Part 1: The Modernization Journey with Exafluence and MongoDB
December 9, 2020
Welcome to the first in a series of conversations between Exafluence and MongoDB about how our partnership can use open source tools and the application of data, artificial intelligence/machine learning and neuro-linguistic programming to power your business’s digital transformation.
In this installment, MongoDB Senior Partner Solutions Architect Paresh Saraf and Director for WW Partner Presales Prasad Pillalamarri sit down with Exafluence CEO Ravikiran Dharmavaram and exf Insights Co-Founder Richard Robins to discuss how to start the journey to build resilient, agile, and quick-to-market applications.
From Prasad Pillalamari:
I first met Richard Robins, MD & Co-Founder of exf Insights at Exafluence back in June 2016 at a MongoDB world event. Their approach towards building data-driven applications was fascinating for me. Since then Exafluence has grown by leaps and bounds in the System Integration space and MongoDB has outperformed its peers in the database market. So Paresh and I decided to interview Richard to deep-dive into their perspective on Modernization with MongoDB.
Prasad & Paresh: We first met the Exafluence team in 2016. Since then, MongoDB has created the Atlas cloud data platform that now supports multi-cloud clusters and Exafluence has executed multiple projects on mainframe and legacy modernization. Could you share your perspective on the growth aspects and synergies of both companies from a modernization point of view?
Richard Robins: Paresh and Prasad, I’m delighted to share our views with you. We’ve always focused on what happens after you successfully offload read traffic from mainframes and legacy RDBMS to the cloud. That’s digital transformation and legacy app modernization. Early on, Exafluence made a bet that if the development community embraces something we should, too. That’s how we locked in on MongoDB when we formed our company. Having earned our stripes in the legacy data world, we knew that getting clients to MongoDB would mean mining the often poorly documented IP contained in the legacy code.
That code is often where long-retired subject matter expert (SME) knowledge resides. To capture it, we built tools to scan COBOL/DB2 and stored procedures to reverse engineer the current state. This helps us move clients to a modern cloud native application, and it's an effective way to merge, migrate, and retire the legacy data stores all of our clients contend with.
Once we’d mined the IP with those tools we needed to provide forward-engineered transformation rules to reach the new MongoDB Atlas endpoint. Using a metadata driven approach, we built a rules catalog that included a full audit and REST API to keep data governance programs and catalogs up to date as an additional benefit of our modernization efforts. We’ve curated these tools as exf Insights, and we bring them to each modernization project.
Essentially, we applied NLP, ML, and AI to data transformation to improve modernization analysts’ efficiency, and added a low-to-no code transformation rule builder, complete with version control and rollback capabilities.
All this has resulted in our clients getting world-class, resilient capabilities at a lower cost in less time. We’re delighted to say that our modernization projects have been successful by following simple tenets — to embrace what the development community embraces and to offer as much help as possible — embodied in the accelerator tools we’ve built. That’s why we are so confident we'll continue our rapid growth.
P&P: How do you think re-architecting legacy applications with MongoDB as the core data layer will add value to your business?
RR: We believe that MongoDB Atlas will continue to be the developers go-to document database, and that we’ll see our business grow 200-300% over the next three years. With MongoDB Atlas and Realm we can provide clients with resilient, agile applications that scale, are easily upgraded, and are able to run on any cloud as well as the popular mobile iOS and Android devices. Digital transformation is key to remaining competitive and being agile going forward. With MongoDB Atlas, we can give our clients the same capabilities we all take for granted on our mobile apps: they’re resilient, easy to upgrade, usually real-time, scale via Kubernetes clusters, and can be rolled back quickly if necessary. Most importantly, they save our clients money and can be automatically deployed.
P&P: At a high level, how will Exafluence help customers take this journey?
RR: We’re unusual as a services firm in that we spend 20% of gross revenue on R&D, so our platform and approach are proven. Thus, relatively small teams for our healthcare, financial services, and industrial 4.0 clients can leverage our approach, platform, and tools to deliver advanced analytical systems that combine structured and unstructured data across multiple domains.
