How Mainframe-Like

I was in San Jose for the SHARE conference week before last, always a good show.  Since I don't live in San Jose, it meant travel and in this case air travel.  On the plane I snagged the Sky Mall magazine from the seat pocket for a little light reading. (Sleep is a good thing to pursue while in flight.  Maybe it would help?)

In the Tiger Direct section of Sky Mall, I found the "X300 3 User Expansion Kit" from NComputing.  Remember when computers could have more than one keyboard?  Oh, and they could have more than one screen.  Oh, and the screen and keyboard usually went together as something called a "terminal".  Yep - those were the days. Well, they're back. Ahhh...

Ironic, isn't it, how invention rears its head in the most surprising places.  With all the surplus compute power of small computers, someone at NComputing [re]created the ability for more than one person to share a single PC with no loss of the "your personal settings" experience. Nice! To their credit, the inventors have rendered this product runnable on Linux as well as the ubiquitous Windows.

Truly this is a nice piece of work.  But to us mainframers, umm, hello?  Why has no one done this before?  We've been putting terminals on the desks of hundreds and thousands of users for years. (Indeed, some people mistakenly apply the term "mainframe" to any computer which directly servces more than one user.)  I gotta say "way to go" to the folks who now allow us to do this with a PC. But I also have to ask "what took you so long?".

A sample of this little multi-user beastie is here:

         http://www.skymall.com/shopping/detail.htm?pid=102157712

-- R;

by sirsanta August 30, 2008 in Innovation
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Ready to Rule

A fun video from EMC:

by Timothy Sipples August 20, 2008
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Mid-August 2008 Potpourri

1. August is no vacation month for IBM, with lots of announcements: z/OS 1.10, z/VSE 4.2, z/VM 5.4, extended support for z/OS 1.7, a Tivoli preview, a CICS Explorer ("New Face of CICS") preview and beta program, InfoSphere Change Data Capture V6.2 for z/OS, and the new Scalable Architecture for Financial Reporting (SAFR).

SAFR is particularly intriguing as a unique business intelligence solution for System z. ComputerWeekly has some favorable words (mostly) about BI on z.

2. Winn-Dixie Stores, one of the largest food retailers in the U.S., has consolidated its IT infrastructure to System z. Computerworld has more, and Infoworld reports on some other virtualization projects.

3. BMC's annual survey is out, and it finds optimism about the future of mainframe computing jumped 13 percent. (That could be 13 percentage points, which would be even more impressive.)

4. The System z10 wins two awards from Network Products Guide: "Best in Cryptography," and "Best in Server Solutions."

5. The Ledger-Enquirer, a newspaper in Columbus, Ohio, reports on the thriving mainframe educational partnership between Columbus State University, major employer and mainframe customer TSYS, and IBM. Over the past 20 years, CSU has educated nearly 2,500 IT students. CSU prepared over 1,000 of those students for careers with TSYS, and over 800 of those CSU alumni are still working for the company.

6. "If cats have nine lives, the mainframe beats them out handily."

7. Mainframes help businesses merge more quickly and easily, achieving bigger cost savings that much faster. Delta and Northwest Airlines are merging, but Delta's CEO says that, while IT integration is the biggest challenge, their mainframe is the least of their worries. Even as competitors, their mainframe-based reservation and ticketing systems were already securely co-located on the same machine.

8. Mismanagement of the State of North Dakota's mainframe assets continues, although I think Forbes misdiagnoses the problems in their story about the ongoing debacle. I have so many questions about this situation. One of them is, if mainframe alternatives are so scary-affordable, why does the state have no IT budget left for the next project phase? (Shouldn't there be plenty of money for that? Aren't "servers" free? :-)) Citizens of North Dakota, I would encourage you to take a hard look at your state government's total IT spending patterns. KBMR adds a little more detail: "The company developing it [the new application] had assured lawmakers it would be finished, but it's complicated."

"Complicated" is a bureaucratic code word for "expensive and poor quality."

And then there's the widely reported saga of the State of California. The Governor ordered pay cuts for most state employees, reducing their salaries down to minimum wage with the prospect that they'll receive back pay once California extricates itself from the budget mess. But I have to criticize Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) which also misdiagnoses the problem.

Look, if you have bad application development methodologies and poor tools on any platform you'll get inflexible applications. If you underinvest in application maintenance for years (decades?) you'll end up with inflexible applications. But if you spend money rewriting all the code (including the code that's still valuable and useful), analyst Software Productivity Research estimates you'll typically spend five times more than if you just modernized through reuse, particularly using Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) methodologies. And if you (or your management) don't understand these basic facts, you're doomed to overspending and suffering poor quality outcomes. Which would be...wasteful.

California is not necessarily a good example, though. The State Controller has every political reason to ignore the Governor's order, and there are plenty of excuses available.

9. In Nashua, New Hampshire, a mainframe got wet but survived. I wonder if water damage voids the warranty.

10. Like listening to Hip Hop? You may want to check out Audible Mainframe, a group which hails from Boston. The band's logo is terrific, although those cables look more Bus & Tag than FICON.

by Timothy Sipples August 13, 2008
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Skills Shortage?

I spotted this advertisement while riding the Tokyo Metro (subway):

Cobolphoto

Basically the advertisement is promoting the ready availability of skilled system engineers and programmers with COBOL experience, with a Web link to find out more about hiring them for short-term or long-term work.

Joe Clabby has some thoughts on the "skills shortage" question. Synopsis: if there are talent shortages in certain countries, those shortages are not unique to mainframe-specific disciplines.

I agree. I remember well the late 1990s, at the height of the dot-com boom in the U.S., when big city radio stations carried breathless advertisements promising skilled IT workers $100,000 signing bonuses and the like. My employer experienced record levels of employee attrition in those years. My college roommate became a paper multi-millionaire overnight. (And at least somewhat less multi a few months later, but that's another story.) I was wondering whether I should also join the attrition bandwagon, as any rational person would.

To the nearest percentage, 0% of that surge in IT salaries and benefits had anything to do with mainframe-unique skills. Yet even at that time, you could find supposedly smart people preaching doom and gloom about mainframe skills shortages, all while the prices of LAN administrators and HTML authors rose into the stratosphere.

In reality, there's never a "shortage": salaries and benefits reach an equilibrium to balance supply with demand in each discipline at any particular moment in time. So I'm not sure why so many people talk exclusively about supply-side shortages. Why don't people talk about the shortage of employers willing to pay $1M per year to their C++ programmers or network firewall administrators, for example?

As a sanity check, is your company increasing COBOL developers' salaries at rates above general wage inflation? Usually the answer to that question is an emphatic "no." Possibly the answer to that question should be "yes," particularly if those developers' productivity is improving, which is typical (and valuable).

Also, why do people think that the supply of talent is fixed? Believe it or not, many people can learn PL/I programming for example, and many comparatively quickly. IBM keeps making it easier to cross-train; as Clabby points out, the uniqueness of mainframes from a skills point of view continues to decrease. And as Clabby also points out, IT professionals in many countries are eager to learn new skills in order to enhance their marketability and career prospects.

What are you seeing? What are the salary and productivity trends in your organization? If you have a mainframe-unique skill, are you getting paid more this year?

by Timothy Sipples August 1, 2008 in People
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