In this episode, we meet with Erik van Enk, Cloud Transformation Technical Leader for EMEA at Microsoft to discuss the latest mainframe modernization trends and developments.
Walter Sweat: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the latest edition of Walter's World, the podcast series from Astadia.
For those of you who may not know, Astadia is an industry leader in helping organizations modernize and move mainframes to the cloud, and this podcast series is devoted to bringing in industry experts to help you understand the options that you might have, as you consider your mainframe modernization journey.
Today, I'm excited to have an old friend of mine, Erik van Enk from Microsoft. Erik is a Mainframe Global Blackbelt working for Microsoft, specifically in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Erik and I first met, I think, back in about 2015 or 2016 in Amsterdam, and I've really enjoyed following his career since that point in time. Erik, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.
I mentioned that we go back a longway. Could I get you to tell our audience a little bit about your background? And specifically, as it relates to what we're talking about today, with mainframe and cloud working together.
Erik van Enk: Yeah, if we go back, then I’m in the IT industry for more than thirty years already, and I think the last fifteen years are always related to let's say legacy modernization, starting with other companies and now ending with Microsoft nowadays. So it's still one of the things which becomes more like a hobby for me almost.
Walter Sweat: We are blessed that we get to work in a field that we really enjoy, and one that there are new technologies, new advances every single day. So I don't think we're ever goingto get bored, are we?
Erik van Enk: What new is tomorrow will be legacy today after. So I think this is a continuous integration. Let's say that we help customers in a better way, helping them to renew their IT environment. And that's why I like this uh specific topic the most.
Walter Sweat: I can understandthat. Erik, I mentioned that you were a Global Black Belt. For those people listening in today who may not know what that means, could you kind of describe what the Global Black Belt program within Microsoft entails and what that means for you?
Erik van Enk: Yed, so the Global Black Belt part is really in an Microsoft internal phrase, let's say, externally, it would be the expert on all legacy with organization. So we have Sales teams in front of customers, and we are in the virtual teams of these sales teams and helping them on a specific topic. So I'm doing this work for mainframe and mid-range transformations.
Walter Sweat: It makes sense. There are obviously some unique considerations related to mainframe. So people like you have that experience and understand the ways that the mainframe way of doing business can work inthe cloud has to be really helpful and instrumental to customers to, so that you can help lead them to that new direction.
Erik van Enk: Yes, we always say internally at Microsoft, “if you touch it, you own it.” And from this specific topic it's a role where you can help customers from the beginning to the end, starting with advisory – What's your strategy? – so there's no single answer for all the questions, and that makes it good, but also complicated sometimes for customers to understand what they can do. And based on the fifteen years experience, I know the ecosystem of partners like you very well. For example, Mario Mees, one of your colleagues, I know him for fifteen years already. So this is really a sort of a family, and it makes it a good way to help customers every time. Again, when you face a specific environment or a specific language, a legacy language, then we know that we need to go to Astadia or perhaps there is another migration partner who can help this customer in a better way, and then it's easy to switch and help the customer, and the role I have is just to facilitate and support the sales teams, but of course, the customers, and it ends up sometimes in a very good way, because you become a sort of a trusted adviser for the customers, which makes a lot of fun. So we are not people coming in selling this stuff and leaving again. No, we are here from the start to the end, and we are only satisfied when there is a successful project ending, and then we shake hands and go to the other one.
So it's aquite a diverse role that makes it interesting for me. And yes, there is no single answer for all these questions, so that it makes it also challenging. You always step in a new way of migrating, even though you know a lot of it.
It's always challenging and sometimes complicated to give the good answer to the customer.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely, as we all know, there are no two mainframe environments that are exactly alike, they have their own characteristics and technology, and trying to bring in that tribal knowledge and be that trusted advisor, I know Microsoft has always focused on that, and I hope we at Astadia we have done the same, to say we're not trying to sell you a solution. We're trying to be your partner to help you get to where you want to go, and that's when it's fun for us when we get to see people be successful like that.
