It was on Feb 20, 1962 that John Glenn reached a new landing when he became the first American astronaut to orbit Earth in his Friendship Mercury 7 spacecraft. Almost fifty years later, NASA reached a new landing when the Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA's last mainframe as posted by NASA CIO, Linda Cureton in her blog. To do so, NASA would have had to define and execute a modernization strategy on all the applications that resided on the mainframe environment, including this last one left standing. Cureton says that it “marks the end of an era.” I see this as a new landing for NASA on the journey that they embarked upon decades ago. A journey that would have required them to assess the portfolio of applications residing on the mainframe and define a strategy to selectively modernize them off the mainframe platform.
This transformation journey is probably not much different than the fascinating space journeys that NASA has undertaken to date. Think about the various space shuttle launches that entail sending a well-knit team of astronauts , who are deeply-rooted in their earthly routines, into space -- relocating them to a new environment that is lighter (less gravity), lean (efficient use of resources) and automated (reduced dependency on manual operations). The team has to be relocated to this new environment but continue to deliver on their professional and personal expertise (functionality) whether they be scientists, geologists or musicians (multiple business domains).
Thus, NASA has engaged in the re-hosting of such logical sets of human functionality to a modernized, state of the art environment in the space shuttles for several years now. Could these launches have permeated the mind-set of the modernization strategists at NASA? Both journeys – the one that takes off from Planet Earth, as well as the one that migrates off the mainframe, involve 3 key phases as I outline below:
- Orientation. Astronaut teams are trained in a simulated space shuttle environment for months before they are in the actual space shuttle itself. This is akin to doing a prototype of select application functionality in the new environment. Thus, the orientation of the astronauts would be equivalent to a proof-of-concept of the existing legacy mainframe application on the new platform.
- Cutover. This is that brief period where the astronauts are seated in the space shuttle after it is moved to the launch pad from the hangar, and the carrier vehicle takes it a few miles into the sky after which it is detached. Cut … over. It is a period of transition where we have both the mainframe and the new platform running in parallel, and we compare the information generated from both systems to ensure that the new environment continues to deliver on existing functionality. All systems are go with fallback plans in place if problems are detected.
- Launch. Four, three, two, one ... Earth below us ... Drifting, Falling ... Floating weightless ... Calling, Calling home ... Reminds me of Peter Schilling's 1983 Major Tom (Coming Home). The shuttle is launched with this team of astronauts completely on their own continuing to do what they do … the same application functionality … in the new, agile, light-weight, lean environment. Planet Earth fades into the distance, becoming a spec and then into oblivion. And the team of astronauts has been successfully re-hosted to their new environment.
Which is what NASA did when they migrated their last application from the IBM Z9 mainframe per Cureton’s blog post. NASA's IT has successfully landed on a significant milestone in their biggest journey of all -- to re-host the right applications from their mainframe to their desired destination and subsequently retiring the mainframe.
HP continues to work with several customers on defining their overall application transformation strategy, factoring in multiple modernization alternatives including re-hosting services. But then, as I outline in one of my earlier posts, Applications Transformation is a journey where you land on multiple destinations over time.
NASA has landed on one such destination. Like Patrick Thibodeau mentions in Computerworld, NASA signed a decade long $2.5B outsourcing pact with HP, which opens up opportunities to closely work with NASA on their transformation program going forward. As I mention in my post on my close encounter with the Performance Optimized Data Center (POD), HP re-hosts whole data centers to a lean, agile, automated environment while re-hosting applications off the mainframe.
For sure, when Sittra Battle of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center shut down the last mainframe, the NASA enterprise successfully re-hosted itself to a new landing!
Where is your enterprise today on your Transformation Journey? Is there a new landing around the corner? If so, what was the modernization strategy that you employed? Did you consider re-hosting? I would be curious to know.
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