Automation is Everything, and Nothing

Years ago,  in the euphoria of some project,  I exclaimed to my manager,  "Automation is everything.".  He wisely replied,  "Sure.  Just be careful about what you automate.".

The beauty of automation is that it lets us take our hands off of the plough.   The trouble with automation is that we tend to take our eyes off of the field too.   With any task,  there are parts of the job that are repetitive,  so we get bored.  We then figure out some way to subdue the problem with a machine,  and that's good!  But we dare not forget the bigger project.  When we do,  there is danger.

This past week,  I was re-building a batch of common software packages for use at the office.   We want these things built for Solaris, AIX, HP, OSF1, USS, even Windows if possible.   We also build them on Linux on PC, mainframe,  hopefully PPC and SPARC,  and maybe Alpha or other less-business-vogue boxes.   I demand the standard recipe:

        download the source (if needed)
        unpack the source (if needed)
        ./configure
        make
        make install
        repeat on other platforms

It's that  ./configure  step where the process drags on and on.
Most often,  compilation and installation runs measurably faster than the configuration where the package must determine  "what do we have available on this platform?".   There are DOZENS of searches,  some requiring a tiny compilation of their own.
       
Many of these configuration scripts are based on GNU AutoConf.  That's fine.   This is not meant as a diatribe against AutoConf.  But like all automation,  AutoConf must be used with care and thought.  Each package author must do due dilligence  [say that three times really fast!].  Every package developer must take care about what support is needed,  which libraries are required,  where code must be #ifdefed for speed or handled at run-time.  Take your eyes off of the greater picture and you hose your customers.   They won't like it.
       
What does this have to do with mainframe?   USS and Linux,  of course!
And further,  mainframe strength is not CPU cycles to throw away, but that tremendous I/O power.   So poor  ./configure  performance is all the more painful on mainframe Linux and on USS.

What does this have to do with automation being everything?  (or not!)   Just this:  Be careful about the layers.  And AutoConf is a good example.   Don't use wrappers, APIs, scripts, HLLs or other such tools as an excuse for distancing yourself from essential labor.   Stay in the game.

We thank you for your attention.

-- R;

by sirsanta October 23, 2005 in Application Development
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eServer Magazine Reader Board

eServer Magazine, Mainframe edition is an IBM publication with a circulation of 25,000, consisting mainly of IBM mainframe users, and also of IBMers, business partners and vendors. It's a bimonthly hardcopy magazine with a monthly Mainframe EXTRA newsletter complement.

As managing editor of the magazine, I'm on the lookout for article ideas covering all aspects of the mainframe, from technical content to high-level overview content. Since this blog caters to younger mainframe users and veterans alike, it seems like an ideal venue for finding knowledgeable mainframe individuals who have their fingers on the pulse of what's going on in the mainframe realm.

I'm looking to build a reader board that can give me a heads up about mainframe trends users are seeing, new technologies both in use and on the horizon and basically anything mainframe-related that probably warrants coverage but tends to escape my radar. As mainframe students, users and veterans, you have a better understanding and feel for what's important in the mainframe space at any given time, and I'd very much appreciate being able to tap you as a resource for keeping me in the know.

As reader board members, you'd receive informal correspondence from me via e-mail, asking for potential article ideas, steering me toward news items and providing general feedback on the magazine content overall. Additionally, I may contact you to provide a quote for an article I may be working on, or I may ask if you think there's an angle that should be explored in an article. If any of you are interested, please send me an e-mail here or simply leave a comment to this post.

by Yossarian9 October 19, 2005
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A Big Machine Makes A Big Impression

I am a student of the Berufsakademie Berlin, which is an organization where students can get a degree after three years of study. During the time between the lectures I have to work in placements. I am employed by IBM Germany as an industrial trainee and get practical experience and my degree at the same time.

My longest internship so far has taken me far away from home: To Bedfont, a borough of London. Whilst this is great enough on its own, the fact that I am working in the Technical Sales Support Team for the zSeries makes things even better. Before I came here I knew literally nothing about the mainframes, apart from the fact that IBM has become a giant with these machines.

Now, after my time in this team has come to its end, I have got insight into many interesting aspects about mainframes. Most of all I am impressed by their abilities in resources sharing, either using LPARs or z/VM. Another great thing is their reliability. It is possible to reboot an image under z/VM or an LPAR without affecting another system at all. Whilst usually this is not necessary in production systems it is very useful for development and test systems.

It is an interesting experience to work with big machines and always keep security and availability in mind. I definitely will install Linux on my home PC and get more familiar with it, when I go back.

IBM has started an academic zSeries initiative and our team takes part in it in Europe. Our team tries to establish contacts to lots of universities across Europe, to offer them material for zSeries lectures. This material is mainly about the operating systems on the zSeries (z/OS, z/VM, Linux) but the student learns a lot about the general architecture as well. I help preparing this material, because as a newcomer, I am the perfect tester.

It is really encouraging to see how many universities all across Europe have expressed their interest so far. Recently I found an IBM press release regarding this initiative where I found universities in the U.S. and Canada, Europe, China, Australia and Latin America which already signed for these programs.

Newer generations, young inexperienced people like myself, are more familiar with Intel PCs and their operating systems (Windows or Linux in some extent). But the mainframe world definitely needs young people who can design, develop and manage the big machines. The universities simply try to serve that need and IBM offers a lot of support for that. I can imagine that this might convince many more universities to offer zSeries lectures as well.

