Sunday, 18 December 2011

2011 at iTech-Ed Ltd

Well, as another year comes partying to an end, and everyone stops checking their e-mails on their smartphones or tablets and finally starts to let their hair down and enjoy a glass of something alcoholic, I thought I’d review the year through the lens of my company – iTech-Ed Ltd (

January started the year, as most Januaries do, with the publication of the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. The 2011 edition is still available for download from The 2012 edition will be available in a couple of weeks. As always the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook  includes its 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. And each year, it gets downloaded by around 15,000 mainframe professionals.

February saw the launch of the new series of Virtual IMS user group meetings. The user group is now sponsored by Fundi Software and hosted at The first speaker was Jim Martin from Fundi Software, whose presentation was called, “Solving the problem when IMS isn't the cause”.

In March, everyone seemed to be talking about cloud computing.

April’s meeting of the Virtual IMS user group included a presentation from Ron Haupert, a Senior Technologist with Rocket Software. His talk was called, “Simplify and improve database administration by leveraging your storage system”.

In May, Mark Lillycrop, Director of Arcati Ltd and I took part in a ‘Scheduled Chat’ in the ‘House of Mainframe’ section of CA’s May Mainframe Madness month. May also witnessed the launch of the new Virtual CICS user group – again sponsored by Fundi – with its Web site at Our opening presentation was from Fundi’s Jim Martin talking about, “Solving the problem when CICS isn't the cause”.

In June, I was asked by ITToolbox to lead a discussion in the Data Center Infrastructure section of their Web site. At the Virtual IMS user group meeting, Gary Weinhold a Systems Engineer and Verna Bartlett Head of Marketing with Data Kinetics talked about, “MSU reduction due to in-memory table management with (any) IMS applications”.

In July, I was selected for the Destination z ( member spotlight. The Virtual CICS user group saw a presentation from Jeff Geminder, Principal Consultant with CA, called, “Cross-enterprise application performance monitoring and CICS-specific drill-down: approaches to finding the performance problem needle in the heterogeneous haystack”. I was also a guest blogger on the Destination z Web site.

In August, my article CICS Top Performance and Tuning Issues was published in z/Journal. I had a guest blog published on Destination z. The Virtual IMS user group had a presentation from Scott Quillicy, CEO and Founder of SQData. His talk was called, “IMS replication for high-availability”.

For the September meeting, Charles Jones, from the Product Management group at Rocket Software, gave a talk to the Virtual CICS user group called, “CICS TS 4.2: Leveraging event processing and high-performance Java”. I wrote a guest blog for the Destination z Web site.

October saw a presentation from Rosemary Galvan, Principal Software Consultant – IMS, with BMC. Her talk to the Virtual IMS user group was called, “Database Performance – Could Have, Should Have, Would Have”. I had a guest blog on the Destination z Web site.

In November, my Mainframe Update blog at was a finalist in the Computer Weekly Social Media Awards 2011. Also in November the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook user survey was launched. And Eugene S Hudders, president of C\TREK Corp, gave a presentation to the Virtual CICS user group called, “CICS TS Performance – Tuning LSR Pools”. I also had a guest blog on the Destination z Web site.

And finally, in December, I had an article entitled, Ways to Save Money and Improve IT Services published in z/Journal. The final speaker for the year at the Virtual IMS user group was Suzie Wendler, a Consulting IT Specialist in the IBM IMS Advanced Technical Skills organization, who talked about, “IMS V12”. I chaired a webinar for SQData entitled, “How Important is Continous Availability of Critical Applications to Your Company?”And there was a guest blog on the Destination z Web site.

What else, well apart from a full year of writing and consultancy work,  I was made an IBM Champion for the third year running.

Looking forward to 2012, we have the launch of the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook in January, and a presentation from Andrew Smithson of IBM Hursley on CICS Transaction Gateway V8.1 for the Virtual CICS user group.

If you do celebrate it, Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I’ll be back blogging in January.
Trevor Eddolls

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sunk without trace

There was a time when using the trace facility was really the final strategy. You’d perhaps have tried everything else to find what was going wrong first. And when nothing seemed to have worked, you’d equip yourself with all the necessary manuals – and that could be quite a few – and run the trace and start the hard job of interpreting the results. And then try to fix the problem. Those days are long gone thanks to more modern software tools, but, to many people, the memories linger on!

I recently bumped into William Data Systems’ Tony Amies, who took the time to show me some of the things he was working on. And one of those things was making trace much, much, more user friendly.

Tony showed me WDS’s ZEN product, which, as you may know, allows lots of network monitoring information to be collated and viewed from anywhere using a browser. Information can appear as coloured boxes, which once you clicked on them display more-and-more information in a clever drill-down manner. Fairly quickly, you can identify the component that has exceeded some predetermined threshold.

