Sunday, 30 October 2011

Two things you thought would never happen at IBM

I guess any two pundits sitting in a room together 10 years ago and talking about IBM’s future would have been more likely to predict Star Trek-like beaming technology and computers you could talk to than a mainframe that integrated Windows servers and woman landing the top job at IBM.

And here we are. It’s almost November 2011, and both are about to come to pass.

The zEnterprise 196 and the Business Class version, the zEnterprise 114, mainframes come with the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension. Initially this supported AIX on Power blades and Linux on x86 blades. This fit nicely with IBM’s model of the universe because it owns AIX and Linux is, of course, open source – ie it doesn’t belong to anybody. The Unified Resource Manager (URM) controls the operating systems and hypervisors on the mainframe and the blades. But now – the previously unthinkable – IBM promises that it will have Windows running on its HX5 Xeon-based blade servers for the zBX chassis before the end of this year.

Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition will run on the PS701 blade servers in the zBX enclosures. The zBX extension can have 112 PS701 blades or 28 HX5 blades.

This is clearly important for those sites that use mainframes or are ready to upgrade to mainframes and still have a big Windows-using population. It’s interesting that so many people consider Windows to be the de facto computing platform. I recently had a conversation where Windows laptops were given the metaphor of rats or beetles – they just turn up everywhere – and Linux was given the metaphor of a stealth operating system or a hidden shadow – it was everywhere, but you didn’t see it. Why stealth, well because Linux turns up behind the scenes on routers, on TiVO boxes, on supercomputers, as the precursor to Android on smartphones, making movies at Pixar and Dreamworks, in the military, governments, everywhere!

After Windows on IBM hardware, the next thing we hear is that Virginia M Rometty, a senior vice president at IBM, is going to be the company’s next CEO – starting in January. “Ginni”, aged 54 (as all the releases inform us), succeeds Samuel J Palmisano, who is 60, and will remain as chairman.

Ms Rometty graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in computer science, joined IBM in 1981 as a systems engineer. She moved through different management jobs, working with clients in a variety of industries. Her big coup was in 2002, when she played a major part in the  purchase of the very big consulting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting. PwC staff were used to working in a different way from IBM’s and managing that culture shift was down to Ms Rometty.

In 2009, Ginni became senior vice president and group executive for sales, marketing, and strategy.

You’ll recall that Sam Palmisano took over in 2003 from Louis V Gerstner Jr, who’d joined IBM from RJR Nabisco in 1993 and helped turn round an ailing IBM. The previous incumbent had been the lacklustre John Akers.

I suppose with Siri on iPhones and the much less serious about itself Iris on Android, we’ve moved some way towards being able to talk to a computer – even if it is a smartphone. Still no sign of Scotty being beamed up, though!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Guide Share Europe annual conference

The Guide Share Europe (GSE) UK Annual Conference is taking place on 1-2 November at Whittlebury Hall, Whittlebury, Near Towcester, Northamptonshire NN12 8QH, UK.

Sponsors this year include IBM, Computacentre, EMC, Attachmate, Suse, CA, Novell, Compuware, Intellimagic, RSM Partners, Velocity Software, and Zephyr. And there will be 30 vendors in the associated exhibition.

There’s the usual amazing range of streams – and, to be honest, there are a number of occasions when I would like to be in two or more places at once over the two days. The streams are: CICS, IMS, DB2, Enterprise Security, Large Systems Working Group, Network Management Working Group, Software Asset Management, Tivoli User Group TWS, Tivoli User Group Automation, MQ, New Technologies, zLinux, and the single-session Training & Certification.

That means that at this year’s conference there will be 126 hours of education covering most aspects of mainframe technology. This is slightly less than last year because two of the Tivoli streams that were included last years have been dropped because they were so poorly attended. This year, there will be 12 streams of ten sessions over the two days, plus five keynotes and that one training & certification WG meeting. In all, there are going to be 85 speakers delivering this training.

