Of Hurricaines and Old Haunts

With one storm having hit New Orleans and another hammering South Texas, memories come back like flood waters.  Thankfully, the Crescent City did not experience the trauma that we feared, a repeat of three years ago. Still, we all clung to our television and internet news feeds. To me, the names of the canals and streets and neighborhoods are all too familiar.  I lived there once.  It's where I met VM.

Back in the days when I was coasting through college, Mom and Dad were living in New Orleans.  The Big Easy was the place where I went for the break.  I needed a summertime job ... anything. Found a non-specific clerical job with a geologist at Shell Oil. Hey!  That's cool!  Working at One Shell Square!  That geologist soon learned that I had a technical bent and set me to work on some minor programming he needed done.  (This is another example of God throwing a gem in your path when you were not savvy enough to go digging for it.)  The system was something called VM/SP.

This VM/SP thing was IBM all the way.  Big hardware; big terminal. The terminal I used was a boat anchor of a thing, a 3270 model 5 with 27 lines and 132 columns.  Strictly speaking, it was a dumb terminal but was the smartest dumb terminal I had yet encountered.  There was a component of VM/SP called CMS, the Conversational Monitor System. The way you interacted with CMS was that you typed a bunch on the screen and the computer at the other end of the wire was sent all your typing at once.

At least once I snatched a glimpse of the 43xx series hardware in the machine room,  There was some grand plan for these machines. (I later learned the plan was PROFS which Shell and many other large companies used for office email ... before there was an Internet.) VM really caught on at Shell and was used for years, especially thanks to PROFS, later called OfficeVision, but also because engineers could build their batch jobs for other systems using the excellent editor built into CMS and then punch those jobs to other systems for execution. VM is like "datacenter glue", nimbly connecting unlike systems.

But VM was more than just a spiffy interactive system. It presented every user with his own (virtual) System/370 computer. I asked about this for clarification:  It's your own personal "machine"? Yes.  Can you boot other operating systems?  Yes.  Sweet!  I figured that Shell had paid through the nose for this fine technology.  Only later did I learn that VM was one of the cheaper system products available. When I got back to school, I told friends and professors about this amazing system which allowed you to run other operating systems concurrently on one physical box.  One of my professors was especially clued in and in his overview of operating systems he pronounced, "VM is the baby", the precious one.

Eventually my alma mater did get VM. And then there was BITNET and that whole story, which we should save for another time.

The baby has grown up: VM/HPO, VM/XA, VM/ESA, and now z/VM. Though PROFS and OfficeVision have fallen to stacked Dominos, VM has recently enjoyed the resurgence you all know about thanks to Linux.  It's hypervisor is the finely tuned engine driving hundreds and sometimes thousands of virtual penguins.  CMS hasn't changed much in appearance, so my old friends at Shell would still recognize it.  While those in other shells (eg: on Linux) have no idea that they're being supported by a warm teddy bear of a host.

When Katrina hit, aside from the human tragedy, I wondered how One Shell Square faired.  Funny how the mind goes to the familiar even in the most shocking circumstances. My sources tell me Shell still runs VM, but not like it once did.

-- R;

by sirsanta September 30, 2008 in History
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Turmoil in the Financial Sector

The financial services industry is experiencing profound disruption, especially in the U.S. JP Morgan buys Bear Sterns then swallows Washington Mutual. Bank of America takes Countrywide then Merrill Lynch. Lehman Brothers collapses, with Barclays picking up some of the pieces (including Lehman's main data center). Lloyds grabs HBOS, while Fortis and B&B collapse. Citigroup buys out Wachovia. The U.S. Government now owns most of AIG. Investors as diverse as Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Japan's MUFJ pump cash into Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, respectively. The Big Three U.S. automakers are bleeding cash, with $5,000 and even $10,000 SUV discounts now routine. And central banks around the world, particularly the U.S. Federal Reserve, inject massive amounts of cash into the world's financial system. These are historic weeks in the financial industry, and there is more news to come.

All of this turmoil is causing (and will cause) big changes in these companies' IT plans and operations. Most directly, IT staff now must rapidly reorganize infrastructure assets to match the new corporate organizations. They must do so quickly, and with little or zero service interruption lest they cause further panic.

Fortunately, most if not all the companies mentioned above rely on mainframes for the bulk of their core business processes. It's no exaggeration to say that mainframes have facilitated the incredible pace of consolidation in the global financial industry which occurred even prior to this turmoil on Wall Street. So in an IT sense these historic events are nothing new. IT staff will be busy splitting more LPARs, relocating more LPARs, and/or consolidating more LPARs as they help their companies adjust to their new circumstances. In fact, the extent to which these companies have mainframe-based applications and information will heavily influence the ease and speed of their IT restructuring. These events resemble "disasters," and the mainframe IT staff at these companies certainly understand disaster recovery (DR). Also, we already know mainframes can scale instantly and easily to handle more demand, from customers and/or simply because a merged organization is much bigger. These are good times to have mainframes. These are the "change machines." In contrast, reorganizing the non-mainframe IT infrastructure elements will be much more painful. A lot of smart people will appreciate the contrasts.

These times undoubtedly will result in job losses, including IT job losses. However, the good news is that the IT employment market has been relatively stable or even growing robustly in certain parts of the world, with continuing demand for skilled IT professionals. Although there are never any guarantees, I expect that individuals with mainframe-related skills will do comparatively well in the months and years ahead. But there's an important caveat: if you expect to continue working for the same employer in the same city, you may be in for a shock. Workloads will be moving, a lot. Turnover is likely to increase even while the number of jobs remains relatively stable. Fundamentally, however, business managers do appreciate how important their IT staff will be to help them reorganize their companies, especially IT staff skilled at rapid, well-executed shifts of workload.

There are other IT challenges facing financial companies. In particular, it is now abundantly clear that company managers do not have real-time visibility over their own corporate balance sheets. IT practices in the investment banking community have been largely "siloed," with little or no respect for central management oversight and business controls. I expect high demand for recentralized financial information with real-time executive "dashboards," to give managers much better information to make informed decisions about their financial assets at any moment in time. I think there will be serious questions asked and much different architectural patterns for implementing decision support systems. My view is that mainframes and mainframe-based solutions will play increasing roles in financial decision support, reversing recent trends. One notable and extraordinarily timely example is IBM's Scalable Architecture for Financial Reporting (SAFR).

What trends do you see amidst the chaos?

by Timothy Sipples September 30, 2008 in Future
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Mainframe...funnier than Jerry Seinfeld?

This week we had two big blog hits for the Mainframe comedy video series "The Art of the Sale."

1) ZDNet's post "Has IBM Figured Out The Art Of The Sale Better Than Bill & Jerry?" compares us favorably to the Seinfeld Microsoft TV spots.

2) Columnist Geoffrey James (New York Times, Brand World, CIO) writes in his post,

I've yet to see any that so vividly encapsulate the world of high-tech B2B selling as this incredibly accurate series.  These six short videos provide as good an education about how B2B sales is actually practiced in real life as you'd get out of a hundred hours of expensive sales training. Just watch them. Trust me.

and from the "old news" file, the series was selected by Comedy Central as "Staff Favorite" and finalist in it's web video contest, and playing on ComedyCentral.com.

by Timothy Sipples September 19, 2008
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Sorcerers apprentice

Sir, my need is sore.

Spirits that I've cited

My commands ignore

.... that is how the London Stock Exchange must feel after they were crippled by a system outage for seven (7) hours! See here

Maybe they should have moved to the mainframe in 2005 instead of building on the Microsoft .NET Framework.

by Boas Betzler September 8, 2008
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