In this episode, we meet again with Bob Ellsworth, Director of Mainframe Transformation at Microsoft, to look back and reflect on Bob’s experience, insights, and history with mainframe modernization before his retirement from Microsoft.
Walter Sweat: Hi everyone, welcome to the latest edition of Walter’s World, the podcast series from Astadia.
If you have been following the podcast series, you know, one of the very first podcast we did in this series was with Bob Ellsworth from Microsoft and I am honored and delighted to have Bob back again with us.
Walter Sweat: I don't know if everyone knows this yet, but Bob whom I consider really if not one of the pioneers, the pioneer who has started this movement for mainframe modernization and migration.
Walter Sweat: So, to see an icon like him reached, you know, the end of this portion of his career, I thought it would be great to have him back on to talk about his experiences and what he sees in this space, so Bob thank you so much for taking the time to come back and talk with us again.
Bob Ellsworth: Well, thank you so much, Walter, it's great to be here again and looking forward to the conversation.
Walter Sweat: Thanks so much, but I know a lot of people in this industry know you and know your background, but for those who don't, can you describe your early career, you know back to when you first started working on the mainframe. I think people would findthat fascinating.
Bob Ellsworth: Absolutely. I got a little bit of an early start back in 1971 I was assistance programmer at Virginia Tech and working my way through college there in the data center.
Bob Ellsworth: Maintaining an empty system migrating 10 vs installing a vm 370, and so I got some great experiences, while I was working my way through school.
And then I had the opportunity to join this little startup called am doll to which delivered the first compatible mainframe compatible with IBM mainframe of the day, and so I joined the have it all in 76 and continued work in a damned all for 24 years until I came to Microsoft.
Walter Sweat: Yeah, being a systems programmer you were involved at the most intimate levels and understood what mainframes were really about, and I know in your career that's been a help for you to be able to know what it's like to have that history of these applications that are put together and why they're put together the way that they are.
Bob Ellsworth: Definitely assistance program and experience was just so valuable and understanding how the systems work and how they run my favorite languages assembler.
Bob Ellsworth: And it's because, of course, maintain the operating system, all the exit you write everything you do as an assembler and that gets really down to the machine level of understanding how these these machines actually work.
Walter Sweat: yes, absolutely.
Walter Sweat: um can you kind of describe what it was like you know getting the program started at Microsoft that was focused on getting mainframe customers to look at alternatives to what they had always been doing.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah it was it was really the ability to combine you know my passion for mainframes and competing with IBM, and also my passion that I developed at Microsoft.
Bob Ellsworth: And you know, the way we started was to recognize that there were some partners out there that had started to build tools and services run main migration.
Bob Ellsworth: And it was about first building this mainframe migration alliance, so that we could have an ecosystem of partners to help our customers on this journey.
Bob Ellsworth: And it was a little bit of an uphill battle at Microsoft, because at Microsoft they think in volumes you think of how many millions of windows servers can we sell.
Bob Ellsworth: And don't really think about you know the impact you'd have with a smaller you know, a larger platform that can do many times more than a windows server.
Bob Ellsworth: but also the fact that there weren't that many out there at the time hundred and 60,000 mainframes.
Bob Ellsworth: So it was a little bit of a struggle getting the right kind of attention from the executives, but it was so rewarding helping our mutual customers understand how to you know migrate their workloads.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely that certainly makes sense um, but I think it was 2008 when you and I first met. You know back then cloud was an interesting concept, but perhaps wasn't certainly what it is today.
Walter Sweat: So while we work with folks who were you know, looking at on premise alternatives, how important has as you're bending getting people to consider moving from the mainframe has that been a something that has helped people move forward and considering alternatives.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah it's absolutely been a catalyst and you think of you know, customers legacy systems mainframe and Unix systems that they have in their data Center even Windows systems. And you know customers a lot of times you know the old saying was you never got fired for making an IBM position. And so you know staying on the mainframe was a very viable option and IBM continues to enhance the mainframe and you know evolved it as they will.
