The human side of Unix/Mainframe migration

I have been on a theme as of late with posts related to legacy migration.  The majority of the focus has been performance of Xeon vs legacy Sparc and Power, and stability/availability of today's Xeon solutions.  And Wally has been discussing the process of data migration. This post is going to look at the softer side of migration - the people.

Every IT manager I have discussed migration with has made it a central point to mention the people challenges in legacy migration.  So putting on my OD ( Organization Development ) hat, I want to share some a BKM I witnessed which delivered a smooth and flawless migration.

I see two primary soft barriers to migrating off legacy platforms:

    1. Desire to Win - I root for "My OS/Platform"
    2. Fear to Lose - My job depends on the legacy OS

The most successful migrations must deal with both issues early.

The first issue is not unlike cheering for "my team".  People want to be right.  If the migration is perceived as 'us and them' they will typically pick 'us'.  This belief creates a cognitive bias whereby information that challenges the superiority of their 'belief' is doubted, and only legacy positive information is accepted.   It is difficult to win this discussion using just facts and data, changing a belief system takes time.

While the first issue is mostly perceptual, the second issue can be profoundly real.  Every company today has a mature staff supporting X86 platforms, many with both Windows and Linux teams.  If my value and expertise is Solaris, or AIX - the loss of these environments would make me redundant.  The challenge here is to capture the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of these senior IT professionals without sacrificing their value.  Disgruntled IT professionals seldom deliver successful projects.

The best migration story I have ever witnessed was really the result of one person who perceived these challenges and addressed them elegantly.  His understanding of the challenges was matched by his ability to perceive the trend early (circa 2006) and build a long term plan that would optimize the  migration journey.

He was in a position to alter the roles of the Unix admins, and in 2007 he had them begin managing a set of Linux servers.  He also gave them Linux desktops, and made ample training and development opportunities available.  The key here was that this was not done in a convert or die scenario, this was done as an skill expansion opportunity.  These are geeky IT pros, like us, and given a new set of toys they dug in and found out how they worked.

By 2009 the group that would stereotypically be the harshest critics of legacy migration was actively coming to the manager discussing advantages in performance and cost on Linux-Xeon platforms.   He had created his own advocates from the very group that could have been most resistant.

In 2009 he kicked off the first migration projects.  They were a resounding success.  The critics he did not anticipate were the business groups that didn't believe Xeon could be as good as their legacy platforms.  Fortunately, they trusted their admins whom they had worked with for years.  The pilot convinced even the most hesitant that life was better on Xeon ( better performance, lower cost).  By the end of 2011 all legacy platforms will be replaced.

I think the things I admire most about this story are the manager's combination of vision and patience.  One persons ability to read the tea leaves and put the pieces in place to make BOTH people & technology successful.