zNextGen at SHARE

The youth are stepping up (myself included).  Over 50 folks attended the zNextGen happy hour during SHARE last week.  I had the chance to meet with customers from Payless Shoes, CA, and Action Software to name a few.  There was a lot of great conversation and enthusiasm.

We're going to include all these zNextGen folks in talks with IBM on how to proceed into the future and recruit new talent to the platform.

IBM is launching a contest for US and Canada college students this fall semester.  We expect to drum up a lot of exposure and excitement around the platform.  This contest was put together by a small group of customers and IBMers (similar to the make up of zNextGen).  We know that a group of this makeup can accomplish great things and we are very excited about the future with this much larger group.

A little bit about the contest:
A team of IBM new hires, university students and non-IBM mainframe professionals have worked together since January to devise a contest that would help to get students interested in mainframes.  Our major focus was to create the contest in such a way that students with little/no mainframe experience could get some value out of the contest, along with students who may already have extensive mainframe experience. 

The contest will be run in the U.S. and Canada (excluding Quebec), and any student with a professor enrolled in the IBM Academic Initiative is eligible to compete. Enrolling is a simple, no cost process -- see http://www.developer.ibm.com/university/scholars/ for more information.

Each contestant will be given a mainframe user ID, and we'll provide an account for them so that they can remotely access a z/OS mainframe hub.

The contest is divided into three parts:

Part 1: Breaking the ice

We provide extensive screen shots and direction, guiding students along and telling them exactly what they need to do.  This part of the contest is designed to get students comfortable with navigating the mainframe user interface, as well as introducing them to some basic mainframe concepts.  The first 200 students to successfully complete this section get T-shirts.

Part 2: Practical experience

This section will require more work from the student.  Using the skills they learned in Part 1, they will perform some more extensive systems programmer-type tasks.  The first 25 students to successfully complete this section get a 4GB iPod mini.

Part 3:  Real world challenge

This section is very challenging, and will require extensive work from the student.  The third place student in this section gets a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP).  Second place gets a Sony PSP and a two-day trip to the IBM mainframe lab in Poughkeepsie, NY.  First place gets an IBM laptop and a trip to the mainframe lab in Poughkeepsie.

by Christopher Baran August 30, 2005 in Future
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Elephant Man

Us old mainframe lags tend to regard the young upstarts as being slightly cavalier with things like integrity, backup, security, availability etc. Probably a bit unfair, but then we did spend years getting it right, and we cringe when we see the gaping holes in some of today's systems. As James Governor puts it, "there is no such thing as the transactional integrity of a web search".

We also have memories like an elephant, and what really gets up our noses is when someone accuses us of ignoring or sidelining our favourite platform - see my colleague's comments.

We love the mainframe, but we don't believe it is the only platform in the universe; we recognise that other platforms are correct for some applications. However, we can smile because we know it is still the cheapest, most reliable, most secure platform around.

by pwarmstrong August 26, 2005
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Google bringing back the mainframe to render Microsoft obsolete

I thought that headline might get your attention.

Certainly such a notion seems like one we should consider on mainframe blog. For those of you that don't know, Om Malik is an astute, and very widely read, industry watcher. Anyhow he gave some of his blog real estate to a chap called Robert Young, to make an argument about where Google is heading, and what this direction means for Microsoft.

So what is the quote that caught my eye?

To some extent, Google is bringing back the architecture of the mainframe to render Microsoft obsolete. In the future, all computing devices, whether it be the PC, mobile phone, TV, etc., will simply be terminals that “plug-in” to Google’s massive server grid and application services. With the increasing price/performance of CPUs, memory, bandwidth, and storage, Google’s strategic edge will be based on their advantageous cost of processing bits.

The advantageous cost of processing bits - lovely phrase that. Sounds like a mainframe mantra. The kind of thing Peter Armstrong might say.

Of course Google doesn't actually use mainframes to achieve its incredible response times and data management capability. But then again, it doesn't need to do a lot of things mainframes do. There is no such thing as the transactional integrity  of a web search.

Google is very much a scale out architecture, based on clusters of low cost machines, rather than a scale up, slice and dice architecture. In that sense Young is somewhat off track when he makes the architectural comparison.