Bob Ellsworth: But what happened with the presence of the cloud and Azure being one of those cloud providers it caused customers to start to think about digital transformation and using new technologies to evolve their businesses and the solutions they provide both internally into customers.
Bob Ellsworth: And the cloud is really a key component of that digital transformation well for a customer that has a mainframe that's got to be part of the digital transformation journey.
Bob Ellsworth: So definitely the cloud has been a catalyst to cause customers to start to question do they need to keep running their workload on the mainframe or they have options to move those workloads off and take advantage of the cloud.
Walter Sweat: The options, I think has been paramount, as we looked at this I don't know about your experience back in this must go back eight nine years when people first started talking to us about cloud, and they were all interested to know if we had the capabilities of moving to the cloud, and we did then, thank goodness for azure sure. But no one wanted to be first you know it was still something that they can see at that point in time the benefits that were there, and the options it gave them and what it opened up to them beyond what they had been doing just in the mainframe now.
Walter Sweat: I would bet it's the same view I don't have a conversation with a potential customer where they're not talking about cloud if not in the first sentence by the second sentence.
Bob Ellsworth: You're absolutely correct customers trust in the cloud has dramatically increased.
Bob Ellsworth: Because of the you know capabilities of the cloud the level of security and availability that's available if you properly architected.
Bob Ellsworth: And so, because of customers trust in the cloud increasing they're starting to trust the cloud for their mission critical mainframe workloads as well, so we're definitely seeing that shift.
Bob Ellsworth: I would say, five, six years ago, maybe 20%of my engagements they consider the cloud as a destination now it's closer to60 to 70% is the cloud is really the chosen destination for these workbooks.
Walter Sweat: make sense um you talked about the benefits of the mainframe performance obviously has always been a big part of that what has been your experience in working with your customers who've actually made this transformation.
Walter Sweat: Whether now running in the cloud.
Walter Sweat: or they seen the comparable level of performance that they had had for years on the mainframe.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah that's a that's a great area to delve into because you think of the mainframe of mainframe Z series processor or Z 15 it delivers about 2000 NIPs million instructions per second.
Bob Ellsworth: And Intel core does about 200 MIPS so it does one 10th of that.
Bob Ellsworth: And so, that is a question that customers will ask well how in the world can run this workflow that's on the mainframe you expecting this capacity.
Bob Ellsworth: And, and having to run on on a process of this one 10th the size and what we found is that, in particular for batch.
Bob Ellsworth: Storage systems premium storage in the cloud solid state devices really cut down a batch latency for doing io operations.
Bob Ellsworth: So a lot of times we'll see that batch runs faster when it's moved to an x86 cloud platform than it did on the mainframe because that latency being reduced and it's so important for you know for cpu intensive workloads to be able to multitask.
Bob Ellsworth: and be able to scale out so as long as the workload is constructed to the right way, which most workloads are.
Bob Ellsworth: We just don't see performance issues inmoving these workloads to the cloud.
Walter Sweat: I know a lot of books talk about you know how do you even consider moving a huge mainframe with you think of it is an airport at a time.
Walter Sweat: or a little segment, at a time that elephant doesn't seem so scary to start to eat them.
Bob Ellsworth: You know you're absolutely right it's not the total capacity of the mainframe that's important, but the the size of the ballpark and then, as you well know, take you to nail par you don't put it into a single virtual machine.
Bob Ellsworth: You break it up between the data layer and the application layer and utilities layer into separate virtual machines.
Bob Ellsworth: we've had partners run a benchmark that we created a number of years ago called the zero F benchmark, to see how much capacity, they could get in a single virtual machine.
Bob Ellsworth: And partners, and these are published studies partners have gotten 25 to 27,000 NIPs and have a single hundred and 28 core virtual machine and that's large enough to handle 95 98% of the biggest l parts out there.
Walter Sweat: that's an impressive number.
Bob Ellsworth: Certainly, as I was very I was very pleased to see the results of those studies.
Walter Sweat: Bob we were talking about you know how things have changed, and there have always been concerns that people have had to.
Walter Sweat: say this so often the beauty of the mainframe is that it works, the same way, every day with the same reliable results, so people have concerns about looking at alternatives what I'm interested in.