There is still time to register, and the organisers are expecting the daily total of delegates to exceed 300 – as it did last year. 

There are also 16 students attending this year, who are taking the mainframe course at UK universities. The majority of students are from the University of Western Scotland (UWS), but there will also be some from Liverpool John Moores University and possibly some more from other UK universities. The organisers have prepared a series of 101 sessions on mainframe architecture and infrastructure that will give these students as well as trainees and those unfamiliar with parts of the infrastructure a basic understanding of the mainframe and how it works.

Many GSE member companies are taking advantage of the five free places they get to send their staff to the conference. This would cost non-members £1000 in early-bird prices, and more than compensates member companies for the recent rise in the GSE membership fee to EUR 840.

You can find out more details about the conference at

If you’re still debating whether to go, let me recommend it to you. The quality of presentations is always excellent. And the networking opportunities are brilliant. If you are going, I look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2012

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook has been the de facto reference work for IT professionals working with z/OS (and its forerunner) 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 around 15,000 mainframe professionals. The current issue is still available at

Very shortly, many of you will receive an e-mail informing you that Mark Lillycrop and I have started work on the 2012 edition of the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. If you don’t get an e-mail from me about it, then e-mail and I will add you to our mailing list.

As usual, we’re hoping that mainframe professionals will be willing to complete the annual user survey, which will shortly be up and running at The more users who fill it in, the more accurate and therefore useful the survey report will be. All respondents before Friday 2 December will receive a free PDF copy of the survey results on publication. The identity and company information of all respondents is treated in confidence and will never be divulged to third parties. Any comments made by respondents will be anonymized also before publication. If you go to user group meetings, or just hang out with mainframers from other sites, please pass on the word about this survey. We’re hoping that this year’s user survey will be the most comprehensive survey ever. Current estimates suggest that there are somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 companies using mainframes spread over 10,000 sites worldwide.

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 $700 (UK£420). 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; a logo/link on the Yearbook download page on the Arcati Web site; and a brief text ad in the Yearbook publicity e-mails sent to users. Price $2100 (UK£1200).

To put that cost into perspective, for every dollar you spend on an advert you reach around 22 mainframe professionals.

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2012 will be freely available for download early in January next year.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

World’s smallest mainframe!

Mainframes are so amazingly powerful and versatile, wouldn’t you like to have one in your pocket? Maybe that’s not possible (yet), but there have been many attempts over the years to shrink down the mainframe to a more manageable size.

I’m not talking about some sci fi shrink ray wielded by some fearsome purple-coloured alien, I’m talking about the use of emulation software to make one lot of hardware successfully interpret instructions designed to be used on completely different hardware – and vice versa. The mainframe programs think they are running on a mainframe and continue quite happily – totally unaware of the work being performed by the emulation software.

Fundamental Software Inc (FSI) gave us FLEX-ES, which ran on Intel chips and allowed developers to test their mainframe applications on their PCs. The PC itself ran Linux and FLEX ran under that – emulating a range of mainframe hardware devices including terminals and tape drives. Fundamental also sold hardware allowing real mainframe peripherals to connect to PCs.

In 2000 a company called T3 launched the tServer based on FLEX-ES.

UMX Technologies also offered Intel server emulation – using UMX’s Virtual Mainframe software. The company offered Windows compatibility as well.

Then there was Hercules, an Open Source software implementation of  mainframe architectures. Hercules runs under Linux, Windows, Solaris, FreeBSD, and Mac OSX. Hercules was created by Roger Bowler and was maintained by Jay Maynard. Jan Jaeger designed and implemented many of the advanced features of Hercules, including dynamic reconfiguration, integrated console, interpretive execution and z/Architecture support – according to their Web site. IBM stopped licencing its operating systems for Hercules systems, so users were left with running older public domain versions of IBM operating systems or illegally running newer versions.

Platform Solutions Inc (PSI) developed Open Mainframe servers, Open Systems servers, and NEC D-Series storage arrays. The company’s System64 product line consolidated z/OS, Windows, and Linux operating systems in one secure operating environment based on Intel Itanium 2 processor technology. At the time, Platform Solutions had a strategic partnership with T3 Technologies. In 2008, IBM took them over.

