Monday, 24 November 2008

The Sun shines out of mainframes

Earlier this month, IBM and Sun Microsystems announced that a mainframe version of Sun’s OpenSolaris operating system was available for download. The announcement wasn’t completely unexpected because it had been demonstrated in November 2007.

The port of the OpenSolaris operating system to the mainframe was made possible by a company called Sine Nomine Associates, which is also developing a Java software port to the mainframe.

Solaris you’ll recall already runs off Sparc platforms and can be found on x86-based machines.

So how does it work? Well it doesn’t just sit on the big iron like z/OS, it makes use of z/VM. Using z/VM allows many virtual OpenSolaris images to run simultaneously. Now VM itself has had a bit of a chequered history at IBM, with efforts at times to remove it, and other periods when its development was really rather ignored. Which all seems rather strange with hindsight when nowadays everything can be virtualized – even your laptop at home! I’ve always been a big fan of VM – in fact I wrote two books about it many years ago. (Archivists might be able to find you a copy of VM Performance Management and Introduction to VM.)

So porting OpenSolaris to a mainframe is an interesting technical challenge, but why should non-techies care? The answer is the ability to do more with less. Mainframes are very good at maximizing asset usage and exceptional system performance figures. Moving to a single mainframe probably allows the removal of numerous smaller servers and a “green” benefit of less heat produced and less energy utilized. It also helps to reduce costs and possibly even reduce headcount.

This is good for Solaris users, but it’s also good for IBM. IBM needs a way to get new people to buy mainframes, so encouraging banks etc to upgrade to a mainframe has got to be good for them. Obviously the current economic climate isn’t good for banks! However, history shows these downturns in the economy pass within two or three years. IBM is playing the long game and hopes that when companies do have money to spend they (IBM) will be the organization the money is spent with.

There must be some organization out there that is working on a port of Windows server to VM. It would be really interesting to hear about that. Or perhaps the Microsoft code is so buggy and convoluted it’s an impossible task, even for the excellent z/VM.

And finally, don't forget about the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2009. Last year's issue is still available at The annual user survey of mainframe usage is at - please let us know how you use your mainframe. And vendors, consultants, or service providers, can get a free entry in the vendor directory section by completing the form at Plus there are advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Mainframes on a cloud

I know what a mainframe is, but what is a cloud? I'll avoid any references to white fluffy things and get straight to a definition of sorts. Cloud computing gets its name from the way network diagrams have been drawn for years. There was always a bit somewhere that was drawn as a cloud. That way no-one had to worry to much about what was going on in that bit. Well now the cloud has come centre stage. It's still a way of glossing over the details of whatever infrastructure exists underneath though.

Wikipedia suggests that Cloud computing is "a style of computing in which IT-related capabilities are provided 'as a service', allowing users to access technology-enabled services from the Internet without knowledge of, expertise with, or control over the technology infrastructure that supports them". 

Wikipedia goes on to say, "according to a 2008 paper published by IEEE Internet Computing 'Cloud Computing is a paradigm in which information is permanently stored in servers on the Internet and cached temporarily on clients that include desktops, entertainment centers, table computers, notebooks, wall computers, handhelds, sensors, monitors, etc.'"

Which is all very nice, but what has it got to do with mainframes? Well the answer is Micro Focus. Micro Focus offers tools for mainframe users to migrate off a mainframe to, usually, a Windows platform. The theory goes that it allows programs to be updated and make use of modern technology at a much lower price than staying on the mainframe. Mainframers often argue that migrating applications to other platforms leads to poor performance or an extensive rewrite of the code, which in turn can lead to errors. They also argue that there can be problems when scaling these migrated applications on the new platform. And there is also the problem of off mainframe applications sharing data with mainframe apps. But I digress.

Micro Focus has a long history of migrating COBOL applications to Windows and .NET. Now it is focus on Windows Azure Services Platform cloud. Micro Focus is hoping that COBOL will become a standard cloud computing programming language - like Ruby and Python. Micro Focus are saying that because COBOL is designed to run in large computing environments, it is an ideal programming language for cloud computing. They are also suggesting that cloud computing could make a good substitute for IMS and CICS systems.

