New Mainframe Master Attends High School

A warm congratulations to 11th grader Sushen Patel who bested 1,749 college students (mostly) to win the 2007 Master the Mainframe Contest. Sushen managed to finish the tough Part 3 with the fastest time, and he'll receive a Ninendo Wii game console as a reward. (Maybe that'll slow him down next time?) Sushen attends Highland Park High School in Dallas.

This past semester's contest drew a record number of contestants from 325 educational institutions across the U.S. and Canada. (Others could and did participate from around the world, although only the North Americans could win prizes. Such are the legal issues, I guess.) Many submitted photos of themselves. I hope everyone had fun, and I know IBM certainly enjoyed awarding the nearly 1,000 prizes. If you participated, congratulations as well: you're already ahead of your peers.

Update: Computerworld and NetworkWorld both published interesting stories about zNextGen, SHARE's group of new and aspiring mainframe professionals and their mentors.

by Timothy Sipples January 30, 2008 in Contest
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Another reason to skip class


College students don’t need another activity to distract them from their studies, but the mainframe team is providing one. More than 700 students pulled themselves away from curricula to participate in the first contest to experience the big iron.

Sadly, the grand prize was not a new mainframe for the dorm room. Some won iPods -- not the same level of scalability, but to be fair, they do store a lot of MP3s.

The contest experience offered absolutely no contribution to their GPA, but a few students got jobs with IBM, so who cares. One freshman landed a mainframe internship with a big financial services corporation. Five students won a trip to Poughkeepsie (not the top prize) and a lunch and hiking trip at nearby Mohonk Mountain House. And perhaps most inspiring, many of the students wrote a haiku about the mainframe, which was covered by BusinessWeek.

Registration opens this week for students in the US and Canada, and later this year in the UK.

If you’ve been looking for a reason to go back to college, this could be it. Or, if you know a college student who would be interested, please forward the link.

by Timothy Sipples September 7, 2006 in Contest
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Mainframe code presents problems?

A discussion thread from the IMS-Listserver, that has been going over the last few days:

Did anyone get a chance to read the following article?

This seems to imply that big banks will be migrating off the mainframe (IMS) real soon.

Also, it mentions SABRE which is American Airlines TPF (Transactions Processing Facility) also known as ACP (Airline Control Program).  Most TPF applications are written in assembler.  They are very small and very fast.  TPF programs track everything from reservations on millions of airline flights, advanced seat selection and on-time performance of aircraft.  I wonder how well a network of distributed servers can handle what is essentially a huge inventory application with very perishable product?

Any comments?


WOW. As an alumnus of the long defunct Eastern Airlines; this brings back memories that are older than I admit to being.  Eastern collaborated with IBM on the original ACP and sold a copy to American for what was then the 'world record' price for a piece of software. It may still be the 'record'; depending on how you define 'single function'


Notably, AMR only speaks of the high cost of conversion.  It doesn't sound to me like they are seriously considering replacement.  If anyone from SABRE monitors this forum; it would be fascinating to hear how many transactions per second they are processing these days.  That would spawn a discussion in this forum of whether or not IMS could yet handle that volume.

IMS transaction integrity would be a HUGE leap forward.  When an ACP transaction died, the application program was responsible for backout/recovery/cleanup/everything.  Ponder that the next time an airline can't find a record of your reservation.

I pursued converting Eastern's reservation system to IMS Fast Path in the mid 1980s.  Our ACP group viewed that as a call for jihad and Eastern was spiraling into bankruptcy so rapidly that the only positive outcome was giving me something to discuss with Peggy Rader.

ACP/TPF was a brilliant piece of code for it's time; but, that was a long time ago.  It never approached IMS Reliability.


P.S. 'Financial' institutions will likely migrate away from IMS whenever someone produces a database & transaction processor that is more reliable than IMS (sometime after pigs learn to fly).


Great discussion!  As an Alumnus of the defunct Piedmont Airlines and USAIR, I could not agree more with Dale.  Brilliantly put.  However, the sad news here is that the Mainframe is NOT a strategic direction for my corporation no matter what you say or what proof you have to show otherwise.  No way to get anyone to look at the tremendous cost of running everything on a gazillion servers or how many people it takes to support those servers not to mention the non-24x7 availability.

The most puzzling thing to me is the three-day reorg.  When was the last time one of those ran on the mainframe, IMS especially?  Probably only one prior to converting it to make-sense products like MAXM Reorg or even Online Reorg if using HALDB.

