Sunday, 28 April 2013

Lync and Yammer

Over the past couple of years I’ve been working with SharePoint at various sites, and more recently with Lync and Yammer. Now these are two products that mainframers may not be that familiar with and I thought people might be interested to know more.

Microsoft Lync was called Microsoft Office Communicator. It’s an Instant Messaging client – like MSN Messenger or Yahoo! Messenger – that can be used either with Microsoft Lync Server or Lync Online, which is available with Microsoft Office 365. In fact it is an up-to-date version of Windows Messenger which was used with Microsoft Exchange Server.

As well as running on PCs, Lync 2010 has Windows Phone, Android, and iOS apps. Lync provides instant messaging, Voice Over IP, and video conferencing facilities, and uses Microsoft Outlook contacts stored in a Microsoft Exchange Server. Office can show whether other people are working on the same document, and Lync allows file sharing.

What makes it so useful is those really unimportant e-mails that you don’t need an audit trail for can be replaced by Instant Messaging conversations. That cuts down on the number of e-mails that need to be backed up each evening and eventually stored on the off-chance they’re important. And, of course, you can type or you can talk. And you can set up meetings with people in offices around the country and video conference – assuming your organization has the bandwidth to do so.

Lync and Sharepoint integrate to an extent – they’re both from Microsoft. For example, there’s an “online presence indicator next to an individual’s name wherever their name appears in a site collection in SharePoint”. “Assist in providing colleague suggestions for use in My Sites, My Profiles, and People Search”. And “through Lync, provide access to SharePoint people and skills search including names and skills and a link to the user’s My Site”. Thank you to J D Wade, who’s blog at was the source for these examples.

Yammer is described as an enterprise social network service. It was launched in 2008, but, more importantly, Microsoft bought it last year. Yammer acts like a corporate Facebook service. It allows people to send message to other individuals or to groups. Only people with the same domain name in their e-mail address can access the corporate Yammer network. As well as access from a PC, there’s Android Windows Phone and iPhone apps available.

Chris Wright, in his blog at, lists features of Yammer that SharePoint users will like. Chris says “SharePoint has never really had its own ‘messaging’ system, so the Yammer Inbox fills a real gap”. Chris adds: “Yammer polls are a nice quick way to ask a question of people in your community, and will add a lot to the sense of community SharePoint is trying to foster”. Looking ahead, Chris says that documents held in a Yammer feed can be edited in Office web apps. He says: “This is a great example of a few of the features SharePoint is bringing to the table to improve Yammer (rather than the other way round)”.

We know that Microsoft plans to integrate Yammer with SharePoint and Office 365. It appears that Yammer will eventually replace SharePoint’s newsfeed. It seems there’s a plan to share documents with Yammer using SharePoint. And Yammer users will be able to upload and store documents using SkyDrive Pro. A file preview and edit capability with Yammer will work in conjunction with Office Web Apps. There’s even talk about translation capabilities being added to Yammer. Eventually Yammer and Lync (and Exchange) will be integrated.

The integration of Yammer builds on Open Graph – an open API protocol for following objects external to a social network site used by Facebook. IBMers are perhaps more familiar with OpenSocial 2.0 for IBM Connections. Both provide a way for people to follow things.

What makes Yammer and SharePoint integration so interesting is that staff can use a the type of social media they’re familiar with from home in a business situation. If I can see you’re meeting client A tomorrow, I might ask you to check how he thinks project X is going. Or I might even just want to say hello to someone who is an occasional customer. Yammer is a business tool that is fun and easy to use – certainly compared to the more heavyweight Web parts etc of SharePoint.

The fact that Instant Messaging and social media can be included in a business environment shows that these tools are maturing. And, like BYOD, it shows end users are driving the environment they want to experience at work. I wonder how long it will be, with IBM’s pushing of social media tools, before something like this is available to everyone on z/OS.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Wisdom of crowds?

There’s a theory that if you take into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert, then the large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving just about anything is typically just as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any individual expert within the group. This is called the wisdom of the crowd.

Of course, so-called experts aren’t necessarily that expert. Most complicated court cases seem to involve expert witnesses disagreeing over the right conclusions to draw from the evidence. Similarly, psychology studies have found, for example, that experienced parole board members are no better at deciding whether a prisoner will offend again than ordinary members of the public. Worryingly, other studies have found similar results with experts being no better using their expertise than members of the public.

