Saturday, 30 June 2012

Having a giraffe!

If someone says something that seems a bit strange, unexpected, or a tad offensive, the standard response used to be: “Are you having a laugh?” – indicating that, from your point of view, what they’re saying is unreasonable. Well now, with a nod to Cockney rhyming slang, people say: “Are you having a giraffe?!”

Definitely not having a “giraffe” recently have been customers of British banks: Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Nat West, and Ulster Bank. These banks’ customers found that they couldn’t access their funds, or what they could see when they looked online at their account was not what they thought their balance should be!

The press have reported that people due to purchase new houses were unable to transfer money because they and their solicitors banked with Nat West. Another case in the papers referred to a prisoner who should have been released on bail, but the money never ‘appeared’ in the account so he spent the weekend in custody.

So, who’s to blame? It’s a bad time for banks – everywhere they’re being downgraded, but what went wrong for the RBS group of banks? RBS announced that the problems were all due to software failures. But I thought that seemed unlikely because the banks use good old reliable mainframes. However, as the week has gone on, it seems that it could be the result of a software failure, and the software in question was supplied by CA Technologies.

The story is that a technical problem occurred when RBS carried out a software update on Tuesday (19 June), which it fixed on Friday (22 June). The update or upgrade was being applied to RBS’s batch scheduling software, CA 7 Workload Automation. The software is used by RBS’s back end systems to update account balances.

This overnight upate is where the problem seems to have occurred. What isn’t clear is whether it was human error that led to technical issue, or whether there was some problem with the software itself.

There’s much buzz around that if the fault does lie with CA then RBS will take them to court for, what could turn out to be, a large sum in compensation. If it’s a result of what RBS’s staff did with the software, then that will be an internal matter.

One consequence of all this is that RBS has decided to cancel its corporate hospitality packages at Wimbledon. The bank said it would be “inappropriate” to continue providing the hospitality.

In addition to RBS carrying out its own internal investigation into what happened, Sir Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, has said that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) should investigate “what went wrong and then, perhaps even more importantly, why it took so long to recover”.

CA Technologies has announced that it is working with RBS to fix the technical issues that led to the outage of RBS’s online services for five days.

It’s bad news for customers, RBS, and CA, but there are lessons to be learned by every other bank,  insurance company, and other financial institution. Firstly, I believe it would be commercial suicide to ditch mainframes and migrate to other platforms – no matter how good they look during a PowerPoint presentation. More importantly, the lesson to learn is to ensure the resilience of the platform. If updates or upgrades are being made, then a complete back-up copy of a working system needs to be available elsewhere. Whatever happened to RBS’s hot back-up site? How come, when things went pear shaped, they couldn’t swap across to it and use their log files to update all transactions from the evening of the 19th? Every other bank needs to check its procedures for backing out failed software upgrades and running live on separate systems. And they need to be able to recover much faster than RBS’s five days!

With banks across Europe facing a pretty torrid time at the moment, and millions of online RBS customers unable to make payments or even see their balances last week, plus RBS facing compensation payment claims from its customers, and CA facing the possibility of litigation, on this occasion, no-one’s having a giraffe!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

On the surface

Do we need another tablet device? Hasn’t everyone who needs one got an iPad or an Android tablet? What was Microsoft thinking when it announced its own manufactured Surface tablet device this week?

Microsoft has a mixed history with hardware – you perhaps tend to forget about things like the Microsoft mouse, the keyboard, the IntelliMouse, etc, which you see around and were successes. And we all know about the ubiquitous Xbox and Kinect, but conversation after conversation seems to remind us about the Zune mp3 player and the Kin smartphone (which went on sale and disappeared from market in an amazingly short period of time) that weren’t such great successes.

So what exactly has Microsoft announced? Well, we know that the Surface tablet will come in two versions — one that runs on ARM and one on Intel chips. There will be two versions of Windows 8 – one for each chip. We also know that it comes with a USB port and includes a snap-on cover that acts as a keyboard and there’s a kickstand. You can see a picture of it here. It’s 9.3 millimetres thick and it weighs under 1.5 pounds (if I’m allowed to mix Imperial and metric units), which is a bit thinner and a bit heavier than the iPad. The screen size is slightly larger and (like Android devices) uses the more preferable 16:9 aspect ratio – iPad’s use a 4:3 ratio (like old-style TVs). We also know the Windows 8 Pro version on Intel will be slightly thicker and will have a stylus to allow users to make handwritten notes on documents!

That’s about all the detail – the rest is a bit vague, such as delivery dates, prices, etc. If the ARM version is the same price as an Android tablet, and offers much the same capability, what’s the selling point? If it offered Office bundled in, that might work – certainly in a business sense.

If the Intel version actually ran applications rather than cut-down apps – and bear in mind Apple has scaled down applications to add to the apps available with each iPad announcement – then Microsoft will have a winner. The pricing problem is that a laptop could be cheaper than the new Surface tablet. Therefore the tablet has to score points in terms of thinness in order to justify the extra money spent on it. So how much RAM are you going to be able to have? What can you actually run on it? These, along with price, are the questions that businesses are going to ask.

