Futurum Research Senior Analyst and VP of Sales Steven Dickens talks with Barbara Ballard, Senior Product Manager, and Michael Mackes, Senior Systems Engineer, from Micro Focus during the SHARE Conference in Dallas. Their conversation centers around their roles on the host access team, how Micro Focus’s products facilitate all the connections to the zOS, and how terminal emulation can fit in the landscape and securely protect those connections.
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Steven Dickens: Hello and welcome. My name’s Steven Dickens, and we are here for Futurum Research Live from the Show Floor. I’m joined by Micro Focus, Barbara and Michael. Thank you for joining us.
Barbara Ballard: You bet.
Michael Mackes: Thank you, Steven.
Steven Dickens: Let’s first for the listeners and the watchers out there, tell us a little bit about what you do for Micro Focus.
Barbara Ballard: Well, Mike and I sit in the host connectivity space. That’s all about any connection there is to the z/OS and our products facilitate all of those connections.
Steven Dickens: So the host access team?
Barbara Ballard: Absolutely. Yep. Host access. That’s a great way to [crosstalk].
Steven Dickens: What do you do specifically, Barbara? What’s your role?
Barbara Ballard: I’m a senior product manager, and I concentrate on products that evolve around security.
Steven Dickens: Fantastic, and you, Mike?
Michael Mackes: I’m a senior systems engineer for Micro Focus and been with the company for about 24 years now and work in the host connectivity field with Barbara.
Steven Dickens: Fantastic. Really great to be back at an in-person event.
Barbara Ballard: So cool.
Michael Mackes: Absolutely.
Steven Dickens: You can feel the buzz down there on the show floor. People are just genuinely glad to be back in person. A lot of Micro Focus sessions this week. Tell us a little bit about what people could expect from Micro Focus while they’re here.
Barbara Ballard: The presentation that we’re doing that is a lunch and learn is to help customers understand how terminal emulation can fit in the landscape. It’s not just about connecting to the mainframe anymore. It’s about protecting that connection, making sure that you’re doing that in a secure way, and more so than that, that a bad actor can’t be impersonating you, if that’s a correct way to say it, to where they’re getting into that host system, and it’s not somebody that you authorized.
Steven Dickens: I think against the landscape that we’re seeing, the geopolitical landscape, the ransomware attacks, you must be seeing that as an area that’s getting a lot more focus from your clients. Would that be right there, would that be a focus?
Michael Mackes: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re really focused on security around that mainframe. We have several products that do that and several different solutions. We have some that specifically run on the z/OS. We call it our z/OS connector. We also have the MSS server, the management and security server, which does that authentication prior to even getting to the mainframe that controls your access to the emulator. You can’t even open a session. You can’t connect to a session. You can’t get to the z/OS. You can’t get to the front door without first authenticating to that system, whether it be from multifactor or through SAML or some other methodology of authentication, which Barbara manages the products.
Barbara Ballard: When you think about our customer base, we have some of the largest federal customers that are our customers, and they can’t just depend on the things that have been on the market for years to be able to just continue working. We have to put something in there that makes sure that those connections are secure, and that nobody can come in and use those connections that aren’t meant to.
Steven Dickens: I bet we’ve seen that space evolve even over the last couple of years with the threat landscape as it is.
Barbara Ballard: No doubt about it.
Steven Dickens: Either ransomware or what we’re seeing with state actors. I’d imagine things have changed. Would I be right there?
Barbara Ballard: When you look just in, I believe it was in May of last year, there was a U.S. presidential directive that started enforcing multifactor authentication. It doesn’t matter what systems that you’re protecting, it has to be multifactor authentication.
Steven Dickens: That’s independent of whether it’s the mainframe or anything else.
Barbara Ballard: Absolutely. That is correct.
Michael Mackes: Anything they determine is any high value resource.
Barbara Ballard: Yep.
Michael Mackes: Anything that they consider high value, whether it be an FTP site, whether it be the mainframe, a UNIX system, whatever. They want that protected with multifactor authentication, and we can do that.
Steven Dickens: Have you seen customers, particularly in the federal space, respond to that? Has it been a real rush to adopt technology from Micro Focus and from others?
Barbara Ballard: Yeah, it is. I have to be a little sensitive there, but it absolutely is. When you look at the landscape that we’re dealing with, they are rushing to that. What is a little bit interesting about that is while the directive was about federal resources, there’s also state and local that have to connect to those federal resources, so there’s much more of an impact on the landscape than you would imagine.
Steven Dickens: I’d imagine the big banks, the insurance companies, the retailers are looking at some of those federal mandates and are thinking the same things and go and adopting the same technologies. What else are you seeing? What are those three or four key dynamics? What are the other things that you guys are talking about here at the show?