But the parallel is clear in the sense of a shared network resource which thin clients (browsers) access to manage information needs. Google increasingly is our memory, just as the mainframe for a long time was the undisputed corporate memory. Note also how much of Google's success so far is text-based;  its revenue stream is based on text-based adwords, and the google interface is incredibly simple. It might as well be a 3270 terminal.

What are the lessons for mainframe communities, developers and evangelists?

Well for one, don't worry about fancy client widgets and so on. If the business asks for a new fancy interface for a mainframe application you can ask why. Google is a great argument for the power of simplicity and constraint-based development.

How many of the features in Word or Lotus Notes do you actually use?

One of the important movements in IT at the movement is a drive to simplicity. Value lies in embracing constraints. The poster child for this approach is 37signals, a really interesting ISV that  actively  fights against adding every damned feature anyone ever thought of. They have a coherent philosophy and uniquely creative approach. The 37signals blog signal vs noise should be essential reading for anyone considering the trade-offs between new features and functions, and their actual value to end-users.

The argument is not that design is unimportant. On the contrary good UI and application design is essential to effective systems development.

Some mainframers might ask what does all this have to do with me? I would argue keeping abreast of new approaches, terminologies and trends, new languages for describing problems and how to solve them, will enable you to have more fruitful discussions with business owners and other technology groups.

Could you turn your mainframe into your corporate Google, taking advantage of all system of record stuff? Why should Microsoft, or even Java, be an essential element in displaying and presenting mainframe data? What data services could you present that would excite end users, given that Information is often far more important than cool whizzy features. Could you index and cache some relevant data, so queries don't chew up cycles, and offer this up as a service for consumption for application developers in other parts of the organization? Start driving grass roots service oriented development.

The mainframe is certainly graphically challenged but that is not necessarily a bad thing; its just a constraint. Most blogs aren't about whizzbang graphics, they are about text. So too wikis. XML is text.

Microsoft is not going to become obsolete, any more than the mainframe has, but it certainly makes for a good headline, and hopefully some bits for thought.

by James Governor August 26, 2005 in Innovation
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Mainframe = Youth

There is something interesting happening in the world of mainframe marketing and psychology. Increasingly, journalists are associating youth with mainframes. Youth is framing the mainframe.

Why not? When you think of an enterprise technology the usual association marketers try and imply is experience. For example, "if you choose Java you will have access to many experienced programmers". Youth is not usually considered a good in itself. Looking for a job, what is the first question they ask: "How much experience do you have?"

We all know that student choices impact future technology rollouts which is one obvious reason technology vendors pour so much money into education. IBM is a prime example.

But youth itself is not usually what the education push is about. The association is usually with skills, rather than youth, per se. "Youth" then, is available to be tagged as a technology value, and strangely enough its the mainframe folks doing so.

In an earlier post on mainframe blog I pointed out that when I started covering the mainframe market I wanted to appear older than I was, not younger. There was an implicit idea that youth was a bad thing.  So much for legacy boy.

Perceptions have changed dramatically though, and recently very rapidly too.

Stephen Shankland talks of a rejuvenation. What does that mean? "To make young again".

Meanwhile Boas Betzler's first post was called "jugendjahre", which as I understand it means "youth years".

We have IBM and its SHARE user community putting forward the idea of "zNextGeneration" - which to me just sounds like the next generation with a French accent. :-) SHARE is now 50 years old but its targeting a youthful audience. 

Words though are never enough. So here are pictures of mainframe youth, on an IBM site called "new faces".

Here are some stories focusing on the latest mainframe news
Infoworld ("young in the headline, again)
Computerworld (SHARE Q&A)
ZDNet SOA blog

Maybe its just that IBM is making the running in August, traditionally pretty thin for IT news, but who would have expected IBM to be able to yoke the concepts of mainframe and youth together?

This is PR mastery, Rovian in its simplicity. It almost doesn't matter any more whether the mainframe population is ageing... if perceptions are otherwise. War heros become cowards, and mainframes becomes youthful.

Eternal youth, of course, is an aspirational value for all of us (over the age of 20 that is).   Maybe its true that mainframes will never die.

by James Governor August 23, 2005
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Facts or foils?

Everyone knows that the history of the mainframe is full of technology leadership. The plethora of information and data overload leaves many unaware that technology leadership is something of mainframe present.

A little trivia: What was the first 64-bit Linux platform for the SAP Application Server?
Answer: The mainframe, another first in May 2002.

