a] journey, which is why it's important to have [that] - you don't need the passive aggressive people to show up to help.

Rob:

[laughing]

Steve:

So if you notice, I haven't said anything about technology. This is 100%, all of my scars are people, right?

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

And so having that team composition is a good start. Next thing you need to do is need to assess and figure out. AWS provides tooling to help you assess your mainframe workload. You know, Modern [Systems] has access to those tools as well and you guys have your own, but... you know, assess – “What is it that I have?” But also; “Where do I want to go? Where do I want to be? What's driving this? Is it cost? Is it agility?” What are the big boulder items that you want to cover from the standpoint of impact to the business, right? Is it maybe rethinking? Go through the different types; the Rs that everybody knows. “Which applications am I going to retire?” And I would focus on that first, quite frankly; retiring applications so you have the core applications to do; and then focus onto which ones you want to do. And almost apply a Richter scale of impact. “Group A - if we do refactoring because it does that”; “Group B - we want to do a rapid-lift-and-shift for that”; “Group C - we want to do data augmentation or new channels, features and functions.” Put ‘em in the right grouping and align with what the business is trying to do. But it's just really… you know, kind-of a “get started”. Now you know, from an AWS perspective, we want you to start this journey and we will help fund these initiatives… you know, to do the assessment; and through our MAP program we also help you transition the mainframe workloads onto the Cloud, and we also have a database freedom. So, any commercially available database on the mainframe, we will help you and provide you with some credits for transitioning some of that workload over as well. So, I would encourage… you know, folks that are [wondering] “How do I get started?” You know, contact Modern [Systems] and then work with the AWS Account Team to come up with a plan for you and get you off on your journey, you know? And let's get started.

Rob:

Yeah, and it's funny because with the assessment side of things… you know, when you're when you're talking about professional services in technology, assessments can mean lots of different things.

Steve:

Right.

Rob:

But in the legacy modernization world, it can't be overstated how important an assessment is. I always joke with customers and say “Look… you know, if you can get to us your entire estate that you're looking at modernizing in a single swipe, I'm buying beers for everybody.”

Steve:

[laughing] Yeah, it never happens.

Rob:

And I've never had to buy those beers, because just getting everything together is a huge undertaking; and the stuff that folks find is always surprising. There's always lots of dead and unused code, and… you know, a lot of history and debt that folks would rather not have sitting there; and either never knew existed because they showed up late, or completely forgot they had done.

Steve:

Right. It's kind of funny, so what you think you know ain't so. I mean, that's a great fact from the mainframe perspective. So when you thought was there was not there, and that's why these tools that are very fact-based – no emotion, just bottom-up. And then you kind-of create your own little Gartner Quadrant of your apps.

Rob:

[laughing]

Steve:

You know, down here in this quadrant – eliminate. You know this is the Gartner time method of tolerate, innovate, modernize [and] eliminate; and so… you know, bad architecture but value[able] to the business; move those over. Tolerate them, but move them over, and add more features and functions to that, but you have know where start from, and you need to have that barometer from the business of the biggest impact to the business, and also, look at cost.

Rob:

Yeah, definitely. And you know, cost from a big-picture perspective as well. You know, you've got the cost of not being able to innovate quickly; you've got the cost of all the resources that you've gotta stick behind the legacy system. You know, going to a single place across the IT team can really help ease things when it comes to integration; when it comes to deployment, and so on. I mean, it really is. It's “turtles all the way down” as they say, and I think teaming up with AWS and somebody like Advanced to start to peel this stuff apart is a great first move. And getting that assessment done; getting a proof of concept out there to see that this is actually possible, and that there's a huge advantage to bringing experts and their tools in to help you with this stuff, versus tackling it on your own.

Steve:

Right.

Rob:

Or just choosing not to.

Steve:

Right. This is not [an] on-the-job-training type of work, and which is why seasoned people need to be brought in with seasoned tools to do the work.