So what has this got to do with anything? Well, as you probably have guessed from these blogs, I’ve been doing a lot of work on social media recently with companies and charity groups. We were chatting about how to use LinkedIn, and they wanted to take a look at my profile to see what areas of expertise people thought I had. If you want to play along at home, the URL is At the bottom of the page is the skills and expertise section. The way it works is LinkedIn members can endorse the skills or expertise of others. And, gradually, using the wisdom of crowds, a person’s expertise profile should, pretty much, match up with their real-life skills and expertise – you’d think!

So, I listed my skills – an embarrassing process in itself – and then we compared them to what ‘the crowd’ think are my skills. I thought as I’ve been blogging since 2005, and I blog on the Destination z site each month, and I’ve written blogs that have been published as written by other people, ‘blogger’ ought to be there. I write articles that have been published in numerous publications and Web sites, so ‘writer’ ought to be there. I edited Xephon’s Update journals for 20 years and I’m editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, so ‘editor’ should be there. I’ve been associated with mainframes for thirty years, so ‘mainframes’ should be there. I chair the Virtual IMS user group and Virtual CICS user group – so ‘CICS’ and ‘IMS’ should be there.

I’ve also done coaching work with individuals, and a few years ago qualified as a hypnotherapist. I’ve also passed NLP exams. I see clients for these, so ‘hypnotherapy’ and ‘NLP’ should be there. And, for the past five years, I’ve been designing and building Web sites for people – so ‘Web designer’ should be there. And, of course, with my recent focus on it, ‘social media’ should be right up there.

The actual scores on the doors suggest a slightly different profile: 14 Mainframe, 14 CICS, 12 Hypnotherapy, 9 Technical writing, 9 NLP, and 9 IMS DB/DC. Blogging has only 5 votes; as well as technical writing, I have 6 for writer; 5 for editing; and yet I have no endorsements for social media or Web design!

Now, I know it’s still early days, and there aren’t that many endorsements at all yet, and probably, over time, the endorsements will come to match the work I’m actually doing, but it did seem surprising that it should be so different, with some area of ‘expertise’ so lacking in any endorsements. I just wondered whether other people were finding the same thing.

Or maybe, it’s me. Maybe I have an incorrect idea of what I am good at, and there is wisdom in the crowd!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A bad time for mainframes?

It seems that nowadays is not a good time to be in the world of mainframes, with BMC Software likely to be taken over, Compuware recording a loss, and to add insult to injury, Oracle is talking about releasing a mainframe!

So let’s start with BMC Software, which got its name from its founders back in the early 1980s – Scott Boulette, John Moores, and Dan Cloer. BMC, notably, bought Boole & Babbage at the end of the 1990s and shortly after acquired CONTROL-M and its company, New Dimension Software. But those heady days must seem a long time ago because on 22 April it’s expected to receive final takeover bids.

Elliott Management owns a 9.6 percent stake in BMC, and signed a standstill agreement with BMC last summer, but that ended on 6 April. So they could bid for BMC or nominate directors to its board. People who know about these things are saying that buyout firm Thoma Bravo has joined a bidding group led by KKR & Co LP and TPG Capital LP in order to bid. Their likely rivals are a team comprising Bain Capital LLC and Golden Gate Capital. You can assume people are arranging to have access to large pots of money on the day. Bids are likely to be between $40 and $50 a share. We’ll be watching to see what happens, and, more importantly, what the impact is on users of their mainframe software.

Compuware is probably most famous for its Abend-AID product, which first saw the light of day in the 1970s. In the 1980s, they launched File-AID. Compuware recently reported disappointing fourth-quarter results and said its total year-on-year revenue is expected to drop from $1 billion to between $942 million and $946 million for the fiscal year ending 31 March.

CEO Robert Paul has increased his planned cost-cutting to between $80 million and $100 million over the next two years. (It was $60 million over three years.) A natural consequence of this could be layoffs – and that could impact on the quality of the software mainframe users can get hold of, or may mean longer delays between upgrades.

Interestingly, Elliott Management (see above) is Compuware’s second-largest shareholder, owning 8.7% of the stock. In January, their takeover bid of $2.3 billion ($11-per-share) was rejected by the board. Meanwhile, Sandell Asset Management, which holds 2.8% of Compuware stock, is urging the board to sell the company to the highest bidder as quickly as possible.