No coincidence, since in the same IBM Lab that we ported Linux to the big iron, another team is working with SAP for the last 10 years now. Back in 1996 they had SAP for DB2 running on OS/390. I have huge respect for these guys, they have an incredible depth of expertise both with large server installations and running a SAP production environment.
So this week, when I finally returned from a trip that had me stuck on the London airport due to the work actions of the airline, that porting team told me about customer Baldor. They had met with the customer on short notice and did not have foils with them to present. Therefore they ended up just having a general discussion about the mainframe and SAP. The discussion continued through lunch. The result shows again how real facts are more important than fancy foils. And real facts, the mainframe does have to offer. More on the story also here.

The SAP community is quite active on blogging themselves. Want to get the most out of DB2 for zOS? Try this. Or find a review of more SAP on a blog on Oracle.

Keep punching those cards!

by Boas Betzler August 18, 2005
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The Main Mainframe Blog

MainframeThe folks at IBM tell me that readership at the Mainframe Blog is growing. This is not surprising. There are a lot of us "old timers" out there that have fond memories and many people around the world who are using, developing, extending, exploiting, and loving mainframes. You might say it is somewhat of a cult. The initial posts at the Mainframe Blog have been by current or formers IBMers, but knowing IBM's passion for collaborative innovation, it would not surprise me to see the blog opened up over time to a wide variety of points of view across the industry and customer base.

Related links

bullet The Main Mainframe blog

bullet Mainframes and the virtual datacenter

bullet Other IBM related patrickWeb stories

by John R Patrick August 17, 2005 in Innovation, People
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Favorite Mainframes

MainframeWe all have our favorite mainframes. For many it will surely be the new and sophisticated mainframe Z9. For me there are four mainframes that standout among my memories. First was the GE 225 at Lehigh University where I was an electrical engineering student (1963-1967). The programming language used was called WIZ and it was very similar to BASIC. Programs were literally written on paper and then punched into "IBM Cards" using a keypunch. The deck of cards was then "submitted" through a plastic window. Hours later (sometimes days) the results of the program, known as a "printout" were placed in bins where students could pick them up.

I was fortunate to be able to go to graduate school at the University of South Florida part time while I was serving in the U.S. Army at the U.S. STRIKE Command in Tampa, Florida (STRIKE stood for swift tactical retaliation in any known environment). My masters thesis was in operations research and GPSS was the programming language I used to build simulation models. Like using the GE 225, programs were created on punched cards and submitted through a window -- this time to an IBM System 360 Model 65. The model 65 was a giant of computing at the time -- many times faster than the GE 225. Mainframe #3 is one I got to know up close and personal. (read more)

by John R Patrick August 16, 2005 in History
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Mainframes and the Virtual Datacenter

IT ProfessionalA little more than five years ago (see "in the news") IBM announced that it would begin installing and supporting the Linux operating system on its mainframe computers. A lot has happened with Linux and with mainframes since then, but first of all, what is a mainframe? Is it a "main" frame, a main "frame", or something else? The wikipedia offers a history and perspective on mainframes, but my recollection is slightly different. IBM computers used to be constructed in steel "frames" that would fill a large building -- and required a lot of plumbing to provide the circulating water to keep them from overheating. In one of the frames was a "console" -- think of it like the keyboard of a PC -- which provided many dials and switches -- like an airliner cockpit -- that enabled the "system operator" to control the computer and tell it what to do. That particular frame was the "main frame".

Today's most sophisticated mainframe, the Z9, stands a mere 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 3,836 lbs, and occupies a footprint of 27 square feet. I was in the room at the Hotel W last month when the Z9 was announced. It was quite impressive to see the sleek space-age system on stage with the power to replace thousands of separate servers. More than a billion dollars was invested in the engineering and development of the machine.

People have talked about the death of the mainframe for years but after seeing the Z9, you can be sure they are not going away for a very long time. In addition to the Z9, IBM announced an extension of it's incredibly powerful virtualization engine software. The combination of the new mainframe and the new software will make it possible to turn a real datacenter into a virtual datacenter. This is a really big deal. CEO's, CIO's, and CFO's are making plans to consolidate their datacenters using the new combo because virtual datacenters require fewer people, offer more reliability, and are much less costly to operate. Sounds good, but what is a datacenter and what is a virtual datacenter? (read more)

by John R Patrick August 15, 2005 in Future, Systems Technology
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Looking back at the "graphically" challenged mainframe gives a view to its future

I'm new to blogging, so I'm taking a stab at this. I've got the pleasure of attempting to keep the flame going for this venerable platform. In the mid 90's, it appeared that someone was trying to blow out our pilot light. Right now, it seems like we are cooking pretty well and the flame is burning brightly.