Walter Sweat: Are the reasons that companies were hesitant to consider non mainframe alternatives and in those main Prem environments has that started to change over the years.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah it absolutely has you know, a couple observations that I've seen is that because of improvements in the x86 technologies and architectures.
Bob Ellsworth: You think of a mainframe you need to have reliability availability service ability, you know, is the way that we've always thought of mainframes is a huge hugely raz platform.
Bob Ellsworth: and properly architected you know the cloud as your delivers the same levels of raz that you come to expect from mainframe.
Bob Ellsworth: And that a big part of that is is the tools technologies and services have been designed to allow you to deliver that there was an old saying that your fellow you know worker that we know quite well coined the term as your is the new mainframe.
Bob Ellsworth: Yes, and it absolutely is the case that you all of the services, you need are there to deliver what you expect from a mainframe mission critical workloads
Walter Sweat: that's a great point and to kind of extend on that um the reasons that companies would consider to move off of the mainframe.
Walter Sweat: You know, originally what we always heard was it was a great way to save money.
Walter Sweat: But the services that you talk about do they start to become a component that people consider.
Walter Sweat: as to why there might be better options for them to take a look at.
Bob Ellsworth: Now that's that's real good question real good point because absolutely reducing costs, you know that's important to most customers.
Bob Ellsworth: And absolutely moving from an expensive Zseries processor to x86 huge cost savings for the compute and storage.
Bob Ellsworth: But in addition to that you know, looking to the future, we talked about digital transformation and real digital transformation really is about embracing new technologies to solve business challenges and advanced the business.
Bob Ellsworth: And that's really what the cloud provides is that technology for digital transformation.
Bob Ellsworth: Instead of you know, keeping your system locked away in the mainframe the data locked away in the mainframe.
Bob Ellsworth: Exposing that data to machine learning and AI with standard services is part of that vision and part of the implementations that our customers look forward to.
Bob Ellsworth: So it's it is really about, you know digital transformation utilizing these these cloud based technologies.
Bob Ellsworth: And you also think about building an application, you know, in the 90s 80s and 90s, when we were building Apps.
Bob Ellsworth: You had to do everything yourself, you know sure you called you did so he sees and called system services, but it was just at the root level of the application.
Bob Ellsworth: Today, you know building new applications you build applications consuming services and let the vendors provide the services that you need so that shift now using those services, the only way to really make use of those is by moving data and the work up to the cloud.
Walter Sweat: yeah that that has certainly been something that I've seen as well, where people start to.
Walter Sweat: be able to use those building blocks so they're not building from scratch, all the time they can leverage what is there and available and it's been a real paradigm shift I feel.
Walter Sweat: For these organizations.
Bob Ellsworth: Very much so, in some cases it's a vision, so I give you a great analogy so I've got a Ford expedition and it has a trailer towing package on it, I don't know the trailer, but if I ever want to pull the trailer I can.
Bob Ellsworth: Well, and that's the way customers think about the cloud also that they they may not need to consume or have the you know the budget or the strategies to consume those cloud services initially.
Bob Ellsworth: But by moving to the cloud, they have the ability to consume the services when the time is right, so it's really about opening up the doors to new technologies.
Walter Sweat: I love that analogy that's that's picture perfect let's talk about the development teams, you know.
Walter Sweat: Being an old mainframe programmer myself, you know we were used to doing things a certain way, have you found that people adapt pretty easily to these new concepts these new paradigm shifts in terms of development.
Bob Ellsworth: You know, some people do some people don't I think that's always What if it's what I find in engaging with customers, working with the development teams.
Bob Ellsworth: You know some of the people think hey I can increase productivity, if they haven't already moved off of green screens fordoing development, you know to IBM developer for Z or other tools available from our partners.
Bob Ellsworth: They may be hesitant to think about developing in a new ID and and that that's a challenge you know those that are braced new ideas eclipse visual studio for doing development.
Bob Ellsworth: They see that their productivity increases and as long as they're willing to take that first step and lose learn these new ideas.