Erik van Enk: Yes, and to get our companies, like Astadia in combination with Microsoft, we are really able to unburden the customer in this challenge. And this makes that we always end up with the smile by the end of the day.
Walter Sweat: That's right. Erik, my very first mainframe migration, I'm almost ashamed to admit this, was back in 1994 and we did it by hand. We didn't have a clue what we were doing, we didn't know what to look out for, and we sure discovered a bunch of things. So, being able to help an organization that has always done things the same way for the last thirty, forty, fifty years, to know what to look for, I've got to think that's a very exciting part of your job as well to be able to help guide them through this process.
Erik van Enk: True. My first migration was in 2005, I thought we were the first one in the Benelux based on the Micro Focus tooling. Now, most of us, we were well known for the MicroFocus tooling and it was a challenge because it was the first time, the CIO was trusting us but we were still facing some issues but together with Micro Focus and we partners like you, we could manage it, and then drinking a glass of champaign when the CIO was switching off the mainframe, that’s the best moment you can get, and the the big difference from that time and now is that there were also some mainframe profilers who were, let let's say, not really happy with our approach. And they said “you can't do this,” “perhaps you can doit up to five hundred MIPS, but above that it's not doable. And so we came with the first 1000 MIPS migration. And then they say, “Yeah, the first 1000 is doable, but if it's above 2000 it's not possible.
And we came with a 5000 MIPS migration. And nowadays, to be honest, I work with IBM and Kyndryl as well o nmainframe optimization. So the whole market is changing and always setting the customer on number one. And that's good to see that the whole legacy monetization area is just focusing on “How can we help customers in the best way?”
Sometimes it's hard and difficult, if you're in the conversation with IBM, for example, and you tell them we bring the customer off mainframe, sometimes that's hard for them. But there are other cases where we try to finda way, bringing the best of both worlds, mainframe and the cloud, and find a hybrid situation, and then everyone is happy.
Walter Sweat: I think that hybrid component is key to what, especially these larger organizations like you, you know, starting out with the hundred MIPS and five hundred MIPS and thousand. Today, we're talking to organizations that have one hundred thousand and two hundred thousand plus MIPS, who are seriously considering whether it's hybrid or integrating some components of cloud into their environment which makes it exciting.
Erik van Enk: If you ask my colleagues within Microsoft what my ambition is, and it's not a secret. I want to do my first one hundred thousand MIPS migration. Everyone was laughing about it but it's my real ambition. So let's see if it works out.
Walter Sweat: I have faith thatyou will get there.
Erik van Enk: Yeah, but you see, nowadays we do migrations of twenty thousand thirty thousand MIPS and ten years ago we were they even able to think about it and now we're doing it. Uh so yeah, why not have the ambition to do the one hundred thousand MIPS migration.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely, I agree. Erik, I'd like to ask you from your perspective, why are organizations looking to cloud to transform their core applications on the mainframe today. What are some of the driving factors?
Erik van Enk: What I see is there are three components mostly. That is the agility, so how can I speed up my time to market? The other one is mostly cost-driven - can I get a cheaper run environment, because as a CIO you always need to be creative to find some money to do so many of the things, because, on the other hand, you get less budget. But your contracts, your recurrent contracts will increase every year. So then, the only way mostly you can find money for innovation is to reduce your run cost, and this is really good to do. So that's the second one. So agility, cost, and the third one is the is the skills shortage.
We see people like us. We are coming in an age that we are still need to work for ten years or five years. But we see that the first bunch of people are going with retirement now, and it will be bigger and bigger and bigger for the next coming years. And there's a big concern for companies. Because how do I secure my continuity? My maintenance will need to go after these people left. And how do I keep my knowledge inside the company? So I think that's the third major reason why customers are thinking of a legacy modernization.
Walter Sweat: It's interesting, you mentioned about the skills shortage of people retiring. I often hear "Oh, my! It's horrible, we can't find COBOL programmers." I tend to think more "Oh, my, we can't find system programmers and Assembler programmers and Natural&Adabas and IDMS programmers". And that becomes a real challenge for people. So I absolutely hear the same thing that you're mentioning there, especially about the skill shortage.