Where's the mainframe going?

In many cases, it's just as important to look at where it has been and how history constantly repeats itself.
I'm a child of the mainframe. My dad was into computer operations so wanting to be like him, I took up the charge as well. My high school was pretty progressive. I got to learn "wire on board" programming at an early age. I was one of the few males in typing class so that I could reduce my error decks for the punch card machine. Back then, the mainframe's interface was that punch card and later, the 3270 terminal. Not much of a human computer interface.... The person acquiring the terminal or punch card was an IT operations person. And then, something happened....the PC was invented. And this was the beginning of chaos, of a sort. The mainframe people were no longer entitled to that terminal. Someone else was in charge of buying freshly minted PCs. I whole new crew of people came in to put "lipstick" on those boring terminal screens. And a whole new style of graphic programming came in.

Well, that pretty face of graphic programming is now a staple in our lives. It's changed our world. It's made the back rooms of many businesses available and accessible to a much wider range of consumers and business partners. Wait times have been reduced or eliminated via a paperless society. Public and private sectors have collaborated in an attempt to provide a safer environment for the community. Collaboration is at an all time high.

The simple transaction of the past, has now evolved to multiple transactions in a workflow. The difference is the launch point is no longer isolated to the 3270 and point of sale terminals, it could also be from a web browser and that could launched from a cell phone, kiosk or PC in the home. And the workflow is evolving. In addition to executing the requested transaction, additional workflows are inserted to manage operational risks or look for better value, such as credit checks and instant auctions. Transaction volumes have increased tremendously. The borders for commerce have been opened up globally.

And at the same time, information is more accessible now as well. In order to speed the paperless society, data is captured to faciliate fast access and reduce complexity for the next time that a transaction might be processed. Privacy considerations are paramount. Information must be accessible and protected at the same time. While this has always been true, the additional windows into the back room have opened up the channels of data to greater exposure by the masses.

And yet, the back room, home to the mainframe, has evolved in parallel. It has not been an innocent bystander watching time pass it by. New access methods, such as Service Oriented Architectures and the Internet can be directly accessed via the mainframe. New protection mechanisms for intrusion defense, data confidentiality and regulatory compliance analysis have evolved. Main stays of the past, such as fault avoidance, continuous availability and rapid diagnosis and repair have been enhanced to keep pace with the growing transaction volumes. Modern management interfaces have evolved and virtualization of services have continued to make this mainframe more accessible and usable by the mass of programmers that grew up in the "graphic" programming generation. These servers themselves have become "eco-friendly" leveraging a fraction of the energy, floor space and cooling of past generations of computers. And finally, new business problems are being solved in creative ways, by leveraging grids of Linux systems in conjunction with the venerable mainframe operating system. But these boxes are no longer alone. They are surrounded by open standards and accessability to the wealth of capabilities in the PC and RISC based computers. Seamless, end to end computing is now possible for the enlightened business that is looking to leverage the best of all worlds. There never was a time when one size fit all businesses. And  that remains true today.

The good news is that the Information Superhighway has been well paved for the next generation of computing. The mainframe remains an integral part of that system and all on ramps are open and ready to continue adding new destinations. And it sure is easier to get access to these systems than the ASCII paper tape and punch card of its original manifestations. Badge access is no longer required either. You can enter the mainframe at your nearest web portal.

You've got a lot of systems talking about mainframe qualities of service at main street prices. In the future, I'll talk about how those platforms are really "almost as good as a mainframe" and discuss some of the unique capabilities that provide value. As a start, think about Storage Keys in the hardware and system software and how they are leveraged to isolate applications, data and system functions from each other as the basis of the IBM integrity statement. Other areas are Resource Recovery Services that enable two phased commit and simplify business process integration. What do you see as unique characteristics of the mainframe?

by JimPorell August 9, 2005 in Future
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Response times?

