New WebSphere Application Server Liberty Profile

A large and growing percentage of mainframes run JavaTM code. Even when you license only z/OS, you get Java at no additional charge. CICS Transaction Server, IMS, DB2, WebSphere MQ, Linux on zEnterprise — the list goes on and on — all support Java. If you want to write or run Java on the mainframe, there's nothing stopping you. Go for it!

I'm quite pleased to see that IBM has announced its beta program for WebSphere Application Server Version 8.5. One major new innovation is the WAS Liberty Profile which supports both z/OS and Linux on zEnterprise. The Liberty Profile for z/OS is tiny (by today's and yesterday's standards): the download is only 32 MB. It starts quickly and consumes very little memory. And you can download the beta version now to try yourself. Of course, anything that can run on the Liberty Profile can also run on WebSphere Application Server if/when you're ready. That's because the Liberty Profile is WAS, but with as-needed/where-needed function delivery, depending on your application's requirements. And yes, of course, you can access all the helpful JZOS methods from the Liberty Profile for z/OS.

I expect this new WebSphere Liberty Profile will be extremely attractive to mainframe customers and to mainframe software developers. (Did I mention it's tiny?) Please go give it a try today and let IBM know what you think.

by Timothy Sipples December 21, 2011 in Application Development, Innovation, Web Technology, z/OS
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5 Predictions for the Next 5 Years

In keeping with the season of resolutions and predictions, IBM has gazed into its crystal ball to forecast five innovations that will alter the technology landscape within five years. So let's spend some time considering a couple of these predictions and their impact on mainframe computing.

#2: You will never need a password again. Technically that's no problem whatsoever if you have a mainframe and hasn't been for many years. IBM has done a very good job preserving and extending the mainframe's leadership, positioning the mainframe as the definitive Enterprise Security Hub (or ESH if you like). For example, credit and debit card systems are already getting a lot smarter thanks in large part to the mainframe's security innovations. In an ever more interconnected era (see below) when security is becoming ever more important, more businesses and governments are turning to mainframe-based solutions. The only question in my view is whether mainframe professionals will lead or follow this trend. I vote for the former.

#4: The digital divide will cease to exist. Universal mobile access to computing is going to favor the mainframe. First, there's going to be a direct effect on transaction volumes in existing banking systems, to pick an example. I'm hearing lots of reports that's precisely what's happening, even with only a fraction of the world using smartphones at this point. Second, there will be heightened security requirements (see above). Third, the greater the audience depending on mobile access for services, the greater the cost of service interruptions, thus favoring more resilient systems and solutions. Fourth, the greater the demand, the greater the need for massively scalable systems, i.e. mainframes. That's due to the need for bigger central systems of record as well as worsening data center resource problems in procuring enough space, power, and cooling. The world's telcos, for example, are now seriously rethinking their entire infrastructure which is becoming too costly and unsupportable, after a couple decades of largely unrestrained build-out.

#5: Junk mail will become priority mail. I'm not so sure about e-mail, but the central point here is that transactions are becoming more complex, with more and more heavy information analytics associated with core business processes in order to tailor services much more precisely to customers. That's going to drive the need for massively scalable systems with tight integration. Sound familiar? IBM is right at the vanguard of that trend, with the DB2 Analytics Accelerator as a preeminent example. That technology alone is making whole new analysis-heavy applications possible that were simply never possible before.

What's your forecast? My immediate forecast (or at least wish) is for all of our readers to have a safe, healthy, prosperous, and happy new year.

by Timothy Sipples December 20, 2011 in Future, Innovation, Security
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Oracle Had a Rough Quarter

Oracle reported its earnings for its second financial quarter, which ended November 30th. One of the big headlines: the company's total hardware revenues crashed below $1 billion to $953 million, down 14% year over year. Its software business was essentially flat on a revenue basis.

Oracle started shipping its new SPARC T4-based machines in late September. We would expect to see a substantial increase in revenue when a new model is introduced, but the opposite happened. Oracle's CFO explained that there were product transition problems which accounted for the drop. Perhaps, but Oracle is predicting that next quarter hardware revenues will drop again from 4% to 14% (constant currency). Keep in mind these figures include Exadata and Exalogic servers, which Oracle claims are growing. (CEO Larry Ellison said Oracle sold "over 200" of those servers combined in the quarter. More on that in a moment.) The bleeding continues unabated.