Erik van Enk: Yeah. And several years ago we heard that then and with all the respect, we asked Indian providers, and they can come up with some very good legacy code developers. But also these people are having ambitions into the new code like Java .NET and the new things after it. So it's harder and harder every time to keep the people or get them on into your organization. So then, as a customer, as a company you need to be more uh flexible for adopting new technologies.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely. Erik,I think this is kind of evolutionary. I'd like to know your thoughts on it. Doyou feel that today the cloud has become kind of like the de facto destination when people are considering mainframe migration alternatives?
Erik van Enk: We both started in the area that you did a migration on-prem. So you went off mainframe, and you go to on-prem. And nowadays I think most of the requests we get is going to cloud, and especially for new projects it's mostly cloud first, even though companiesare hesitating to doing the first steps let's say, but we see more and more that how can we adopt cloud to maintain our mainframe workloads. With cloud you create more flexibility and scalability to achieve your performance. Or if you are a tax authority and you need to have a sort of a a peak on your mainframe for two, three months a year. Why would you buy a new, really, really expensive mainframe while there are other ways where you can buy the peak for just the moment you need it. So from that point of view, you see some hesitation on the customer side, but also per country. So it's not that this is a general answer. But now it’s mostly a cloud first, and you need to have a reason that you want to stay on-prem, but there are still customers getting off to an on-prem world. But then still they come to us, and asking for advice - I did, my first phase getting off the mainframe to a non-prem world. But my next phase would be - Can I make my applications cloud native? And what would be your advice?
Walter Sweat: We’ve seen the same people that have moved off the mainframe on-prem. Now coming back and saying just as you said, Okay, I'm ready now for that next step. Let's strategically figure out how we do that together.
Erik van Enk: And sometimes they did it to let's say, create a sort of a cell funding project. Because if you see the TCO savings on replacing your hardware, your infrastructure with this saving you can fund almost your next stage, making your applications cloud native.
Walter Sweat: I absolutely agree. Now we talked about people being able to transition. What do you think are are some of the biggest inhibitors in these transformations, in other words, why haven't we done more yet?
Erik van Enk: It's still the hesitation. So companies are looking around to see who is doing it first, or who is going first? And we are lucky that there are some real innovative companies stepping in this market, and they did already the migration. So you see now more and more that companies asking for advice, but sometimes it's also a deal known.
Is it possible to bring my mainframe workloads into cloud? How and who can do this? So it’s the unknown sometimes, but the biggest blockers we solved already. We did it on multiple languages, and not only COBOL but migration partners specifically on Unisys or specific for Adabas&Natural so we can show companies that they are not the first,and we can bring them in contact with companies that did it already. Don' trust us, but perhaps you can trust a company who did it already, and what is their journey? And perhaps you can prevent some thingsthey went through in your project.
Walter Sweat: We view a kind of as a snowball effect. We, as vendors and partners we can suggest. Yes, this is certainly doable. But I think when companies see other companies in their industry achieve this when they see their competitors achieve this, it makes it much easier for them to get used to the idea and accept that maybe it's not only this possible, but it's the right thing to do, so that I can stay competitive, and I can be as agile as my competitors, so it's a on time in the industry, no doubt.
Erik van Enk: Yes, and I think that's part of our added value that next to telling the story about Cloud and Microsoft, we can also take them on a journey, because we know the customers who did it based on our experience, we have the context as well, and then that's the first step and vision.
And sometimes we face customers asking me - I want to go off my mainframe. And then I ask - do you have already some cloud experience that you bring already some workloads into our cloud or other cloud environments because you don't want to bring your crown jewels first, so try an experience with other workloads, and then I advise to wait and first start migrating let's say other workloads their mainframe into the cloud and create enthusiasm, see how it can help, and trust really in the cloud journey, and then have the discussion on how can we bring your crown jewels off your mainframe into thecloud environment?
Walter Sweat: It makes sense to kind of build off of those experiences, taking the right-size steps at the right time. Talking about time, Erik, from your perspective, why is now the right time to act for organizations? And how can companies like Microsoft and Astadia help in that?
