Thoughts On CICs and MQ following Impact 2008

Is CICS just a cashcow? That's the question I found myself asking at Impact 2008 last week. Is it really enough to service enable a CICS system,  or will a renaissance require the kind of skills drive that IBM is putting into other areas of the mainframe business? My concern is that some of the noises from IBM sounded like the bad old days of the 1990s when IBM often seemed content to see the mainframe profitably walk off into the sunrise. I used to argue with Linda Sanford at the time that IBM needed to look beyond MIPS growth and try to find net new customers for the box. Leverage existing workloads? I am most interested in net new workloads on Z - and I don't just mean Linux-based.

SOA helps customers to extend existing investments and IBM is investing in all the surrounding tooling to make this easier.

My problem with this argument as it relates to CICS is largely down to the fact that without skills growth a platform can only ever be a cash cow. The law of leaky abstractions is a major problem for service enablement. As Joel says:

“The law of leaky abstractions means that whenever somebody comes up with a wizzy new code-generation tool that is supposed to make us all ever-so-efficient, you hear a lot of people saying “learn how to do it manually first, then use the wizzy tool to save time.” Code generation tools which pretend to abstract out something, like all abstractions, leak, and the only way to deal with the leaks competently is to learn about how the abstractions work and what they are abstracting.”

What happens if you want to change the underlying enterprise data model, for example? You can’t do that without changing the code. You can service-enable all you want, but SOA is as much about component and service isolation, enabling flexibility and portfolio maintainability, than service reuse. Martin Nally Rational CTO (As seen on RedMonkTV here) made a similar point in our unconference last week.

When I wrote a blog a while back called Mainframe = Youth, which gathered together a number of news stories that all talked to mainframe skills rejuvenation, it was clear that it was the skills revival, not the product, that was the story, as least as far as the wider market conversation was concerned. If SOA is veneerware it is far less valuable than the hype would suggest. But how do you get under the veneer?

Could CICS remerge as an information management platform, not just a transaction management system, or is that IMS role and never the twain shall meet? Either way I think net new skills will drive net new workloads. What about you?

update: now this is too funny. I forgot my colleague Cote had taken this picture:


by James Governor April 18, 2008
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More Potpourri

1. The Chicago Tribune reports on the excellent career prospects for new mainframe professionals in Illinois. Illinois State University Assistant Professor Chu Jong, associated with that university's mainframe curriculum, says it's not uncommon for his graduates to receive six or seven job offers.

2. You can now download the open beta release of IBM's WebSphere MQ Version 7 for z/OS (and for Linux on System z) at no charge. Click on "Trials and demos" on the left menu to get there. MQ V7 will be generally available in late June, 2008, so don't wait too long to take the beta for a spin. Please let IBM know what you think.

WebSphere MQ is the most popular reliable messaging transport for connecting basically anything to anything. Many enterprise architects argue that WebSphere MQ is foundational to successful service-oriented architectures, especially on System z. I agree.

3. IBM reports 1Q2008 earnings after the U.S. markets close on Wednesday, April 16.

4. The Blocks and Files blog asks, "Seriously, why does IBM bother?" This skepticism arises after IBM researchers announced a breakthrough in spintronics memory technology which could lead to a new class of storage devices within 10 years.

It's a fair question, but there are some simple answers. The basic answer is that IBM has had tremendous success commercializing (and profiting from) storage technologies, so this research is hardly unusual and is in IBM's self-interest. Examples include hard disks, floppy disks, and most tape-related technologies (such as vacuum column loading). For example, Alan Shugart at IBM invented the floppy disk to load microcode onto System/370 mainframes and peripherals. The fact that other companies might also benefit from IBM's research — as "free loaders" — is interesting but not directly relevant to whether IBM spends money on R&D. IBM has done quite well collecting both direct sales and royalties from these inventions. And yes, R&D is inherently risky. IBM has spent a lot of money researching so-called millipede storage, and it's extremely unclear whether IBM will ever see any profit from that effort. But the only criterion that matters to IBM is whether the company itself is better off for investing billions in basic research. Given IBM's track record I side with the researchers: yes, it is, without a doubt.

It's also worth noting that there are some government subsidies that encourage certain types of research. The U.S. space program is one famous example. IBM does receive some government support, although the pharmaceutical and pure defense industries tend to receive a lot more.

I do think Blocks and Files raises an interesting point indirectly. If Wall Street is so focused on short-term quarterly results, putting pressure on research investments, how can society encourage more research? (Society is the ultimate "free loader." :-)) The traditional answer has been patents, but there are a lot of companies, including IBM, that think the patent system needs fixing.

by Timothy Sipples April 13, 2008 in Future, Innovation, People
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