Michael Mackes: One of the other major things that we’re seeing in the marketplace is RPA, robotic process automation. We’re seeing awful lot of that, and what they’re doing today is they’re connecting directly to one of our emulators or another competitors. They’re doing it through, typically, usually the interface, which is 20, 30 years old. I don’t know. It’s back in the very dark ages, and that’s just a very inefficient and slow system to do that sort of integration. When we see that come in the door, we like to try to move them towards some of our other products, like the Verastream product line, which gives you performance, scalability, reusability, traceability, all these other things that are really important when you’re dealing with these assets, like the mainframe. Because somebody automated something, maybe that’s a nefarious automation. We don’t know you. Those things need to be tracked.
Steven Dickens: Get under the covers there and see what they’re actually doing.
Michael Mackes: Yeah. With our product line, the Verastream product line, we can do all of that sort of thing.
Steven Dickens: What sort of reaction are you getting from people? Is that something you bringing new to market or is that sort of an evolution from that product?
Michael Mackes: That product’s been around for 20 plus years. It’s been in the marketplace, it’s just not been as well known as possible. Typically, was listed as a application modernization platform, but for RPA, it’s the same sort of solution. It’s a much better solution than just driving an emulator. There’s no scalability in that. There’s no longevity in that. It goes back to the old days when we used to go into offices, and we’d see machines just lined up, set up there, and they were all running these little automations on their emulator, and it’s like, this is just not scalable. It’s not performing, it’s not reliable, so let’s get beyond that, and let’s get to something because RPA is pushing some of those same bad paradigms forward.
Steven Dickens: You mentioned there from modernization and transformation point of view, there’s a lot going on in the mainframe space right now. Lots of push towards modernization. Is that coming through in your dialogue with clients?
Barbara Ballard: Absolutely. We introduced a new product to market, I guess it’s just been a couple of years ago. It’s called Host Access for the Cloud. While you’re thinking about modernization, there’s a couple of things, at least that come to mind for me. One of those is instead of using a desktop emulator, to use a web-based emulator. Lots of web-based applications out there today. No reason why an emulator couldn’t be part of that. This is an HTML five emulator that’s used just in your normal browser. The other factor that comes in for me is modernization oftentimes includes the Cloud. Regardless of where your mainframe assets are, you can move terminal emulation to the Cloud. It’s more scalable, it’s easier to deploy, you had that backup plan. COVID certainly showed us that you need to be able to have resources that are not just necessarily on site or installed software on desktops.
Michael Mackes: It also gives you the ability to control that emulation a bit better because it’s not sitting out at the end point. It’s sitting at the middle-tier server, so you can manage that much easier. Updates are just at the server. You can control whether or not they have ability to create macros, not create macros, all sorts of things. Any of the management features that you’d want, they’re all controlled by the administrator at the central-level server, along with the access to it because that’s tied into your internal …
Barbara Ballard: IAM.
Michael Mackes: IAM, yeah. Sorry. Couldn’t get that word out.
Barbara Ballard: Yeah. You’re checking the authentication at the enterprise level before you ever let them have a mainframe application.
Steven Dickens: I can see that playing into where we are from a hybrid work, people working from different places. Maybe they’re not working on their desktop, maybe they’re working from home, maybe they’re working remote, maybe they are working in the office. They’re going to be taking that work environment with them.
Barbara Ballard: Absolutely. That’s kind of how this product was born. When COVID came out, and we suddenly … One day we were in the office and the next day we were locked down, how do you launch a host session from a home computer? You don’t have that software installed there. That’s really how it was born. In fact, we actually had this product delivered to market free of charge during the COVID high time, so that customers could just get their business needs met.
Steven Dickens: Yeah.
Barbara Ballard: Without worrying about paying for it.
Steven Dickens: I think that’s a fantastic sort of endorsement and working with your clients.
Barbara Ballard: Yeah, it is. If it’s not for customers, then there’s no need for us to be doing it. That’s what we do. We’re a customer-driven organization.
Steven Dickens: As clients go through these tough times, that’s when they need their supply as much.
Barbara Ballard: Absolutely. That’s when it’s a vendor you can trust.
Steven Dickens: As we come through the show here, what would be the key takeaways? What are you wanting the audience to, either in person or online, take away from the show from Micro Focus?
Barbara Ballard: I think from a security point of view, we have to get over this concept that the mainframe, that nobody can get to it. It may be impenetrable, but how long is that going to last? You just can’t take that high value asset that customers are using and are going to continue to use and not protect it. All of the controls that you have in the enterprise should be applied to the mainframe, and there’s no time like the present to get started.
Steven Dickens: Barbara and Mike, thank you for that. Really great to hear what Micro Focus is doing at the show this week. Thank you for joining us for this episode of Futurum Research’s Live from the Show Floor live here at Dallas. We’ll see you on the next episode.
Steven Dickens is Vice President of Sales and Business Development and Senior Analyst at Futurum Research. Operating at the crossroads of technology and disruption, Steven engages with the world’s largest technology brands exploring new operating models and how they drive innovation and competitive edge for the enterprise. Read Full Bio.