We built our exf Insights accelerator platform using MongoDB and designed it for interoperability, too. On projects we often encounter legacy ETL and messaging tools. To show how easy it is, we recently integrated exf Insights with SAP HANA and the SAP Data Intelligence platform. Further, we can publish JSON code blocks and provide Python code for integration into ETL platforms like Informatica and Talend.
Our approach is to reverse engineer by mining IP from legacy data estates and then forward engineer the target data estate, using these steps and tools:
- Extract stored procedures, business logic, and technical data from the legacy estate and load it into our platform.
- Use our AI/ML/NLP algorithms to analyse business transformation logic and metadata, with outliers identified for cleansing.
- Provide DB scans to assess legacy data quality to cleanse and correct outliers, and provide tools to compare DB level data reconciliations.
To produce a clean set of metadata and business transformation logic, and baseline with version control, we:
- Extract, transform, and load metadata to the target state.
- Score metadata via NLP and ML to recommend matches to the Analyst who accepts/rejects or overrides recommendations.
- Analysts can then add additional transformations which are catalogued.
- Deploy and load cleansed data to the target state platform so any transformations and gold copies may be built.
- Automate Data Governance via Rest API, Code Block generation (Python/JSON) to provide enterprise catalogs with the latest transforms.
P&P: What are your keys to a successful transformation journey?
RR: Over the past several years we’ve identified these elements and observations:
- Subject matter experts and technologists must work together to provide new solutions.
- There’s a shortage of skilled technologists able to write, deploy, and securely manage next generation solutions. Using accelerators and transferring skills are vital to mitigating the skills shortage.
- Existing IP that’s buried in legacy applications must be understood and mined in order for a modernization program to succeed.
- A data-driven approach that combines reverse and forward engineering speeds migration and also provides new data governance and data science catalog capabilities.
- The building, caring, and feeding of new, open source-enabled applications is markedly different from the way monolithic legacy applications were built. The document model enables analytics and interoperability.
- Cybersecurity and data consumption patterns must be articulated and be part of the process, not afterthoughts.
- Even with aggressive transformation plans, new technology must co-exist with legacy applications for some time; progress works best if it’s not a big bang.
- Success requires business and technology to learn new ways to provide, acquire, and build agile solutions.
P&P: Can you talk about solutions you have which will accelerate the modernization journey for the customers?
RR: exf Insights helps our clients visualize what’s possible with extensive, pre-built, modular solutions for health care, financial services, and industrial 4.0. They show the power of MongoDB Atlas and also the power of speed layers using Spark and Confluent Kafka. These solutions are readily adaptable to client requirements and reduce the risk and time required to provide secure, production-ready applications.
- Source data loading. Analyze and integrate raw structured and unstructured data, including support for reference and transactional data.
- Metadata scan. Match data using AI/NLP, scoring results and providing side-by-side comparison.
- Source alignment. Use ML to check underlying data and score results for analysts, and leverage that learning to accelerate future changes.
- Codeless transformation. Empower data SMEs to build the logic with a multiple-sources-to-target approach and transform rules which support code value lookups and complex Boolean logic. Includes versioned gold copies of any data type (e.g., reference, transaction, client, product, etc.).
- Deployment. Deploy for scheduled or event-driven repeatability and dynamically populate Snowflake or other repositories. Generates code blocks that are usable in your estate or REST API.
We used the same 5-step workflow data scientists use when we enabled business analysts to accelerate the retirement of internal data stores to build and deploy the COVID-19 self-checking app in three weeks, including active directory integration and downloadable apps. We will be offering a Realm COVID-19 screening app on web, Android, and IOS to the entire MongoDB Atlas community in addition to our own clients.
The accelerator integrates key data governance tools, including exf Insights repository management of all sources and targets with versioned lineage; as-built transformation rules for internal and client implementations; and a business glossary integrated into metadata repositories.