Now, as a died-in-the-wool mainframer, I'm not going to recommend that anyone migrates their applications off the mainframe. However, it is interesting to think that cloud computing could be integrated into the Enterprise computing environment in much the same way as distributed processing has been. And if younger programmers learn COBOL for cloud computing, it would be only a short step for them to be able to become CICS programmers - which would solve the problem of where the next generation of COBOL programmers are going to come from. I certainly applaud the efforts of Micro Focus to make COBOL a standard cloud computing programming language.

And finally, don't forget about the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2009. Last year's issue is still available at The annual user survey of mainframe usage is at - please let us know how you use your mainframe. And vendors, consultants, or service providers, can get a free entry in the vendor directory section by completing the form at Plus there are advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

Monday, 10 November 2008

It’s back!!

I used this attention-grabbing headline so I can tell you that the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook is back for another year – or it will be very soon. The celebrated Arcati Mainframe Yearbook is one of the very few vendor-independent sources of information for mainframe users. 

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook has been the de facto reference work for IT professionals working with z/OS (OS/390) systems since 2005. It includes an annual user survey, an up-to-date directory of vendors and consultants, a media guide, a strategy section with papers on mainframe trends and directions, a glossary of terminology, and a technical specification section. Each year, the Yearbook is downloaded by 10 000 to 15 000 mainframe professionals. Last year’s issue is still available at

At the moment, the compilers of the Yearbook are hoping that mainframers will be willing to complete the annual user survey, which is at The more users who fill it in, the more accurate and therefore useful the survey report will be. All respondents before the 5th December will receive a PDF copy of the survey results on publication. The identity and company information of all respondents is treated in confidence and will not be divulged to third parties.

Anyone reading this who works for a vendor, consultant, or service provider, can ensure their company gets a free entry in the vendor directory section by completing the form at This form can also be used to amend last year's entry.
As in previous years, there is the opportunity for organizations to sponsor the Yearbook or take out a half page advertisement. Half-page adverts (5.5in x 8in max landscape) cost $500 (UK£250). Sponsors get a full-page advert (11in x 8in) in the Yearbook; inclusion of a corporate paper in the Mainframe Strategy section of the Yearbook; logo/link on the Yearbook download page on the Arcati Web site; a brief text ad in the Yearbook publicity e-mails sent to users. Price $1700 (UK£850).
So, get cracking and complete the user survey so it’s the most comprehensive survey ever.

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2009 will be freely available for download early in January next year.

Monday, 3 November 2008

More CSS tips

As I said last time, while I’ve been designing Web sites recently – to W3C standards I might add – I have put together some CSS tips that I’d like to share with you over the next few weeks.

5 Dividing a Web page into parts

You can use CSS to divide a Web page into four parts - an area across the top, then underneath that an area on the left for buttons, an area in the middle for text, and an area on the right. 

#top {
position: absolute;
background: #ffffff; 

#leftcontent {
position: absolute;
background: #f5f5dc; 

#centercontent1 {
position: absolute;
width: 35%; 
margin-left: 81px;

#rightcontent {
position: absolute;

<div id="top">

<div id="leftcontent">

<div id="centercontent1">

<div id="rightcontent">

6 printing your page

You may want people to print a Web page as black text on a white background while at the same time having lots of fancy stuff on the page. You can achieve this by having a print stylesheet associated with the page.

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="print.css" media="print">


<style type="text/css" media="print"> @import url(print.css); 

You need to put appropriate styles in the print.css stylesheet.

7 Use "title" and "alt" attributes for images

With these encoded, screen readers can correctly parse your page.

<img src="myimg.gif" alt="me" title="me" />

8 Invisible text

Invisible text can be useful for people who use screen readers. It can also be useful where images contain text because search engines can’t “read” images.

position: absolute; left: -5000px

The text is positioned 5000px to the left of the left edge of the screen.

9 Drop cap

This adds a drop cap to the left of a block of text.

<span style="margin-right:6px; margin-top:5px; float:left; color:white; background:gold; border: 1px solid #000; font-size:80px; line-height:60px; padding-top:2px; padding-right:5px; font-family:arial;">H</span>ere is a drop cap with a gold background, white text, and a black border.
<div style="clear:both;"><br />

More hints and tips next time. 

By the way: anyone looking for an experienced technical writer or Web designer, contact me at