With the soaring sales of tablet devices, Microsoft needs to be in this space. But the fact they are making their own hardware (like Apple) must come as a blow to other hardware companies, like Dell and HP, that build Windows-based tablets.

To be honest, I’d really like an ultra-thin tablet-like PC that I could do real work on using high-end applications (such as Adobe’s Creative Suite). One that I could carry around like a book, that didn’t need its own bag and other baggage. One with battery life that lasts for a long meeting – at least three hours – while I’m doing more than just browsing minutes in Word and forecasts in Excel.

One day!

One a completely different topic, you’ll be interested to know that Mozilla (the Firefox browser people) have announced Thimble, which is part of the Webmaker project. Thimble is designed to help people write and edit basic HTML and CSS in a Web-based code editor. You can start from scratch or pick a project. Like Dreamweaver, you get instant previews. There’s a code editor on the left and your preview on the right. You can then publish your site to the Web in a Webmaker domain with just one click. Have a go at

Monday, 18 June 2012

Being a good sport

Love it or hate it, here in the UK it’s a summer of sport. At the moment the Euro 2012 football competition is in its early stages, then we have Wimbledon, and August is dominated by the Olympics and Paralympics.

IBM has great plans for Wimbledon, and has been showing off some of its technology at the French Open tennis championship. IBM’s SlamTracker maps a match in real-time and highlights the key turning points. The predictive analytics software determines which three things any top player needs to do to enhance their chances of winning. So, for example, you might see something like: “win more than 46% of points on second serve”, or “win more than 51% of 3-8 shot rallies”.

IBM has redesigned the Wimbledon Web site for 2012. It has also provided an upgraded radio, TV, and video broadcast services known as Live@Wimbledon, and studio discussions shown on the website can now ‘drop in’ on live matches at key moments.

It seems that in 2011 there were 451 million visitors to the Wimbledon Web site, of which 28% were using mobile devices. This year IBM expects more than 500m visits. IBM’s senior IT specialist, David Provan, says: “With advanced analytics, such as those embedded in the SlamTracker at Wimbledon, organizations can tackle the explosion in data”.

IBM probably doesn’t need to use Wimbledon to raise its corporate profile with sport fans because, according to consultancy Futerra, it is what they call a “planet brand”. Futerra assessed which brands had the greatest recognition and loyalty, a global reach, and the most impressive green. Their Planet Brands Index drew on in-house Futerra research, data from studies published by Millward Brown and Interbrand, Newsweek’s annual Green Rankings, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. As well as IBM, the 100 names included Google, Apple, Samsung, and Amazon.

IBM has also been involved in its favourite sport of beating Oracle. It seems that IBM’s Storwize V7000, storage array, has beaten an Oracle/Sun ZFS array by delivering almost the same performance for less than half the price and 4 percent of the capacity.

The devices were tested using the SPC-1 benchmark, which tests the performance of a storage array doing mainly random I/O in a business environment. The two teams involved were an IBM Storwize V7000, fitted with 18 x 200GB SSDs in a mirrored configuration, versus an Oracle Sun ZFS 7420 with 84TB of mirrored disk storage with single read and write accelerating SSDs.

And the final score: IBM delivered 120,492.34 SPC-1 IOPS, at a cost of $181,029, ie $1.50/IOPS; Oracle delivered 137,066 SPC-1 IOPS, at a cost of $409,933, ie $2.99/IOPS. Without using SlamTracker, you can see that IBM’s hardware delivered 88 percent of the Oracle box’s performance for 44 percent of the price with 4.3 per cent of the capacity.

When it comes to supercomputers, IBM is now back in the lead. IBM’s Sequoia is officially the world’s fastest supercomputer. In second place in Japan is Fujitsu’s K Computer. IBM lost its top spot to China a couple of years ago, but it’s now back at the top of the leader board.

Keeping up the sporting theme: Desert Mountain, a golf and residential community in Arizona, is planning to install IBM Intelligent Operations Center software for Smarter Cities, with UgMO Technologies’ Wireless Soil Moisture Sensor Solution, to manage irrigation of all six of its golf courses. And it expects this will reduce its water use by 10 percent and generate an additional 10 percent savings in energy costs related to water pumping and distribution.

Anyway, let’s hope the competitiveness of the Fortune 500 companies rubs off on the athletes this summer and we have really competitive, drug-free, sport, which the fans will talk about for years to come.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

300 blogs

This is my 300th blog. I thought it was a high enough number to deserve some sort of recognition. And I thought it would be an opportunity to look back on all the things that have happened since that very first blog back in June 2006.