P&P: Usually one of the key challenges for businesses is data being locked in silos.
RR: We couldn’t agree more. Our data modernization projects routinely integrate with source transactional systems that were never built to work together. We provide scanning tools to understand disparate data as well as ways to ingest, align, and stitch them together. Using health care as an example, exf Insights provides a comprehensive analytical capability, able to integrate data from hospitals, claims, pharmaceutical companies, patients, and providers. Some of this is NonSQL, such as radiological images; for pharma companies we provide capabilities to support clinical research organizations (CROs) via a follow-the-molecule approach. Of course, we also have to work with and subscribe to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines. Our data migration focuses on collecting the IP behind the data and making the source, logic, and any transformations rules available to our clients.
In financial services, it’s critical to understand source and targets. No matter how data is accessed (federated or direct store), with Spark and Kafka we can talk to just about any data repository.
P&P: Once we discover the data to be migrated, we need to model the data according to MongoDB’s data model paradigm. That requires multiple transformations before data is loaded to MongoDB. Can you explain more about how your accelerators help here?
RR: By understanding data consumption and then looking at existing data structures, we seek to simplify and then apply the capabilities of MongoDB’s document model. It’s not unlike what a data architect would do in the relational world, but with MongoDB Atlas it’s easier. We ourselves use MongoDB for our exf Insights platform to align, transform, and make data ready for consumption in new applications. We’re able to provide full rules lineage and audit trail, and even support rollback. For the real-time speed layer we use Spark and Kafka as well.
This data-driven modernization approach also turns data governance into an active consumer of the rules catalog, so exf Insights works well for regulated industries.
P&P: It’s great that we have data migrated now. Consider a scenario where it’s a mainframe application and we have lots of COBOL code in there. It has to be moved to a new programming language like Python, with a change in the data access layer to point to MongoDB. Do you have accelerators which can facilitate the application migration? If so, how?
RR: Yes, we do have accelerators that understand the COBOL syntax to create JSON and ultimately Java, which speeds modernization. We also found we had to reverse engineer stored procedures as part of our client engagements for Exadata migration.
P&P: Once we migrate the data from legacy databases to MongoDB, validation is the key step. As this is a heterogeneous migration it can be challenging. How can Exafluence add value here?
RR: We’ve built custom accelerators that migrate data from the RDBMS world to MongoDB, and offer data comparisons as clients go from development to testing to production, documenting all data transformations along the way.
P&P: Now that we’ve talked about all your tools which can help in the modernization journey, can you tell us about how you already helped your customers to achieve this?
RR: Certainly. We’ve already outlined how we’ve created solution starters for modernization, with sample solutions as accelerators. But that’s not enough; our key tenet for successful modernization projects is pairing SMEs and developers. That’s what enables our joint client and Exafluence teams to understand the business, key regulations, and technical standards.
Our data-driven focus lets us understand the data regardless of industry vertical. We’ve successfully used exf Insights now in financial services, healthcare, and industry 4.0. Whether it’s understanding the nuances of financial instruments and data sources for reference and transactional data, or Medical Device IoT sensors in healthcare, or shop floor IoT and PLC data for predictive analytics and digital twin modeling, a data-driven approach reduces modernization risks and costs.
Below are some of the possibilities this data-driven approach has delivered for our healthcare clients using MongoDB Atlas. By aggregating provider, membership, claims, pharma, and EHR clinical data, we offer robust reporting that:
- Transforms health care data from its raw form into actionable insights that improve member care quality, health outcomes, and satisfaction
- Provides FHIR support
- Surfaces trends and patterns in claims, membership, and provider data
- Lets users access, visualize, and analyze data from different sources
- Tracks provider performance and identifies operational inefficiencies
P&P: Thank you, Richard!
Keep an eye out for upcoming conversations in our series with Exafluence, where we'll be talking about agility in infrastructure and data as well as interoperability.
MongoDB and Modernization
To learn more about MongoDB's overall Modernization strategy, read here.