Sim390 was an application that ran under Windows and emulated a subset of the ESA/390 mainframe architecture. The emulator supported most TCP/IP operations (via socket calls using an emulated IUCV interface), and contained a Telnet 3270 (tn3270) server for remote log-in (with IP address filtering), as well as local 3270 sessions. It was possible to run it on a very small machine, such as a Pentium 75MHz with 16MB memory. So says the Sim 390 Mainframe Emulator home page.

But now you don’t need to worry about litigation, old Web sites (and older emulators), or potentially dodgy bits of software. You can have the IBM System z Personal Development Tool (zPDT), which enables a virtual System z architecture environment on x86 and x86-compatible platforms.

The IBM zPDT consists of software that is authenticated and enabled by a USB hardware key, loaded on to the Intel and Intel-compatible platform, running Linux. The zPDT comes with one, two, or three virtual engines, which can be defined as System z general-purpose processors, System z Integrated Information Processors (zIIPs), System z Application Assist Processors (zAAPs), System z Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), and Integrated Coupling Facility (ICF).

As well as the current IBM operating systems and software, it also supports a variety of real and emulated hardware devices such as disks, tapes, printers, card readers,etc. System z customers, service providers, business partners, and ISVs can get the simpler version as part of the Rational Developer for System z Unit Test (RDz-UT) offer.

So now you can get your hands on a very small mainframe.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Lumbering sluggers come out ducking and weaving

OK – that’s as far as I intend to go with sport metaphors. I’m talking about IBM and Oracle and where their long-term war is taking them next.

You’ll remember that Oracle bought Sun Microsystems early last year for $7.4 billion. Since then, IBM has been hoovering up customers. In August, market researchers IDC were saying that IBM had grown its Unix revenues by 15 percent in the second quarter and its market share by 6 percent. Adding that Oracle had lost share.

IBM claims that in the second quarter, its Power Systems unit acquired 334 customers from competitors, with 210 of those coming from Oracle. And, just to show that they are on a war footing and it’s not just friendly rivalry, IBM says that its formal migration program, which entices customers to move to IBM systems, has gained 7,210 server and storage customers from rivals since its inception in 2006.

There is a third player on the pitch – HP – which has been experiencing pretty dire times itself recently. IBM’s saying it’s acquired 110 users from HP. HP recently announced that Meg Whitman, the former CEO at eBay, will take over from Leo Apotheker, who’s only been there a year. Why dump Apothekar? No other reason than the company losing half it’s market value in the time Apothekar has been in charge!

There were even rumours (and, who knows, it might still happen) that Oracle would scoop up HP and add it to its own portfolio. Others suggest that the problems Oracle experienced with Sun’s SPARC hardware business may convince it to keep away from HP’s Itanium. Perhaps IBM might buy HP? That last sentence should come enclosed in tags!

But after a longish period of haemorrhaging its Sun SPARC users and having to put up with IBM’s suitably smug grins, Oracle has now announced its high-end SuperCluster system powered by its new T4 SPARC chip. With an estimated 50,000 SPARC customers, it’s a business well-worth hanging on to.

The SuperCluster T4-4 is a general-purpose system offering a claimed 33 percent more price/performance than IBM’s largest Power servers and (again claimed) more than 50 percent more price/performance than an Itanium-based Integrity server from HP.

The SuperCluster is powered by Oracle’s eight-core T4 chip, which Oracle claims offers five times the performance of the current 16-core T3. The SuperCluster also includes the capabilities of Oracle’s existing Exadata database system and Exalogic cloud-in-a-box offering, both of which are powered by x86 chips from Intel.

The SuperCluster runs the current Solaris 10 operating system or the new Solaris 11, and will run any applications that its SPARC customers might run.

We can only wait and see what IBM will produce when it comes out of its corner. It certainly knows that the fight is back on.