Erik van Enk: Yeah, I think we've mentioned an important thing is to skill shortage. So that's a time-related item which you can stop and say we wait. So I think that's a big drive for companies to think of getting off the mainframe or discovering it. And based on our experience, your company and Microsoft together, we did it before, I think that's a big win. Why now? Sometimes it's cost-driven from the business to speed up the time to market, but mostly, I think, the skill shortage is a big problem.
Walter Sweat: I agree with you. I'm interested to know - Do you feel that most organizations are looking to just replicate what they're doing on the mainframe when they move to the cloud, or do you find that they're trying to enhance, become more agile in their applications? Or is that a multi phase approach that you feel most people are taking?
Erik van Enk: If we take our customers on a journey that we talk about four migration patterns based on the seven Rs from Gartner, we try to make it a bit simpler, and then we have to migrate to transform the reinvision in the extent. So the first three are really focusing on getting off the mainframe and the migrate, we mentioned already Micro Focus with Anubex, these are companies that are helping you replace your infrastructure but you can keep your your legacy code.
The second, to transform, is not replacing just your hardware, but also transforming your legacy code into Java .NET. But then it's still a one on one, and luckily we are seeing this market is growing in a good way, because I think you and I know that in the past we had companies who were picking up one line of COBOL, bringing it to one line of Java, and at the end you have to sortof a JOBOL, a mix which was hard to maintain. So you did a successful migration, but it was not successful to your organization, because these applications, this code, was not and maintainable afterwards. And now you see companies stepping in with a lot better tooling and creating almost plain Java and plain .NET which is maintainable afterwards.
But that’s still one on one. The other is reinvisioning, and I always say, if you have all the time and all the money, then this will be the best way to go off your mainframe, starting from scratch, using all the new technologies like containers and DevOps, but not every company has all the time and all the money to do such a thing. And these projects are mostly more complex than the migrate and the transform I would say, so if you see our migration parents, I see the most traction on the migrate and the transform. And because it's proven, you have an average timeline of, let's say, two years, so you can go to your CFO and explain in that you have a project with a return on investment within two years time. It's not always doable, but we see projects within two years or around two years, and it depends on the complexity and how big your environment is.
And nowadays we see also companies just thinking of getting best of both worlds going into an extent version first and going hybrid with clouds and mainframe. And you see in the environment in our market you see a lot of competition over there as well.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely. We, at Astadia, we are firm believers in risk aversion, you know, the beauty of the mainframe is it works the same way every single day, giving great results from great performance and protecting that getting off of the mainframe in the same way, and then strategically deciding where you can get the biggest benefit from modernization and transformation, leveraging the things that the cloud provides not to just do it for do its sake, but to say what's going to allow me to keep the risk to a minimum and get the biggest benefit, that I think is really key.
Erik van Enk: Yes, and sometimes you see the real mainframe die hards still thinking that it's not doable and complaining about our initiatives, but I think, let's help each other, because we can't do such a project without the experience of these die hard mainframe experts. So I think we need to combine our strengths and find the best way for the workloads and the environment for the customer to make it stable and safe for the future.
Walter Sweat: I totally agree, I think that's very well said. We talked about technologies, Erik. What are someof the new technologies that are out there that you're particularly excited about when you talk about people moving to the cloud and being able to leverageits capabilities.
Erik van Enk: You see, the tooling becomes more mature over the years. What I like to most nowadays is that we can help customers if they go to cloud, then Cloud is not the only environment they have so, and to try to make it the simpler for customers. You want to have a sort of one management console, one management layer where you can manage all your environments. So how can I manage my on-prem and my cloud at the same time, and all my databases? And what I like the most, which is perhaps a new technology for me, it's really fun to explain to customers is Azure Arc. It's a service which creates a way for customers that you can manage your whole environment for one management console if it's on-prem, if it's cloud, if it's even multi-cloud.
Walter Sweat: That is huge, to be able to have a consistent, controllable, manageable environment that you get the holistic view of everything that you've got going on. That's key, that's critical.