IBM creates lots of material which the universities can use and sometimes even provide teachers as well. The material is designed in such a way that it manages the balance between explaining the important and often confusing things and explaining them in such a way, that the reader remembers that stuff, when he has finished a lecture.

IBMers around the world are working on the zSeries education material and our team here in Bedfont is providing exercises and tutorials. At the same time they provide all the materials you need for such exercises. They even prepared a z/VM image with several guests (including a z/OS and another z/VM guest) to serve as a playground for the students on a mainframe in Montpellier / France. So the universities are not required to buy a mainframe as a “byproduct“ of getting their new course. :-)  IBM really tries to approach only the educational point of view and not the sales point of view.

I would like to visit such a lecture in my last year at university as well. Even if that is not possible, I am looking forward to a day event at my university where our team can introduce the mainframes to my fellow students. Most of all, I would like to come back to the IBM zSeries family. Maybe I will be able to write my dissertation next year about a topic related to the zSeries. And then there is still the question of where I will do my last two internships and what happens after my last year at university...

by s-bolz October 19, 2005 in Future
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Open Documents -- Part 3

Open signThe battle over OpenDocument Format has begun and Microsoft is using their traditional brass knuckles approach. It was revealed this week in some blogs that a recent article, "Massachusetts Should Close Down OpenDocument", which ran at Fox News was written by a journalist hired by Microsoft. (See an interesting rebuttal). The stakes are high. The issue is who owns documents, the document creator or the software that was used to create the documents.

Let's make it personal and down to earth. Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their children all have computers on the local area network at home. They recently had a busy weekend. Mr. Smith created a presentation which he will take to a conference and present using his ThinkPad. Mrs. Smith wrote a newsletter which will be distributed to dozens of members in a local non-profit organization she belongs to. The Smiths' daughter completed a school term paper replete with graphical images, clip art, and photographs. The Smiths' son is a graduate student in business and he developed a spreadsheet to reflect a ten-year financial plan for a new business idea. Who owns these four documents? (read more)

by John R Patrick October 15, 2005 in Application Development, Future, History, Innovation, People, Systems Technology
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IBM Student Mainframe Contest

First off, we want to thank everyone for participating in the Student Mainframe Contest. Since the contest went live on Monday, we've had hundreds of students logging into MVS and attempting Parts 1 and 2, and we expect many more students to try it out over the course of this semester.  The turnout has been great, and we hope that everyone who managed to find the time to get through the challenges enjoyed the experience. We are still in the process of going through the submissions to determine winners of Part 2 -- if you've already submitted your Part 2 answers, you can expect a notice soon letting you know how you've done. Is the suspense killing you?  And if you're still working on Parts 1 and 2, don't stop!  There are still prizes available, and slots open for Part 3.

If you're thinking about signing up for Part 3 of the contest, you might want to do that sooner than later. Over half of the available 75 slots for Part 3 have been accounted for. To register for Part 3, you must have completed parts 1 and 2, and sent a note to univprg@us.ibm.com with the subject 'Part 3 signup', as described here (http://www.developer.ibm.com/university/students/contests/mainframestudents_part3.html).

Thanks to everyone who tried and it out, and to those who haven't finished yet, keep chugging away!  And for any college/university students in the U.S. and Canada (excluding Quebec) who might be interested in the contest, check out our home page: http://www.ibm.com/university/students/contests/mainframecontest.html.

Sincerely,
The Student Mainframe Contest Team

by Christopher Baran October 5, 2005
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Open Documents

Open signThe debate about the OpenDocument format is just beginning. Massachusetts put a stake in the ground with their decision to adopt ODF for all employees in the Commonwealth and for anyone doing business with them. This may go down in history as a bold and important move. But Microsoft, which opposes ODF, will not give up easily.

There was an OpenOffice.org 2005 conference in Koper-Capodistria, Slovenia last week at which a professor delivered a keynote speech entitled: "Should I Adopt OpenOffice?". It is reported that after taking a few questions from the audience, a loud voice boomed out from the back of the auditorium saying "In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Microsoft technical officer." The person then launched at attack on the professor about the information that had just been presented. The gentleman then claimed that the European Union had accepted Microsoft file formats as "sufficiently open" and finally, he directly attacked the new OASIS OpenDocument Format. It was further reported that the professor had not even mentioned the OpenDocument Format or Microsoft's "Office Open XML". Needless to say, Microsoft is very defensive about the subject. Why? They have a monopoly and they want to keep it. Maintaining some degree of control over the details behind the formats gives a vendor more flexibility in developing their software and in deciding when and how to offer upgrades. Having to work with formats that are controlled by an outside independent third party is definitely harder.

Microsoft's behavior is very reminiscent of IBM's behavior in the 1970's and 1980's. Numerous file formats were proposed by other vendors but IBM consistently maintained that the mainframe was the best place to keep data. IBM totally controlled the formats. The difference between IBM's behavior and Microsoft's is that IBM heard the market speak out about the Internet, open source, Linux, and other grass roots ideas and rather than fight the changes, IBM adopted them and in fact is leading the charge. Microsoft has done this in some ways, particularly in the area of web services, but when it comes to Office, they clearly want to maintain some hooks that are not open to the user. (read more)

by John R Patrick October 3, 2005 in Application Development, History
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