Bob Ellsworth: Then the world opens up to them, and once you're in the new developer environment, then you can replace components with eclipse or visual stuff with eclipse, Java or C sharp so there's so much you can do, using the new ID, but a lot of cases customers, you know you know the older guys, like us, that have been the history, a long time, maybe stuck in our ways.
Bob Ellsworth: Some people just don't feel like they want to learn, these new developer environments so that's a challenge.
Bob Ellsworth: On the other hand, what we find is those that really know their value as they know the business logic, they built these systems.
Bob Ellsworth: And those people if they're close to retirement, they want their legacy to continue and for those systems to continue serving the business.
Bob Ellsworth: And so, in in a lot of cases, they will work directly with the new kids that are coming in that know those ideas and help teach them the business logic collaborate together.
Bob Ellsworth: To build out these systems to make improvements or embrace this transformation to the cloud.
Bob Ellsworth: So it's really about sharing those experiences sharing that knowledge for the next generation to be able to support the great work that they've done.
Bob Ellsworth: And so we see a couple classes like that either embracing the technologies themselves or helping others that know the technologies, support the applications they built.
Walter Sweat: I think that is a fantastic example I have been very lucky over the years I've always enjoyed training.
Walter Sweat: and being able to go out and train people on new environments like visual studio or eclipse and these tools.
Walter Sweat: People who are older than me and have been doing the same thing for 40 years it's always interesting on day one there's this concern, but to go back three months later, and to hear these people talk about wow I love working in this new environment.
Walter Sweat: yeah when you hear the CIOs talking about we always used to seem to have a mainframe development group and a distributed development group.
Walter Sweat: yes and they never were able to speak now having common tools.
Walter Sweat: These older mainframe developers get a sense of pride in being able to share what they've created with people who will hopefully be able to extend that moving forward, based on things that we talked about before.
Walter Sweat: How about data um I find this fascinating that you know mainframe data, you get great performance but oftentimes it's if you want something new you've got to go find a programmer to write something new for you.
Bob Ellsworth: Oh sure.
Walter Sweat: Being able to put data in repositories where you could leverage things like data analytics business intelligence, as a general rule has that been a dramatic change for organizations.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah it really has that's that's been a hallmark and a strategy here at Microsoft you call that self service and that that challenge on the mainframe way sure you've got data sitting there and be Samara db to or other data stores and to get access to it, you do have to build a program.
Bob Ellsworth: You know you have to write the application todo that and that really delays that ability to analyze that data and take action on it turned it turning data into action.
Bob Ellsworth: So the strategy here is always been self service bi giving individuals that don't really know the format of the database you'll access to tools, so they can do that business intelligence themselves and that's part of the the benefit of migrating.
Bob Ellsworth: or replicating data from the mainframe to the cloud or migrating the data in the applications is then you can expose it to the tools like bi analytics machine learning.
Bob Ellsworth: You can expose it and individuals can do self service bi business owners can do that there's a number of tools that I use, you know power bi is a great example.
Walter Sweat: Oh yes.
Bob Ellsworth: That it has connectors to be able to connect back to the mainframe beta and so you think about using those tools that anybody can learn to use you don't have to be a programmer to be able to turn data into action.
Walter Sweat: Data into action is such a key component, it is a way to do business differently.
Walter Sweat: without having to reinvent everything so that's something that we see often that people will start to realize that they can leverage this pertinent very important information that they have in ways that perhaps they were never able to before.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah absolutely and that's that's really the key and part of the charm me a part of the benefit of considering moving that data into the cloud.
Bob Ellsworth: And we've worked with companies that needed to have very high performance data stores in you know, in the cloud.
Bob Ellsworth: They are using V Sam on the mainframe much more performance for a lot of workloads and db to and we've we've developed an emulation of cosmos db be Sam and in cosmos dp.
Bob Ellsworth: And this allowed them to move those applications to the cloud and get all the benefits of the cloud.
Bob Ellsworth: But be able to deliver the same or even better performance responsiveness, and they have on the mainframe.