Another thing Oracle's CFO said should be disturbing to potential customers: "...we believe we could be back at pre-Sun operating margins shortly." If your revenues are declining, how do you increase operating margins? That's simple: you cut costs. Research and development are costs, and they should be big costs if you want to compete and win in the server market.

On the software side, Oracle has had some price increases, so a flattish performance there is also a problem.

Richard Sherlund, an analyst from Nomura Securities, asked a great question on Oracle's earnings conference call. In fact, Oracle promptly ended its call after his question. Sherlund asked, "Larry [Ellison, Oracle's CEO], could you reconcile these numbers you gave for Exadata and Exalogic? I think it adds up to 1,000 or 1,100. Didn't you say 3,000 just recently? And I think the company originally guided to 2,000." You can read what Oracle's executives said in reply.

In part of Mark Hurd's reply, he claimed "...we are taking huge amounts of share from IBM at their high end." IDC and Gartner keep close tabs on the server market, and they report exactly the opposite is happening. Maybe Hurd misspoke and will revise and extend his remarks.

by Timothy Sipples December 20, 2011 in Financial
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European Commission Satisfied with IBM's Practices

As The Mainframe Blog and other outlets reported this past September, the European Commission and IBM reached agreement on a competitors' complaint concerning mainframe hardware maintenance services. IBM proposed changes in how it supplies mainframe spare parts and technical documentation. However, the European Commission wanted to hear comments from interested parties about IBM's proposed solution.

After that comment period, the European Commission is still satisfied.

In separate action, the European Commission is seeking more information on whether Google's proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility runs afoul of European competition rules.

by Timothy Sipples December 14, 2011 in Financial
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Japan's NTT Data Is Rock Solid with zEnterprise

NTT Data is the largest system integrator in Japan. In this video a couple of NTT Data's professionals discuss the new banking solution they're building for the Bank of Japan and the exceptional attributes of zEnterprise, z/OS, and WebSphere middleware products on z/OS.

by Timothy Sipples December 13, 2011 in Financial, Innovation, Web Technology, z/OS
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Migrating Off the Mainframe

This topic comes up often. Too often. Those of us familiar with the mainframe get tired of repeating the facts for the resurging neophytes. (Methinks it must be a Microsoft or Oracle conspiracy ... they want to wear us down. Yeah, that's it.)

Over on LinkedIn there is a flame fest roaring through the "Mainframe Experts Network" group. One Frank Trovato innocently (if vaguely) asked ...

"Has anyone successfully migrated off mainframes?"

The responses include marketing and misinformation, mixed in with a hard-to-find smattering of real engineering. For my part, I argued that the S/390 line (or "System z") is more suited to certain workloads than a Pentium. This is no slam of other architectures. (Although one French Canadian continues to equate high dollar hardware with a historic hobbyist system.) Surely nVidia and Radeon are better for graphics than a regular INeL *86. Clearly ARM does better in your phone than a PPC chip. This is nothing more or less than "right tool / right job" pairing. Apply the same rationale to the central processor. Duh.

By coincidence, another noise in the web sphere is the demise of email at a major IT support house. If things were that simple, it might be no big deal. The "solution" seems to be "one size fits all" along with "all or nothing" replacement. People ... [sigh] ... THINK. This is not rocket science. This is not brain surgery. No time to discuss email "to be or not to be" here.

Data Mover

A good way to look at the IBM mainframe is as a "data mover". (Careful ... if you use the phrase "big data", that only implies large addressability and Sir Jeff the Solar ... er, uh ... Sir Jeff the Scholar will tell you things you may already know about other 64-bit systems. That's not the point!) We're talking about input/output. The mainframe has employed channelized I/O since the original S/360. (Even prior, but the S/360 was probably the first to be quite so general ... at least in the IBM universe.) As an example, consider DEC. Once upon a time, they wanted the world to see their VAX line as a "mainframe". These were the days before any negative context. I loved the VAX but was truly offended by their abuse of the label "mainframe". DEC marketeers turned technical terminology into marketing mumbo-jumbo. The VAX hardly had channelized I/O. (Did have nice I/O vector spaces ... but that's a little different.) So the word mainframe in my dictionary means a computer with a robust isolation of input/output from other work. It can move big chunks of data. It can move big data in its sleep. Literally.

Trovato's question "Has anyone successfully migrated off mainframes?" in other industries could be stated as "Has anyone successfully migrated off grid power?" or "Has anyone successfully migrated off semi-trailers?" or "Has anyone successfully migrated off central A/C?". At my house, we still use grid power (sometimes it goes out) and we expect to always use central A/C. We don't directly use semi-trailers. I do have a 3/4 ton Chevy Suburban balanced against a Toyota Prius. More of that "right tool / right job" pairing.

