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How to bring mainframe testing into the Agile/DevOps world

Mainframes aren't going away, but experienced developers are increasingly hard to find. Compuware's new unit-testing product aims to make it easier to work on a mainframe.

Compuware CEO Chris O'Malley is bringing sexy back to mainframe testing. And it's probably past time.

It's easy to overlook the ever-present -- but very much in the background -- mainframe, but it is still powering everything from world financial markets to airline schedules. Those machines need developers every bit as much as mobile applications do. "You can't go to the cloud and expect it to do what mainframes are doing," O'Malley said. "This code is irreplaceable."

The problem, though, is asking a young developer to work on a mainframe "is like offering garlic to a vampire," he explained in a recent interview. "It's just not happening."

But it has to. Thanks to a worldwide shortage of software developers, it's hard to hire any developer, let alone one with specialized skills. Job site Glassdoor has nearly 7,000 mainframe jobs open today -- from testers to developers and COBOL programmers. And as mainframe developers move toward retirement age, but mainframes themselves remain, that number is only going to increase.

"The death of the mainframe, massively overhyped, is still well into the future," said Robert Stroud, principal analyst for Forrester Research. "The explosion of computing power, along with DevOps practices and modern tooling, are assuring the rebirth of this destination for high-volume applications and a new era of developers."

That's where Detroit-based Compuware Corp.'s latest release for mainframe testing comes in. Topaz for Total Test tackles the COBOL issue head on by making it possible to run Java-like unit tests. "Basically, the theme of everything we've done is to try to mainstream the mainframe," O'Malley said. "We want to make it the same as any other platform with the same tools and processes, only different syntax."

Compuware CEO Chris O'Malley is bringing sexy back to mainframe testing.

The idea is to find a way to let companies move mainframe development out of the Waterfall era and into the Agile and DevOps space. But if developers lacked the comfort level with COBOL and, thus, tests couldn't be run frequently, there was no opportunity to really bring the mainframe into the modern day world of application development, O'Malley said.

Now, developers can make changes in the COBOL scripts and be certain they can be tested quickly, just as they'd do if they were working in Java or PHP. Topaz for Total Test will automatically mainframe test for logical units of code, with no hands-on developer coding required, O'Malley said. Developers new to COBOL simply have to get comfortable with the language's syntax, and then they can proceed as if they were working on modern day applications.

"We're trying to automate those time-consuming tasks so companies can get to development velocity in a meaningful way," he said. "We think this is the last big piece of achieving Agile and DevOps on the mainframe."

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