I have just been reading that the UK is one of the most advanced broadband countries in the world, and our next wave of broadband is due to get us to 10Mb per second. Gosh, does that mean that we might approach the response times we have been enjoying on mainframes for the last 20 years or more?

And, no, I am not the only who thinks this way!

by pwarmstrong August 9, 2005 in People, Systems Technology
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Well if its good enough for Ed Brill

Its good enough for the mainframe blog. Ed points to ZDNet on mainframe for service oriented architecture.

Vendors are getting excited about the opportunity.

Neon Systems has a mainframe SOA pitch here.

Hostbridge too.

Joe McKendrick at SOA blog wants to know where generation z is. Right here man...

He asks:

"The question is, can we grow a Generation 'Z' (as in zSeries) that will be able to run these behemoths, as well as Unix and other back-end systems, and ensure the viability and scalability of future SOAs?"

A great great answer to the question came in comments on today's entry from new Mainframe blogger BMC's Peter Armstrong.

These are the words of 20 year old Kyle Horton:

"I’m new to the mainframe, only being exposed to it in the past 2 months as an intern at Kohls, but an avid user of distributed systems all my life, just like every young college student today. I myself see these systems striving to have the stability, availability, security, and virtualization found in mvs, most notably the availibility "The accessibility of a system resource in a timely manner; for example, the measurement of a system's uptime." and the powerful virtualization. These two aforementioned characteristics which i have noticed cannot be compared to any supplimentary utility product(VMware) in the distributed systmes world in their effectiveness."

by James Governor August 4, 2005 in Innovation
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Why don't toasters work properly?

I have just read an intriguing article in the Daily Telegraph. It would appear that despite the fact that the Romans (what did the Romans ever give us? – see below)  mastered toast, manufacturers are still struggling to create an effective electric toaster.

Now, I do wonder how they determined that the Romans made good toast – did they find a piece lying around somewhere? However, that’s not the point.

In the article it says “dazzling displays and design can’t hide the fact that most toasters aren’t very good at their core function – making toast.”

I would like to offer a slight change to that sentence: “dazzling displays and design can’t hide the fact that most distributed systems aren’t very good at their core function – supplying a production level operating system.”

Yes, I am a lot older than James and the others here, and I was brought up in a mainframe world. I was raised on an operating system that was designed to do multi-tasking, recover itself from errors, was secure, and did not have to be rebooted every ten minutes. For more boring details about my life, click here or here.

Do I want everyone to throw away their wondrous new pretty Unix, Linux and Wintel boxes? No. Do I want people to throw away 30 years of hard-earned experience in how to run production systems? Also no.

What I want people to do is to take the best pieces from each world and build truly useful systems, which are designed to make businesses run better.

Ah yes, the Romans


They knew which side of the road you should drive on – Napoleon ruined it all later

by pwarmstrong August 4, 2005 in History, Innovation, People, Systems Technology
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By now you might wonder who this "boas" is. I am an IBMer :-)
I was born close to the Black Forest. You have heard of it. It is where the cake comes from. And the wine. So how did I get on the wrong path and into Computer Science? People in the Black Forest have lot's of time in the long winter to think. They have a history as engineers to invent things, like the cuckoo clock. Quite early in the 80s, my Dad bought me a Kosmos CP-1, it had a 6 MHz 8bit CPU (Intel 8049) a foil keyboard and a 6 character LED UI. Programing was in machine code only. That was the start of my personal "you-need-to-have-the-latest-gadget" quest. So I upgraded to the Commodore 64. At my High School, we had a few IBM-compatible PCs that soon had me writing code in Turbo Pascal. When I was finished with my education, I found a job in the Boeblingen Development Lab supporting VSE/ESA customers and development of mainframe operating system components. College never taught me what I learned from this skilled team and the smart customers. For many decades they had build a heritage of ongoing refinement on how to run business critical production environments your round. But all these green screens and funny keyboards which of course were called Terminals. So a couple of us back in Germany had this idea to port Linux to the mainframe. Of course, the rest is history. With pride the code changes to the kernel were hosted on a Linux/390 system running at Marist College, you can still visit the page from back then. Since these days of my early youth, I got involved in other areas on Linux, such as on embedded devices and on the Cell chip. Right now, the design of Virtualization Engine keeps me busy.

by Boas Betzler August 3, 2005 in People
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