There Can Be Only One

Well ... today, there is only one, sadly.

These days, you can only get "a mainframe" from IBM. Things were not always this way. There was a time when you could get plug-compatible (IBM compatible) computers from other hardware makers. The point is not so much compatibility with Big Blue but the availability of machines supporting that slick ISA for big data operations. (Ooopppsss... I said it again. Sorry Jeff.) The biggest problem with the mainframe is the single source for such hardware. Thankfully, we have Unix and Linux, so while the hardware has vendor lock-in, at least the environment does not.

IBM won the war ... or did they? As a customer, I don't like single source supply. It matters less with workload flexibility (the victory of Unix).

All About Performance

What then is the goal when considering a computing platform? Mainframes offer performance. Okay ... there is more to life than performance, but performance is a Big Deal. I work for a performance company. (Full disclosure: Velocity Software. Some have heard our leader's slogan, "If you can't measure it, I'm just not interested.", tm.) We do performance analysis and reporting for the z/VM system. It's all the more important because VM hosts other environments. (And should host more! but I digress.) Years ago, I didn't care about performance per se. But it has gotten to be a Big Deal for me as I see it becoming a Big Deal for a lot of Big Companies. (If I say "Big Deal" in caps often enough, can I trade mark it?)

Everyone should do this: Look at the facts. Figure out if the machine does what you want. Where it fails, make changes. Avoid ROT. Get real advice. Then measure again! And if you put all your eggs in one basket, be prepared for the bottom to drop out.

No Single Metric

Never let the discussion come down to just one thing. The differentiator may be just one feature. That which tips the scale might be just one attribute. But your consideration should always cover several points before you get to "the one".

Focus only on a single measurement and you'll go out of business. One measurement at a time? Yes. But only one ever? Bad idea. Even the highly respected "customer satisfaction" yard stick will not keep you going if you don't reign in costs. (This is why I work for Velocity: performance is one of those costs too easily ignored.)

Has Anyone?

Frank, it's an excellent question! As others have answered, "has anyone?". Yes. Yes they have. You bet! Have all migrations off the mainframe gone well? Hardly. Some have been catastrophic. Anyone asking today "should we?" deserves an "it depends" along with some sound advice.

A smarter move would be to evaluate individual computing workloads. Don't make it an all-or-nothing shift. Demand flexibility and interoperability from your vendors and support organizations. Move tasks to where they work best. (The wise executive would do the same with staff, rather than RIF them with a broad sword.) (Sorry ... my bad mood is showing.) You may find, as many have, that some workloads should move TO the mainframe. (Linux makes this especially appealing, but there's plenty of work to be shoved over to z/OS.)

There is no "one size fits all" and the bigger your IT needs grow the more you'll want to mix different architectures. It's common sense. You can run a whole organization on a mainframe. Does it make sense? Not in my book. You can run a whole organization on a PC. Does it make sense? Only if you believe the opinions of the inexperienced or the knee-jerks.

-- R; <><

by sirsanta December 9, 2011
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An Update on the Relative Value of IBM v. Microsoft

As I mentioned this past September, IBM passed Microsoft in market capitalization. In other words, the financial markets assigned a greater total enterprise value to IBM than to Microsoft, based on the stock price multiplied by the total number of shares outstanding for each company. Stock prices are quite volatile, but it's interesting to see that the gap has widened. At the close of trading yesterday, Microsoft had a total market capitalization of $215.35 billion, while IBM's market capitalization was $228.71 billion. Translated into percentages, IBM is more than 6% more valuable than Microsoft.

Market capitalization represents the stock market's assessment of a publicly traded company's value, at least for the part of the company that's publicly traded. (Some companies are privately held with only a relatively small amount of stock publicly traded, but that's not the case here.) That value is, in turn, based on the market's assessment of the net present value of the company's earnings. The higher the expected profit (and profit growth), the higher the market capitalization should be, at least over the medium to long term. Therefore, at this moment, the stock market is betting that IBM has a brighter future in terms of profits than Microsoft, on a risk-adjusted basis.

