Sunday, 26 July 2009

COBOL on the mainframe

It was 50 years ago today... Sgt Pepper taught a band to play – so might go the lyrics to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the title track for the Beatles’ eighth album and first concept album, which was released on 1 June 1967. And it was 50 years ago (although not to the day) that Grace Hopper gave the world COBOL – COmmon Business-Oriented Language.

It seems that a committee comprising William Selden and Gertrude Tierney from IBM, Howard Bromberg and Howard Discount from RCA, and Vernon Reeves and Jean E Sammet from Sylvania Electric Products completed the specifications for COBOL in December 1959. So where does Grace Hopper fit in? Well, the specifications were greatly inspired by the FLOW-MATIC language invented by Grace Hopper, and a couple of others. The name COBOL was agreed by the committee on 18 September 1959.

COBOL programs couldn’t run until compilers had been built, so it wasn’t until December 1960 that what was essentially the same COBOL program ran on two different makes of computers – an RCA computer and a Remington-Rand Univac computer.

Not surprisingly, there have been a number of developments in COBOL over the 50 years. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed a standard form of the language in 1968 (known as American National Standard (ANS) COBOL). There was a 1974 revised version, and in 1985 there was another revision. And the most recent revision was 2002.

Still, after 50 years, there can’t be many people using it – after all, the computer industry is high tech, not old tech! This view, which I heard quite forcibly expressed the other day, is simply not true. Figures quoted – and Im never sure how anyone could accurately know this, but it seems about right – suggest that there are more than 220 billion lines of COBOL in use – arguably 80% of the world’s actively used code. It’s also been suggested that there are 200 times as many COBOL transactions in a day than Google searches!

Now, a lot of this code is on mainframes, and companies like Micro Focus are keen to get mainframers onto other platforms. One difficulty with this for mainframers is what to do with their COBOL programs. To help, Micro Focus last week announced Reuze, a tool for migrating business processes from the mainframe to Windows, without having to rewrite applications.

In most cases, Reuze allows the COBOL programs to remain unchanged, eliminating the need to rewrite the source code for SQL Server or to remove mainframe syntax, says the company. It supports 64-bit Windows architectures and the .NET Framework.

The product has two components: Developer, a client-based graphical tool for migrating applications to Windows; and Server, the deployment environment for the migrated applications. Developer includes an integrated development environment based on Microsoft Visual Studio, and allows for cross-team collaboration.

I’m sure smaller mainframe sites will find this of interest; larger ones, perhaps less so. But whatever size machine you run your COBOL on, say happy birthday to it!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

zIIP and zAAP again

It seems like only a couple (three in fact) weeks ago that I was talking about specialty processors, and here I go again! Last time I mentioned Tom Harper’s presentation to the Virtual IMS Connection virtual IMS user group, DataDirect’s Shadow software (which exploits zIIP specialty engines), and CA’s survey of IFL specialty engine usage.

Just for clarification for those of you who tuned in late, zIIP stands for System z Integrated Information Processor, and zAAP stands for System z Application Assist Processors.

Since I wrote that last blog, we have had two specialty engine announcements – one from NEON Enterprise Software and one from WinterGreen Research that links with DataDirect’s Shadow product.

WinterGreen Research, an analyst firm, has announced that it has completed work on a Web-based calculator to measure the Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO) of mainframe SOA enablement when utilizing a zIIP specialty engine in combination with DataDirect Shadow integration middleware. The calculator can compute the daily and annual savings in dollars and MIPS capacity that can occur by exploiting the zIIP specialty engine rather than the General Purpose Processor (GPP). DataDirect Shadow Version 7 expands the utilization of the zIIP specialty engine beyond DB2 to include Adabas, IMS/DB, IDMS, and VSAM as well SOAP/XML parsing necessary for creating Web services within the mainframe to applications residing within CICS, IMS/TM, IDMS, and Natural – the company claims. Full details are available from

More interesting is the announcement from NEON, which has announced NEON zPrime, which can facilitate the transfer of as much as 50 percent or more of a company’s IMS, DB2, CICS, TSO/ISPF, and batch workloads from System z CPs to zIIP or zAAP processors, and consequently reduce mainframe costs significantly – the company claims. Mainframe users now have more options of what workloads to move to a specialty processor to meet capacity planning and cost optimization objectives. NEON zPrime is 100 percent compliant with IBM specifications, rules, and conditions for System z processor access to assure a seamless environment that makes IMS, CICS, TSO/ISPF, DB2, batch jobs, and NEON IMS utilities workloads eligible for processing on zIIPs or zAAPs. Full details are available at

Now, I’m not here to recommend any organization’s software – they pay people to do that, and I haven’t noticed a brown envelope full of bank notes being slipped into my hands – but it seems this kind of software is going to make NEON popular with everyone except IBM! Obvously, MSUs (Metered Software Units) are IBM’s way of ensuring a regular income – and it’s based on GPP usage. If people find a way of running their software on zIIP and zAAP specialty engines then IBM will have to come up with a new pricing model.

