Sunday, 8 May 2011

Mainframe chatter

Mark Lillycrop, Director of Arcati Ltd, and I were asked to take part in CA’s May Mainframe Madness. We were part of a ‘Scheduled Chat’ in their ‘House of Mainframe’ section on 5 May. It was enjoyable chatting to other mainframe professionals and it was very interesting the direction the conversation took.

Clearly, there were two main strands to the conversation. One was the difficulty of convincing (converting?) non-mainframers of the potential of the mainframe. The second was the success of z/Linux at installations.

Looking at z/Linux success first, Murray Theriault told us: “I think what sold it for me was the idea that I could put up 100 z/Linux machines on the same box and have a very small footprint, not to mention no power costs”. Similarly, Marie Kennard added: “Same here – the app we’re putting onto zLinux currently runs on dozens of boxes, most of which are reaching EOL and needed replacing”.  Someone else reminded the group about Aliantz in Australia, saying that they’d “flipped their whole farm to z/Linux in a weekend with little to no outtage”. This led CA’s Reg Harbeck to comment: “zLinux seems to be taking over a decade to become an overnight sucess...”

So it appears that z/Linux is making headway in those sites that already have a mainframe and Linux servers. And it’s definitely the case that the arguments for doing so are irrefutable. Moving some of the applications or even all of them from other Linux platforms is a positive step and the sites doing so are going to see huge benefits in terms of performance, reliability, and, of course, cost savings both in man-power and outages.

But even the success stories seem to be the result of a battle between mainframers and management whose model of computing and whose expectations are the result of using Microsoft Windows. A lot of the hour long discussion was spent on how to get managers in organizations that have mainframes to appreciate what they have, and to understand how to exploit the mainframes potential. The truth is that there’s an even bigger battle to be fought and that’s to get IT people and IT managers at non-mainframe sites to appreciate the opportunities that a mainframe brings.

During the discussion it was said that ‘good news’ mainframe stories don’t make much of an appearance in the IT press. If they did, that would be one way that people would get to hear about mainframes. Mark suggested that many people view mainframes as: “Old, expensive, and your dad’s technology”. And yet, anyone who takes money out of an ATM (hole-in-the-wall) machine is probably linking to IMS on a mainframe. They just don’t know it. The press were not only blamed for sins of omission, but also sins of commission – for printing the same old stories containing the same old wrong assumptions about mainframes.

I reminded the chat room about William Data Systems ZEN product family and how users can control their network from the latest iPad gizmo, or get reports on their smartphones about what’s going on on their network. And, obviously, there was a lot of talk about cloud computing and mainframes – and how they go together like “peas and carrots” (well Forest Gump would have said that if he’d been logged in!). The point is that mainframes aren’t “your dad’s technology”, they very much embrace the very latest technologies and do it in a way that is secure and comes with all the benefits of years of successful operation in banks and airlines, etc.

I did think to run a competition, at this point but I don’t have a prize to give out. However, I would be interested in hearing people’s ideas of how managers and staff at mainframe sites and the rest of the IT world who aren’t mainframers can be convinced of the importance and proven-reliability of mainframes. You can e-mail me at with your comments and I’ll put them together in a future blog.

Other topics that we discussed during our hour included the importance of virtual meetings with the current financial constraints when organizations are less-and-less keen to fund travel/hotels/food etc for people to attend. We looked at green computing and how this issue will most-likely grow in importance with future regulation. The fact that the word ‘legacy’ is actually a compliment. (How many of you have printers that don’t work with Vista or Windows 7, and just have to live with it?) And we suggested names for the next version of z/OS including z/2020 and z/Cloud.

All-in-all it was an enjoyable ‘Scheduled Chat’ in the ‘House of Mainframe’. Good luck CA for the rest of the month of mainframe madness.

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