WDS has a number of products in the ZEN family and you can use buttons on the browser to switch between them – giving you information about different aspects of performance. ZIM the ZEN IP MONITOR can detect error conditions, then ZEN TRACE and SOLVE (ZTS – which used to be called EXIGENCE) can be used to start, stop, and view traces. Now that has got to be so much easier than in the Old Days!

Tony showed how a TCP trace could be carried out in seconds, explaining that there were lots of commands embedded in it. Tony explained how network tracing can be so difficult. For example, using Enterprise Extender, which allows SNA applications to run over TCP networks, results in encapsulated messages. Tony demonstrated software that was able to look inside the message to see what was there – in terms of different types of header. He then explained how this works with FMH5, UDP, IP, APPN, HPR, and more. He explained that sites using the Cisco load balancing GRE tunnelling protocol can also be opened to see the true header for the message. All very clever stuff – and no manuals in sight.

In fact, on a number of occasions a right mouse click on some information in the display would produce a pop-up box explaining exactly what some term or other actually meant. So there was no need for any manuals. The display could show delays, highlight response time problems, and the TCP window size.

Tony also showed me a piece of software that drew a diagram of a Sysplex Distributor – which shows the IP addresses and links on a mainframe system. The software also highlighted where there were issues. And, like the rest of the software we looked at, you could drill down to find exactly where any problem were. In fact, Tony was sure that this would allow customers to identify potential issues before their users did. Behind the scenes, information from netstat and other commands were being used to drive the display.

We talked about customers being able to build business service views of what was going on their system and how useful that would be for each of their customers. That kind of bespoke requirement wasn’t something that Tony could necessarily build into the software, but all it requires is a knowledge of REXX to make it happen. And most z/OS sites have at least one person who code in REXX.

Lastly, we talked about problem resolution when you have two or more systems that don’t seem to be talking to each other. Currently, you need to log into each system and run traces to find out which of the systems has the problem. Tony plans to implement a ‘grouptrace’ feature that allows the user to tell the software to run a trace on these two (or more) systems. The results will come back from both systems and be visible from the browser. The results will be displayed in timestamp order and it will be possible to see on which of the systems the problem is. As easy that.

Too often we’d be sunk without a trace facility. Now we have an example of a way to be able to use trace across multiple systems and simply click to drill down to identify the problem.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The future - gamification and augmented reality

I remember many years ago saying to my children that one day, when they walked around London or any capital city, they’d be able to hold up their phone in front of a statue or building and information would appear on screen explaining what the statue commemorated, etc.
But how about if you could hold up your phone in front of the mainframe or some x86 server, and on screen would appear statistics about usage and performance? You could then take appropriate action to resolve hot spots and capacity issues. All just a dream? Apparently not.
Beverley Head’s blog at IT Wire ( from last week suggests that BMC is exploring how it can harness gamification and augmented reality techniques in the next generation of its systems management tools. Beverley reports Suhas Kelkar, a chief technology officer for BMC, describing the server example I gave above. Suhas adds: “If someone comes across an intelligent solution they should add it to the knowledge base. But hardly anyone does it. But what if you gamify the system and reward people for doing that?”
So there we have it... Augmented reality is the appearance on your phone of information about server capacity. And it could be about anything else. Wouldn’t it be great to hold your phone over a cable and read off the upstream and downstream broadband speeds?
Gamification – a new word, so try to drop into conversations, if you want to sound up-to-date – then is the fun part of using software. The part that is all too often missing!
Interestingly, I found an article about gamification from back in May this year at Daniel Nitsikopoulos talks about “Gamification: Making fun of the web”. He asserts that: “Gamification is one of the newest and I believe one of the biggest movements in the creative world today. It is the concept that you can apply game mechanics (elements that make games fun, engaging, and in some cases competitive) to things that aren’t typically considered a game, or even fun! From work, to health, to socialising, to cooking, to just about anything!”
So if BMC is looking at gamification and augmented reality, you can bet CA Technologies is as well. And that other big software supplier, IBM! But I would bet that the really exciting stuff is going to come from smaller companies. And I would also predict that these smaller companies will one-by-one be swallowed up by the existing software giants.
It definitely gets my vote as a direction I’d like technology to move in. Some equivalent to Google Goggles that not only identifies what you’re looking at (the Web server, or the z/Linux LPAR, or whatever) and provides current performance information. And then makes it fun to resolve any problems that might have been identified. Maybe when you look at the x86 server, it appears in red if there are issues. Then the length of time you take to resolve the problem is entered onto a leader board. And at the end of the week you can see who is the fastest techie in your team! Or perhaps the only green screen you’ll see will mean ‘game over’!