I feel IBM let us all down.  In technical conferences of the past, I have brought that topic up.  IBM Marketing expected the individual corporate techies to drive technology and save the mainframe.  That went away in the 80's and early 90's.  Who listens to us now?

Now the CIO's get the common trade journals.  Where was the mainframe being marketed there?  Where was IMS, MVS, CICS or DB2 being marketed?

No where.  That, my friends, is the problem. Newer technologies came and crept up on us and our naivety felt the dependable nature of the Mainframe would win out.  Wake up.

We all know we have the most stable systems around.  You can't compare the response times or reliability with Open Systems.  But let's make way for all those servers which are now beginning to take up areas in the data center that resemble the old DASD and CPU farms.  My goodness, has anyone seen the new servers?  They look just like old 360's.  Try to convince upper management the Mainframe is the best investment and they now look at you like you just swallowed poison.  How very tragic.  I worked on both TPF and IMS at


and USAir.  I hate to sound like a skeptic, but the writing is on the walls, at least here.


OK, the first thing I'm getting from this discussion is that at one time or another, just about every IMS DBA or systems programmer on earth must have worked for a major airline that has merged, gone belly-up, or come close.  Count me in that group as an ex-US Airways alumnus.

<<begin rant>>

Like others, I find this discussion fascinating.  I'd been working as an IMS developer for less that a year in the early 80s when "friends" and trade publications began advising me that IMS was a dinosaur and would soon be eclipsed and replaced by DB2.  The fact that we're all still discussing it tells you how accurate that prediction turned out to be.

During that same period, I attended night school at the




and was advised by the head of the CompSci department that mainframes and COBOL applications would soon disappear and be replaced by DEC and VAX clusters and languages like Pascal and


.  Likewise, I've watched and watched as client server applications and DBMS became hotter and hotter, causing the same publications to write the mainframes off long ago.  How much of any of this has turned out to be true?  I'll leave that to all of you.  Has the short sighted mentality that makes executives want to convert everything to the hot new servers and DBMS systems eroded IMS' domination?  Sure, the same way that DB2 did at one time.  Yet, IMS continues to evolve and becomes even stronger and more dependable with each release.

At one of my recent employers (and there have been MANY), during an orientation session the CIO discussed the technology the company was using and would use in the future.  There company hires a significant number of IROCs (Idiots Right Out of College), and most of them know only that CompSci educators have told them mainframe technology is outdated, and one questioned the CIO's statement that the mainframe was absolutely integral to the company's plans.  The CIO put it into perspective by suggesting that rather than focusing on the terms "mainframe" and "servers" and seeing the two as being different species, that people unfamiliar with mainframes instead view them as the biggest, fastest, most powerful, most dependable, most cost effective servers imaginable, and understand that the mainframe is simply the best choice for many businesses processing high volumes of transactions and requiring speed and dependability above all else.  Isn't that what IMS, z/OS and mainframes are all about?  At most places I've been where both IMS and servers were used, the server application required far more DBAs and far more outages than IMS.  When company executives make decisions to arbitrarily convert to server applications because that's what they see being hawked in magazines and trade journals, they're making technology decisions the same way they'd shop for a car, and that's a disservice to the companies for whom they're supposed to be guardians. 

<<end of rant>>

I agree with Ivan, who said earlier that the demise of mainframes and IMS has been greatly exaggerated.



I really like the discussion this brings out, with Avram comments, I started out my career in 1969 with the state of


on a 360 model 50 with 512K. we ran applications written in assembler to all the processing for the states unemployment compensation systems. You know what, these systems are still running today, I do not know how, but they are, and there was never a requirement to change or rewrite anything due to hardware or software changes made by IBM. They were always downward and upward compatible. My old job has long been outsourced, but IMS is still there, for how long I do not know. I'm sure someone is looking at how they can rewrite all these OLD applications to run on the much cheaper hardware that will take who knows how many servers to support and how large of a staff will it take. How reliable will it be. Zelma mentioned 3 day reorgs, I have seen 2 day upgrades for this other hardware. Has it ever taken 2 days to upgrade an IMS release, I think NOT.

After the end of the Vietnam war, I can remember working 7 days just to get 5 days work done, unemployment went sky high in the early 70's, but we still got the claims processed.

Today these systems even have GUI front ends on them, to give them the modern look. They are kinda of like the old Timex commercials, they take a lickin' and keep on ticking.


Re the question: "Anyone have any idea from IBM side for example, what's the relative revenue and profit between various *series?  If mainframe is still profitable for IBM..."