Bob Ellsworth: So yeah using the data in new ways taken advantage of new data stores, either for performance for analytics for machine learning the world opens up when you're able to move that data unlock it from the mainframe and expose it to the services.
Walter Sweat: it's really exciting to talk about this to realize what people can do now.
Bob Ellsworth: It really is it's it's been I tell you think back over the last 50 years for me and it's just been incredible the advancements in technology is and what's been made available to us to be able to solve business problems.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely, so you talk about 15 years I think the audience will be really interested to know what 50 years later.
Walter Sweat: And where we are now.
Walter Sweat: What do you see for this space moving forward what are some of the options that are out there, or what are some of the ways that people can look at things differently, that they never could before.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah well when I think of that that 50 year spread, you know that again technology advancements where you know back in the 70s, you wanted to eke out every last little myth, out of a machine, because the machine is we're so hugely expensive you're doing one on.
Bob Ellsworth: Three to $5 million, and so you know that commodity was so expensive you needed to do everything you could today capacity compute capacity is so inexpensive.
Bob Ellsworth: That you can use it to do things you'd never thought of doing in the past you're like Ai machine learning bi let the machine do it, you know don't write a program to do a lot of the pieces yourself.
Bob Ellsworth: The kinds of advancements that I see, especially in the mainframe migration space, you know the tools continue to advance refactoring tools have gotten so much better.
Bob Ellsworth: At not just generating Code, the code that's supportable and manageable, rather than just functional.
Bob Ellsworth: And you know accurate you think of re hosting technologies and the advancements that have made been made there.
Bob Ellsworth: To be able to run the applications, as is and not have to make any changes to the applications to run them on x86 Linux or Windows.
Bob Ellsworth: And I see that those advancements will continue embracing the new cloud data stores will become more and more important and transparency between those.
Bob Ellsworth: Being able to do things like backup to the cloud we've got a partner that's then a very successful virtual backup virtual tape solution that goes directly to the cloud for for storage backup.
Bob Ellsworth: at a lower costs and even faster than doing virtual tape on on the mainframe so I see more and more of new technologies, new solutions.
Bob Ellsworth: making it easier to move these workloads transparently under the covers in some cases, without the user even knowing what platform your applications are running on.
Bob Ellsworth: So there's some some great technologies that will be coming to market in the next few years that have you know huge promise to make it easier to reduce capacity on the mainframe and a hybrid way and take advantage of the cloud.
Walter Sweat: Great but I know that uh i've been on some of these ways, but you are on calls early and late.
Walter Sweat: Especially with coven for the last year and a half.
Walter Sweat: So, moving forward, where you're not going to be on calls all the time, what do you what are you looking to do with your free time.
Walter Sweat: A stage of your career slash life.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah, thank you for for that you know it is, it is actually it was a real hard decision to make the decision to retire, the end of this month and.
Bob Ellsworth: I still have my fingers into the pie doing some things but just not working full time and just the coven while it's been such a tragic tragedy.
Bob Ellsworth: To you know people and the challenges we've all faced because of covert it's also been a blessing.
Bob Ellsworth: That ability to work from home and not be on planes and traveling all the time I spend much more quality time with my wife of almost 49 years has been.
Bob Ellsworth: a trial run to see what it would be like when I retired which, which has been great for me and you're part of it is.
Bob Ellsworth: Shifting focus to be able to do more things with my wife not worry about running out of vacation time at the end of the year.
Bob Ellsworth: You know where I can do you know travel when appropriate or spend time live wife or kids or grandkids. I've got three children eight grandchildren one great granddaughter and being able to spend time with them is is really what what I'm looking forward to catching up on the honey do list all the projects.
Bob Ellsworth: Again, keep my fingers into mainframe migration with a few of my partners and then spending quality time.
Bob Ellsworth: Take the first thing we'll be doing on January 11 and I'm going with three my grandkids down to Disneyland and so being able to experience Disneyland through two 10 year olds and a four year old is that's going to be so much fun.
Walter Sweat: that's going to be well earned I know you have a great great time.
Bob Ellsworth: Thank you.