It seems that they best policy for users is to get in quick and pay for zPrime with the savings that will be made on monthly licence fees. And then bank all future savings until IBM changes the pricing rules.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Crazy Talk 6

Every now and again, it’s good to know that there’s more to life than the serious business of running a company successfully. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to take a break and do something that’s fun. I’ve recently been playing with Version 6 of Crazy Talk from Reallusion, and it’s a great piece of software for having fun.

Very simply, what you do is take a picture of yourself, your dog, or even a famous painting (the list is really endless), and make it talk! The software moves the character’s head, blinks the eyes, and makes the mouth open and close as the image “talks”.

It’s also now possible to have two people (or pets or cartoon characters – you get the idea) in the picture and animate both of them so they appear to be having a conversation. And if you feel very adventurous you can animate up to four heads at any one time. And all the 2D images really do appear to be 3D.

The process is very straightforward. You select an image, and the software comes with some examples if you don’t have any pictures on your computer. You can crop and rotate the image to get what you want. You can also improve the colour levels etc at this stage.

Next it guesses where the eyes and mouth are (pretty accurately on a picture of a face), and you can move these numbered circles if you wish. Next you can tell it whether the face is looking to one side or forward, and the shape of the face – important with animals!

Then you pick out the eyes you want. You can have cartoon eyes, anime, animal, comic, or human. And human come with or without a variety of eye make-up. Once you apply the eyes, they look really strange, so the next stage is to make them fit the eyes in the original picture. It’s always a good idea to zoom in and get this right. You can also change other points around the head and hair, and the lips. And you can have more points to move if you need to – and I usually do).

Next you can choose your animation’s teeth. These include the whiter than white variety, through yellow, decayed, missing, to animal!

And finally you need the head movement. You choices are affirmative, angry, calm, dislike, etc, etc. And you can select a “head motion strength”. Clicking the preview button let’s you see the head move and the eyes blink. But there’s more.

Clicking on the script button gives you the option to add sound. You could type in a script and let one of the computer default voices say it. You could record yourself, or you could import an audio file – and, of course, it comes with some example files. Plus you have emotive faces you can add, and a puppeteering panel for fine control.

So, when you are happy that the Mona Lisa is now endorsing you or your company (or whatever) you can output the file. There are already tabs for the Web and YouTube and widgets, or you can output to a media file. There is the expected range of choices starting with AVI.

Because Crazy Talk 6 comes with so many templates, it’s easy to create something that’s fun, and it’s strangely rewarding to create something that is really very clever by spending a little more time and getting down to those nitty gritty details.

It’s a great way to relax and make your friends laugh at a simple creation, it’s also quite compelling – giving your boss exact fitting snake eyes, vampire teeth, and using the default laugh! There’s hours of fun with it. And there’s more than I’ve mentioned in this short review. You can find out more at

Monday, 6 July 2009

Who can you trust?

Do you remember how in George Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien encourages Winston Smith, the central character, to practise “doublethink” – the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. It seems that the computing world is engaging in the same activity.

Now let’s be completely honest about this, you only need to get two IT “experts” in a room to have two opinions, and inviting in a third expert doesn’t settle the argument, it simply provides another opinion.

Anyway, where I’m going with this is that we either believe that mainframes are so clever at everything – like SOA, cloud computing, and finding the ultimate answer – that we don’t pay any attention to companies encouraging us to migrate our workloads off the mainframe and on to Windows servers, or we don’t. In which case we believe that Windows or Macs, or Linux machines in general are the way forward and mainframes are strange dinosaurs, mere relics of a bygone age. You can’t have it both way – unless you indulge in doublethink.

So what I am talking about? Well, The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and a company called T3 Technologies may be bringing an antitrust action against IBM. It started life in Europe, but there is now a US lawsuit. They argue that IBM has unfairly sewn up the market for mainframes! You may think that good products and clever marketing meant IBM beat the BUNCH (Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell) – for those of you who remember those far-off days.

And perhaps, as an ordinary punter who has to stump up the cash for my mainframe hardware and monthly licence fees, I might feel a distinct lack of competition. If it were a car, I could buy an alternative from a different manufacturer and perhaps save money. I’d certainly be able to drive it home from the garage. But if I don’t buy an IBM mainframe, then the alternative – products from Sun or Microsoft – leave you with a metaphorical car that you don’t know how to drive and runs on a completely different type of petrol!

You might think that the CCIA would comprise all those companies that used to sell mainframes and no longer do – the BUNCH perhaps, or companies that kept the faith and feel hard done by now that IBM rules the roost. But this is where the doublethink comes in. The very companies that eschew mainframes, that think of them as living relics – like coelacanths – are the leaders of the CCIA. We’re talking about Oracle and Microsoft, AMD and Google.

I’m an IBM Data Champion, so I tend to be on the side of the mainframe being an excellent solution for medium and large-sized organizations. I’m also a Microsoft Office Specialist Master Instructor, and I know that for many everyday activities people everywhere are using Word and Excel. But it seems like a huge amount of doublethink for Microsoft – the Windows everywhere people – to bring an antitrust suit against IBM for selling a technology to customers that they can’t satisfy.

Or does Microsoft want a slice of the mainframe market? Who can you trust?