Earlier someone posted a link to a NY Times article from this month that stated this;

"all mainframe-related hardware, software and services account for a quarter of its [IBM's] revenue and, more important, about half of I.B.M.'s total operating profit"

So one would assume pretty important then!

I know of a large company in the


that chose pSeries as its platform of choice for a large new application, despite having been heavily invested in zSeries already and understood the scalability, performance and resiliency advantages of z and liked the mature management procedures that came with it, however they saw pSeries as the cheaper option. IBM had also recommended pseries to them. Now a little way down the line as the application expands and evolves they are finding that pSeries is actually proving less economical than zSeries! can assume that gap will only widen as the application grows yet further.

So perhaps IBM think they can get more money from their customers by selling them non-mainframe products!?!

I think IBM need to encourage their mainframe customers to leverage their mainframe investment. All too often I think IBM is sending consultants who know nothing about mainframes through the doors of their customers.


My concerns:

- Marketing for mainframe in individual shops, more and more shops the application people have access to business and not system people.

Applications tend to market to business in silo view and don't need to worry about integrated application advantage at all. Business naturally will favour the slick views and the appearant savings.

- Marketing for mainframe as a whole - Missing.  Anyone have any idea from IBM side for example, what's the relative revenue and profit between various *series?  If mainframe is still profitable for IBM, some money should be channel into making a better image. Or does IBM think a wild mazed IT environment is really the best thing for IBM?

- Charge back scheme in various shops are probably more mature in the mainframe, and I wouldn't be surprised that many distributed system cost other than equipment is buried within the mainframe chargeback.

- Software cost on mainframe - what a impressive system, that alone can bury mainframe, can't say anymore!

- When your application enviornment start to migrate little bits to distributed enviroment, this creates an interesting inbalance because they will take all the easily done and cheap parts with them, leaving the difficult parts in the mainframe, thereby making the mainframe with higher percentage of mutants. After a few iterations, the applications left on host all look like dogs breakfast, and guess what, the system people have to deal with them. And then the application people say 'see, z is difficult and unmanageable' - a nice twist from 'the application is a mutant'.

On the other hand, I myself believe that distributed computing for high volume integrated environment is got to be hoax, we will be in high demand when the wave is over.

by pwarmstrong May 12, 2006 in Application Development, Contest, History
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Big Iron Poetry

As part of the mainframe student contest, some of the 700 college students entered wrote a haiku.  Here is a sample: 

The wind blows softly
Through the leaves of autumn. wait,
That's just the mainframe
--Van Landrum, U. of South Alabama

Life on a mainframe
Is the life I want for me
Share my C.P.U.
-- Jeffrey Painter, NC State

F3 - Please take me
To a previous menu
And I will thank thee
--Marc Turnes, Northern Illinois U.

Mainframe oh mainframe
Today you work your hardest
Mainframe I thank you
--Stanley Hu, NC State

New world discovered 
Mainframes are a legacy 
In old lies future.
-- Ezra Fernandez, SUNY Binghamton U.

Less a lumbering
Dinosaur as is believed
Big iron is speed
-- Brian Capps of Portland Community College

Mainframes confound me
About them I am learning
With great interest
-- Nathan Kruser, SUNY Binghamton

I never knew that
Mainframes were so widely used
Throughout the whole world!
-- Miles Mykel, NC State

Golly the mainframe
It is so great and speedy
And so efficient!
-- Andrew Galla, California University of Pennsylvania

Which of the two is preferred?
Either way, convert
--Frank Migacz, Northern Illinois U.

I'm on z/OS
Mainframe enterprise OS 
Better than the rest
--Tim Pinkawa, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I thought they were gone
Today, I learned they were not
Mainframes are quite cool
--Matthew Scouten, Marist College

Mainframes are a thrill
Always tough and ever still
Mighty machines, yes.
--AlexSandra Ellen, Marist College

Thousands of options
Stable like the mountain peak
Can it play Starcraft?
-- Ian Penney, Memorial University of Newfoundland

IBM's mainframe
A stable lighthouse shining
Saves us from darkness
-- Ian De Silva, Michigan State U.

Nothing can compare
This mainframe beats all others
Flat into the ground
--Joshua Roys, Michigan State U.

Mainframe, desire
But not too much, or it will
Surely overheat
--Aaron McMahan, West Virginia University at Parkersburg

Simply powerful
I hope everything goes well
Mainframe can be fun
--Thomas Chan, Northern Illinois U.

IOB and TCB   
Control blocks are fun
--Jason Arnold, Northern Illinois U.

by Timothy Sipples December 30, 2005 in Contest
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