What's particularly interesting to me in this comparison is that IBM's balance sheet, while extremely impressive, is rather different than Microsoft's. Microsoft has a bigger amount of cash (and cash equivalents) on its balance sheet. According to Yahoo! Finance Microsoft has over $42 billion in net cash, while IBM's total debt is actually greater than its cash balance. IBM's debt is a bit misleading because a good part of that is debt from its IT financing division, which is exactly what a financing division is supposed to do and which has no real equivalent at Microsoft. But there's practically zero valuation risk with cash on hand, meaning that the stock market should assign a lot of value to that cash. The stock market does, but it doesn't matter enough: IBM is the more valuable company. Said another way, the stock market doesn't seem to have much confidence that Microsoft knows how to leverage that cash hoard in profitable ways.

I'm compelled to agree, and the news this week reinforces my view. Consider that IBM is using some of its cash to buy Cúram Software. We don't know how much IBM is spending for Cúram, but a couple hundred million is a reasonable guess, perhaps even on the high side. Contrast that acquisition with Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype, which was completed less than two months ago. Is there anyone willing to argue that Microsoft's acquisition of Skype will be more than 42 times more beneficial (in terms of future profits) than IBM's acquisition of Cúram? I'm not willing to make that argument.

Meanwhile, Apple is still the world's most valuable publicly traded technology company with a market capitalization of $361.62 billion at yesterday's closing price. And with that statistic I'll conclude this blog post, written from my new MacBook Air, because my iPhone is ringing.

by Timothy Sipples December 8, 2011 in Financial
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Mainframe Mobile Apps

IBM has introduced mobile apps which provide mainframe-related information. The apps are available for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch, Android, and Blackberry.

Mobile-app

by Timothy Sipples December 7, 2011 in Systems Technology
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IBM Buys Cúram Software Ltd.

IBM spent a bit of green — how much is unknown — to buy Irish software firm Cúram. Cúram specializes in software for government social welfare and health services.

Often when IBM acquires a software company one of the first orders of business is to bring that software to the mainframe. But Cúram's Business Application Suite is already available for the mainframe. IBM can focus on expanding Cúram's market presence, especially as part of IBM's "Smarter Cities" initiatives.

by Timothy Sipples December 5, 2011 in Current Affairs
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HP Lays an Ostrich Egg During Turkey Week

One of the fundamental rules of public relations is that if you want to make an announcement that you don't want to be noticed, do it just before a big holiday. That probably helps explain why HP picked the Tuesday before the big Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. to announce its "Project Odyssey."

I have to applaud HP on picking an exceptionally appropriate name. Odysseus means "trouble" in Greek, and his journey took ten long years after defeat in war. During his journey none of his fellow travelers survived. Sounds like a perfect name for the latest plot twist in the Itanium Meltdown, doesn't it?

I can summarize HP's announcement thusly:

  1. There's nothing we can do to save HP-UX, OpenVMS, or NonStop. We might have another unexciting Itanium chip or two in the pipeline, but who cares? Our turkeys are cooked without software vendor support.
  2. Unfortunately our lawyers aren't giving us high odds of prevailing over Oracle in court. If by some miracle we did, it wouldn't help our customers. We'd just collect some cash.
  3. You'll be able to stick obsolete-but-repurchased Itanium blade servers into the same chassis that also hold Intel X86 blades running Windows and/or Linux. This plan is so exciting that we're announcing it when nobody will notice. (And didn't we already announce that?)
  4. Yes, we know blades are horizontally scalable, not vertically scalable. Yes, we know many NonStop customers aren't thrilled with blade architectures for availability reasons. Did we mention we're getting out of the high-end server business? Did we mention we couldn't afford the R&D a decade ago to be a credible high-end server vendor, never mind now? We just wanted to be a box pusher and let Intel worry about the CPU and everybody else worry about the software. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, at least to our accountants.
  5. We'll strip the HP-UX corpse of any interesting bits and make those available for Linux and/or Windows. No, we don't have any idea what those bits might be.
  6. There are no new versions of HP-UX, OpenVMS, or NonStop Kernel to announce. Are we being clear enough yet?
  7. Isn't it cute that Microsoft said something nice in our press release? Of course they would: they abandoned Itanium before Oracle did. Of course they'll sign their name to our Itanium retirement party book. Ditto Red Hat.
  8. In an announcement like this one normally we'd boast about all the new Itanium customers, our revenue growth, etc., etc. Of course, we can't do that when the opposite is true. We couldn't even persuade a real customer to say anything nice about this announcement. We got tired of hearing "F**k you!" every time we asked a customer for a quote.

by Timothy Sipples December 4, 2011 in History, Systems Technology
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