Erik van Enk: Yes, because in the end, I think from a business point, I don't care if it runs on amainframe or another workload or in the cloud. I don't care. I just want to know that it's safe, that it's stable, and it's flexible for me. So I can build new functionality in it. And now still we’re talking about mainframes, clouds, different technologies. From a business point of view, I don't care, I want to have continuity. So if I, as an IT department, when I’m able to manage my whole stack of infrastructure and databases, yes, then it's also easier for me to adopt new ways into my data center, into my IT environment, and help the business in a better way.
Walter Sweat: It makes sense. Erik, you mentioned multi cloud, I like to give you a chance to talk about if an organization does consider multicloud environments and strategies – why do you feel Microsoft Azure is the best platform for them?
Erik van Enk: To prevent that we end up in a sort of a sales story, if I look at it from my point of view, and also before Microsoft, I think Microsoft Cloud is a cloud which you see the most in the enterprise, so for big customers with serious workloads, with a high expectation of continuity and safety. And I think Microsoft Cloud can make the difference there also based on Azure Arc, which is one of our, I think, I didn't seen it with the other hyperscalars so for me it's a unique thing, and I think and I hope that it all our competitors hyperscalars will come up with the same initiative, because, from a customer point of view, we need to have a good story for them and I think we have some experience to get a base. For example, the reference case we have Astadia and Microsoft for the US Air Force. It explains that our environment helps you even though it's mission critical.
If you arein a situation to manage the weapons of all your planes in the world and you create a problem over there and then Oh, gosh! So this runs for two years already in our Microsoft Azure environment and it’s mission critical for the US Air Force.
Walter Sweat: That’s why we are both obviously very proud, I can't think of an application more mission critical than that.
Erik van Enk: Yes, I think with Microsoft Azure we have a proven track record with mission critical workloads.
Walter Sweat: Fantastic. Looks like we're coming up close to the end of our half hour. I'd like to just kind of close just asking - do you have any advice you'd like to share for organizations that are out there today looking for cloud as an alternative for them if they're on the mainframe?
Erik van Enk: First of all, if there are companies telling you “It's easy”, don't trust them, don't take them serious. It's a really serious business we are in and that's why I always start with “What is your strategy as a company? Where do you want to go to, even before you think on a mainframe transformation?” And then, if you know the strategy, then you can also find ways to choose the best migration way to getting off the mainframe. If it's a migrate or transform, or whatever. If you choose, for example, an emulation, then you don't solve your skill shortage because you still maintain your applications in the legacy code. So these things are important for the next steps, and then doing a good assessment, and having this discussion based on facts and not on assumptions, because again, it's really important. It's serious. And to prevent that you find some difficulties during the project based on an assessment, and it's also my experience. Because these applications are running for ten, twenty, thirty years already. So if I ask a customer, do you use Assembler, most of them will say no it is just plain COBOL, and if we do such an assessment, then we see some really challenging code, or workloads, and then it's good to know it upfront, because then you can find the right solution and theright migration partner instead of stepping in and see what happens. So that would be my advice, and if you have all the facts on the table, then, not only just stepping into a huge migration but try to find a sort of isolated workload on your mainframe, and do a sort of an MVP, a minimal viable project, and convince each other that this will work. And then still as a customer, you have a go - no go moment after the MVP. If you want to do the whole migration, or you think, based on performance, latency, this is not what I had expected, then I need to make out a choice, but make conscious choices every time again, that it would be my advice, and we are more than willing to help you with.
Walter Sweat: I think that is fantastic, if we often say the devil truly is in the details and understanding those details at the front end is key. So as always, you offer great advice. Erik, it has been a delight getting to catch up with you again. Thank youso much for taking your time today to chat with our audience, really appreciate you being here.
Erik van Enk: It was really fun to do and hopefully we will see each other again on the show.
Walter Sweat: I'm looking forward to it. Thank you, my friend, and for everyone else, thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to join this podcast. Please check in at www.astadia.com to see what new and exciting podcasts we have upcoming. Thank you all, and I hope you have a fantastic day.
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