In those days, I was doing a lot of work for Xephon – I was producing and editing the Update journals. You probably remember MVS (later z/OS) Update, CICS Update (the very first one), DB2 Update, SNA (later TCP/SNA) Update, RACF Update, and WebSphereMQ Update. My very first blog on the Mainframe Weekly blog site and was called “What’s going on with CICS?”. The first paragraph read:

What do I mean, what’s going on with CICS? Well, CICS used to be the dynamic heart of so many companies – it was the subsystem that allowed the company to make money – and as such there were lots of third parties selling add-ons to CICS to make it work better for individual organizations.

And over the months that followed, I talked about AJAX, Web 2.0, Project ECLipz, Aglets (DB2 agent applets), social networking, back-ups and archives, new versions of CICS, DB2, and IMS, and significant birthdays for software. I blogged about mash-ups using IMS, I gave a number of CSS tips, I wrote about BPEL, I even discussed PST files and the arrival of the Chrome browser. And back in November 2008 I first looked at cloud computing.

In 2009 I talked about CICS Explorer, Twitter, cloud computing, specialty processors, zPrime, mainframe apprentices, that year’s GSE conference, IBM’s London Analytics Solution Centre,  more anniversaries and software updates, and much more.

2010 saw more blogs about the recession, IBM versus Oracle, social media, Linux, clouds, performance, the zEnterprise, some thoughts about SharePoint, Android, and connecting to your mainframe from a phone, SyslogD, GSE Conference, and lots of other thoughts on the events of the year.

2011 had a lot of blogs about cloud computing and virtual user groups, as well as more about SharePoint. The SharePoint blogs were also published on the Medium Sized Business Blog part of TechNet Blogs ( I also had a serious look at tablets. And wrote the “What’s a mainframe, Daddy?” blog. I had a look at IMS costs, mainframe maintenance, and Web 3.0 and Facebook (with the use of OpenGraph). I also examined gamification and augmented reality and what they meant for the future of software.

So far in 2012 I’ve mentioned IBM Docs, how to create an e-book, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), operating systems on a memory stick, cloud wars, and using the Dojo Toolkit to make the end user experience of CICS nicer, and more friendly (of course).

Over the years there have been frequent blogs about the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and in particular its user survey results.

I’ve also written guest blogs for other people, and I’ve published guest blogs by others. You can find a number of blogs I’ve written on the Destination z Web site at I’ve even written a fair few blogs (for a fee) that have been published and attributed to other people!

Are the blogs any good? Should you be reading them? Well, I have an IT Toolbox gold award for blogging – for over 100 blogs. Perhaps more importantly, I was a finalist in the Individual IT Professional Male category of the Computer Weekly IT blog awards in 2009. I was a finalist in the IT Professional (male) category in 2010. And last year I was ‘shortlisted’ in the Computer Weekly IT Professional blogger category. As well as being shortlisted for awards, these blogs are regularly referred to by other bloggers and journalists.

You can read my blogs at,, and You can follow on Twitter at, or on Facebook at

What about the future? The blogs continue – I’ll mainly be following what’s happening with the mainframe industry, but I’ll also take a wider view and keep abreast of new technologies and ideas as they happen and try to put them in context and give my evaluation of them.

If you have read all 300 – thank you. If this is the first one you’ve read, then hopefully you’ll be back again next week for more!

Trevor Eddolls
IBM Champion

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Operations management still growing

Gartner has produced figures showing that the Worldwide IT Operations Management (ITOM) software revenue increased by 8.7 percent last year and totalled $18.3 billion.

Why is this important? Let me suggest that we have been in or around recession since 2008, making most organizations try to cut their spending and try to save as much money as possible until the markets start moving again. Clearly, operations management is too important to be left – making it appear fairly central to the sucess (or perhaps survival) of many organizations.

Commenting on the figures, Laurie Wurster, Research Director with Gartner said: “The market showed growth for the second consecutive year, after a sharp decline in 2009, despite slow economic growth, tight IT budgets, and merger and acquisition activity. We saw consistent resilience in 2011, with the ITOM software market expanding both in terms of revenue and worldwide markets.”

So which software vendors are benefiting from this growth in the market? Well, it seems there are five that mananged 53.5 percent of the revenue between them. And yet again, in that number one spot is IBM. Second is CA Technologies, at least $1 billion behind the leader. Then comes BMC, Microsoft, and HP.

IBM was in pole position in the combined mainframe management segments, which accounted for 28 percent of its total ITOM software revenue of $3.3 billion.

CA Technologies was in second place for the third year running, with revenue growth ahead of the overall market.

BMC Software enjoyed 8.2 percent growth, with 31 percent of its growth coming from the mainframe. You may wonder whether that makes it a more tastey takeover target!

Microsoft saw impressive growth of 11.2 percent. Most of its sales are associated with its Windows product, of course.

It’ll be interesting to see where HP is next year. The company may be forced to take its eye off the ball as they go to court against Oracle. And then there’s the 25000 jobs that are being cut.

I think the important point to take away from this story is that organizations – whether they’re large mainframe-based sites or Windows sites – are looking to manage their operations in new and developing ways. This must be an indication of their desire to get the world economy moving again, and, more importantly for them, be well placed to take advantage when it is.