Rob:

Absolutely. You know it's funny, I was thinking back [to when] we helped The New York Times go from a mainframe with their with their home delivery subscriber service, which was so much bigger than I ever expected. I mean, obviously you know they’re a marquee media company, but that system was 40 years old and pulling in something like $500 million worth of revenue a year. And they did a phenomenal transformation; [we] learned a lot of lessons along the way. Ultimately a roaring success, saving somewhere around 70% in cost of that ecosystem on an annual basis. Now that they're in AWS - unbelievable.

Steve:

No, I… you know, as much as I love The New York Times it’s one of those that - actually I was competing with Cameron on that deal. [laughing]

Rob:

Sorry to bring up old traumas. [laughing]

Steve:

But… you know, I'm very familiar with it, and it's it's a very interesting - they wanted to go down the refactor route and I was going down another route, but it’s a great workload and it kind-of shows you that… you know, the cost savings that they were able to achieve on that and then they refactored that; it's great work, and it's something that they're still doing today. All those folks that were supporting that, I think were on the 6th floor. You know, they're right across the street from the Port Authority. And one of the key things that they were able to do now is… you know, that subscription system for The New York Times is also dictating how many issues to print. So they had these algorithms for, like, “Hey, it's a bad news day print - this much; or it's a good news day - X amount”, but now they can use AI and machine learning to tell how much print[ing] that you need to do. So there's a lot of interesting things that they were able to do because of that transformation via refactoring.

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

So again, it's a great win, and they’re still running today. They're still running on AWS today.

Rob:

Yeah, yeah, and they're actually even able to rent out the floor that the mainframe used to live on to another tenant, which is, you know, double win!

Steve:

Yeah, yeah, so that's for sure.

Rob:

Yeah, so what's next with AWS and the Mainframe Migration Competency Program? Tell us a little bit about strategically what you guys are aiming for, and what you expect in the reasonably-near future.

Steve:

You know, we're always reinventing ourselves and we're always looking at better ways, so… you know, we're going to continually listen to our customers as to what their needs are and make adjustments accordingly. You know, the mainframe is a strategic workflow for us, and we're going to continue working on that, and moving forward we need to support all the patterns that we've identified; that we’ve talked about. Like… you know, bring agility to your mainframe through the EC2 offloading development. Maybe do tape backup via one of our partners do that. The other thing is that… you know, do the rehost, like you know, what Modern [Systems] can help us with, as well as leveraging tools for the rehost. How do we refactor applications for that? Maybe a data augmentation pattern where you move data down and then do other things. But you know, partners that will support all of these things; we're always going to be looking to expand to, because… you know, mainframe transformation [is] not just one pattern, it's all the patterns.

Rob:

Right.

Steve:

And the one thing that I would state is that… you know, I'm going to steal Nike; you know, “Just Do It”.

Rob:

[laughing]

Steve:

Yeah, this is not bleeding edge, right? I did this about, you know, 20 or 30 pounds ago. Full head of hair.

Rob:

[laughing]

Steve:

So it is possible, and maybe that's the result of doing so many of them. You look like this; I'm the after. After so many projects. But you know, it is possible, and all it takes is this very basic thing. Team composition. Proper planning. Know all the integration points. How are you going to deploy? That's just basic tackling.

Rob:

Yeah.

Steve:

Blocking and tackling stuff; and then make sure that you have a tool and a partner that can actually deliver and help you guide you through this process. But again… you know, team compositions number one. Look within. Look within; who are the ones that are going to make that transition with you?

Rob:

Absolutely. So where can our listeners find out a little bit more about this program with AWS, and engage a bit more?

Steve:

Yeah, I mean right now we do have a… the Competency Program is up on our website, and so you could definitely go there. We have just a general email; mainframe@amazon.com, that you can use as well to communicate. But also just reach out to the folks here at Modern [Systems] and help us, or to your local account manager as well. We have all these different mechanisms to get to whatever information you need to do.

Rob:

Great! And you know, on the Advanced/Modern [Systems] side our website is modernsystems.oneadvanced.com. You can learn more about what we do with AWS at /services/aws. Lots of good information there; read a little bit more about that New York Times case study. And yeah, let's get started. There's nothing stopping you now.

Steve:

That's right.

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