Friendly Application Development

One of the Big LiesTM told about mainframes is that you can't quickly and easily develop new applications using application development methodologies familiar to college students.

Rubbish. In fact, I can't think of a modern application development technology that isn't available for the IBM mainframe.

What does mainframe application development look like? Like...application development! Use what you like, my programmer friends. If terminal screens and line mode editors get you excited, jump for joy. If the Eclipse-based workbench is what you prefer, throw a party. Want to compile your program for Linux on z? Don't have a mainframe of your own yet? IBM has you covered, and it's free for the asking. No special skills required: just login (as root!) and go. Think programming itself is old fashioned? Then have a blast with the UML/business modeling/BPEL stuff.

The geek in me gets excited about pictures like this one. (Click on the picture if you want to get four times as excited.) Can you identify this screen?

Wdz_v7_c_1

by Timothy Sipples November 21, 2006
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My Personal Mainframe?

I'm seriously thinking about getting a mainframe at home.

Here's how it might work, using U.S. prices. Let's start with the machine. According to a recent IBM-MAIN post, a small used z800 is now about $30,000, so it's like buying a typical new car. The new z9 BC is a much better choice for business purchases, especially given its lower running costs in real business use, but the z800 would make an excellent home mainframe for my purposes. The z800 happens to run on single phase electricity, so that's a major plus for home use. A z800's electricity consumption is reasonable. It's a full 64-bit system, so it runs all the latest and greatest software. And it has at least 8 GB of memory standard, so there's plenty of room for the most demanding home workloads that I would run.

I'd have to add disk and tape. One older tape drive, such as a 3490, would do just fine for my purposes (software installation). Anybody know where I'd find the disk?

Then there's software. I'd like to run z/OS as well as Linux. The z800 is eligible for z/OS.e (the e-business flavor of z/OS), which is a good fit for my use. I would only need 3 MSUs (about 20 MIPS), the minimum capacity, and I would softcap my LPARs and send in my monthly subcapacity reports since the smallest z800 has at least 40 MIPS of capacity. I configured z/OS.e with the C/C++ compiler, the Security Server (RACF), RMF, and a couple other bits and ended up with a monthly price of $126. That's a minimum configuration that might not be suitable for many businesses, but for my home mainframe it'll do just fine. For about $1,500 per year I can get real z/OS.e, so I'm impressed.

I can download and legally run Linux since it's GPL open source. Choosing a distribution is another question. I could choose Debian Linux for my home system, and I could make a voluntary contribution to the Debian community to support their efforts. Or I could contribute Linux code enhancements back to the community, as I've already done recently for a USB driver. Or both. The standard Novell and Red Hat support agreements (about $15,000 per year per mainframe CP or IFL) don't make sense for my home mainframe, but businesses need different support than I would.

I'd like to run WebSphere Application Server for z/OS. At 3 MSUs that's somewhere around $3,000 for the first year (including subscription and support) then a few hundred dollars per additional year. That's not much money for the world's finest enterprise J2EE server, so I can get a real transaction manager for my z/OS.e home system. There are other Linux and z/OS options, but that one looks best for me.

I'm not sure I need a relational database. DB2 for z/OS is awfully nice, but at 3 MSUs it might still bust my home mainframe budget. I'll stick with VSAM, Linux flat files, and Linux databases like PostgreSQL and MySQL for the time being. (Or I could try to recompile those databases with my C/C++ z/OS.e compiler.) I can access VSAM and Linux relational databases from WebSphere Application Server for z/OS quite easily. Communications between z/OS.e and Linux will be through HiperSockets.

Nearly all businesses opt for full hardware maintenance, and that's prudent. My home mainframe is different, though, so I'll probably rely on any warranty I get with my z800 purchase plus as-needed hardware repair. With a 40+ year MTBF on IBM mainframe processors I'll have to roll the dice for my home system.

Perhaps I could rent out time on my home mainframe to hobbyists, developers, and even small businesses. Basically I could go into the mainframe service bureau business, at least to a limited degree. Over time I could upgrade to that z9 BC, license DB2 for z/OS, add more and faster storage, etc.

Did I miss anything? Would anyone like to ship me their z800 to give me a head start?

by Timothy Sipples November 15, 2006
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CNN: "Mainframes making a comeback"

The Associate Press' mainframe story gained broad coverage this week from the likes of CNN, USA Today, BusinessWeek.  Highlights:

  • IBM's mainframe revenue is up 10 percent this year. That includes a 25 percent gain in the most recent quarter.
  • Mainframes can do so many tasks at once that they are more energy efficient and take up less space than a comparable cluster of smaller servers.
  • Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT: "For a platform that a lot of folks have claimed is essentially moribund or headed into a very dark, bad future, it's got remarkable legs."

by Timothy Sipples November 2, 2006
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