Walter Sweat: Well, what will you miss the most about what you've been doing for the last 50 years for the last you know dozen years orwhat, what are the joys that you know you are a little melancholy, perhaps about.
Bob Ellsworth: Well, the two things that that I'll miss the most number one or not in priority order, but one of those things is.
Bob Ellsworth: The impact of helping a customer understand you know what their options are and helping them choose the right path.
Bob Ellsworth: For a successful mainframe migration that's that is so rewarding you know, having those kinds of calls with the CIO.
Bob Ellsworth: And you know the lights turn on and they say Oh, my goodness, well, I had no idea that that could that was possible.
Bob Ellsworth: The second thing is missing the the partnerships, the friendships that that have been built up over the last 50years, and especially the last 12 years around mainframe migration this.
Bob Ellsworth: You know the ecosystem of individuals is very, very small, this is a small community, we tend to all know each other, even though in some cases will compete.
Bob Ellsworth: But we tend to know each other and admire and appreciate each other and so just that that opportunity to have conversations with to connect with the people I worked with the friends that I've had the pleasure of friendships building up over the last 12 years I'll miss that the most.
Bob Ellsworth: So it'll be it'll be important to make that shift.
Bob Ellsworth: But still I will miss those conversations.
Walter Sweat: I know that we will all miss them it's always been a rewarding and comforting to be able to pick up the phone and say Bob, what do you think about this is this feasible or viable so.
Walter Sweat: yeah you will be greatly missed, I can tell you that, by many.
Bob Ellsworth: Thank you all.
Walter Sweat: um you know kind of closing up here.
Walter Sweat: As we look back at your history and your knowledge and and again, you were, I think the pioneer in this space, can youoffer any words of wisdom based on all your time in this industry to companies who are now starting to say i'm seeing other people have success.
Walter Sweat: Maybe this is something I should explore.
Walter Sweat: Are there things that they should be considering or not, considering that you can share with them.
Bob Ellsworth: yeah the key guidance that I give to customers, as I engage with them is be sure that you connect with and work closely with collaborate with a trusted partner.
Bob Ellsworth: That you know the the migration projects that have been successful, are those were the right partner has been selected that it's a collaborative effort between the partner and the customer that they work together, you know in hand in hand in moving forward with a solution.
Bob Ellsworth: As long as a customer does that then it's going to be successful, so you know select the right partner ensure there's a trust relationship.
Bob Ellsworth: And do that collaboration that's the best way to move these things forward also architect in the solution, you know assessing, analyze and understand the an architect, in the full solution.
Bob Ellsworth: And and using the resources available to you don't do it yourself again use partners use people here at Microsoft that have deep experience with with these migrations together, they can help our customer on this journey and ensure that a successful.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely yeah I know my very first mainframe migration is in 1994 and we did it by ourselves and never want to do that again.
Walter Sweat: There are an awful lot of really, really good partners in this space, who have gone through those experiences and.
Walter Sweat: Over 20 and 25 years you learn what to do and what not to do so, your advice about partners, I think makes great sense as to ensuring that you take the time.
Walter Sweat: To architect the solution and understand everything that the mainframe does there has to be an alternative for that, as people look elsewhere.
Bob Ellsworth: Absolutely yeah well well said and Walter in a non personal note it's been such a pleasure working with you over the years, and you know I wish you wish you well, as you continue helping the customers with these migrations.
Walter Sweat: I am honored and thank you so much for taking the time Bob you're you're going to be missed both professionally and personally.
Walter Sweat: been honored to have you as a friend for many years and you're someone that I and many people in this industry truly admire, so thank you for for a wonderful career and everything that you've done.
Bob Ellsworth: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
Walter Sweat: Okay, and for everyone in the audience, thankyou for taking the time to what I consider one of my favorite podcasts that we've done so far.
Walter Sweat: I know that you all appreciate the words of wisdom that Bob was able to share with you, and if you have any questions or if we can help with anything.
Walter Sweat: Or, if you want to see any of the upcoming podcasts in this series, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you all very much hope you have a wonderful rest of your day and again, Bob, thank you.
Bob Ellsworth: Thank you.
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