And while these mainframe companies are facing financial difficulties, Larry Ellison has launched, what he’s calling, a mainframe-class machine – arguing that any mission-critical app that runs on any Unix system will run better on the new Sparc T5 and M5 servers. In addition, Oracle is claiming that it has passed IBM on integer throughput performance – but that’s compared against IBM Power series.

The big news over at CA Technologies is that CA has filed a patent infringement suit against AppDynamics, which was started by one of its ex-employees. CA got hold of the patents when it bought Wily Technology in 2006. The ex-employee led the design and architecture for several Wily products. You may also remember that last November CA sued New Relic Inc for patent infringements. Again, the founder of New Relic had been a senior executive at Wily.

At least IBM seems to be doing OK. It's just released a $1 billion plan to construct and check Flash technology for enterprise solutions. The  technology should assist firms coping with Big Data challenges. The people at UBS have upgraded IBM from ‘neutral’ to ‘buy’, saying IBM has the best strategy of its peers in what it terms the “IT as a service” industry. Plus a new Synergy Research Group study shows that IBM’s share of the cloud infrastructure equipment market has hit a two-year high in the fourth quarter of 2012, reaching just over 19 percent.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


Suppose you wanted to access ‘big data’ stored in HDFS or HBase. What would you do? Well, for many people, the first step is to find out what we’re talking about. So, let’s start with big data – it’s data that’s so large and complex that it’s difficult to process using standard and familiar database management tools or applications.

According to Wikipedia, there are issues around data capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization. You’re probably thinking: why not go back to using smaller and manageable data? It seems that people want access to larger and larger amounts of data because additional information can be gained from it – allowing people to “spot business trends, determine quality of research, prevent diseases, link legal citations, combat crime, and determine real-time roadway traffic conditions”.

Now that’s clear, what are HDFS and HBase? HDFS stands for Hadoop Distributed File System. It’s a distributed, scalable, and portable file system written in Java for the Hadoop framework. HDFS stores large files across multiple machines, and replicates the data across multiple hosts. HBase is an open source, non-relational, distributed database and is also written in Java. It was developed as part of Apache Software Foundation’s Apache Hadoop project and runs on top of HDFS (Hadoop Distributed File System), providing a fault-tolerant way of storing large quantities of data.

Each node in a Hadoop instance typically has a single namenode; a cluster of datanodes form the HDFS cluster. So what’s needed is some way to access that cluster. At the moment, the choices are basically Hive, Impala, and Big SQL.

Again, a search on Wikipedia informs me that “Hive supports analysis of large datasets stored in Hadoop-compatible file systems such as Amazon S3 filesystem. It provides an SQL-like language called HiveQL while maintaining full support for map/reduce. To accelerate queries, it provides indexes, including bitmap indexes. By default, Hive stores metadata in an embedded Apache Derby database, and other client/server databases like MySQL can optionally be used. Currently, there are three file formats supported in Hive, which are TEXTFILE, SEQUENCEFILE, and RCFILE”

The Cloudera Impala project allows users to query data, whether stored in HDFS or HBase – including SELECT, JOIN, and aggregate functions – in real time. Furthermore, it uses the same metadata, SQL syntax (Hive SQL), ODBC driver, and user interface (Hue Beeswax) as Apache Hive. To avoid latency, Impala circumvents MapReduce to directly access the data through a specialized distributed query engine.

When you look up information about these things, names like Apache, Cloudera, Amazon, Facebook, Google crop up, but not IBM. You might think that’s a bit strange. Wouldn’t IBM be the organization you’d expect to have experience of big data? I mean just think of those massive IMS databases. So, why haven’t I mentioned IBM? The answer is because I haven’t got to Big SQL yet.

IBM claims that Big SQL provides robust SQL support for the Hadoop ecosystem:

  •  it has a scalable architecture;
  • it supports SQL and data types available in SQL '92, plus it has some additional capabilities;
  • it supports JDBC and ODBC client drivers;
  • it has efficient handling of ‘point queries’;
  • there are a wide variety of data sources and file formats for HDFS and HBase that it supports;
  • And, although it isn’t open source, it does interoperate well with the open source ecosystem within Hadoop.

The really interesting thing about this is that all the information is available in one place – Big Data University ( I’m looking forward to taking the course. Big data isn’t going away any time soon.

Monday, 1 April 2013

GSE UK 2012

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about an event that happened last year – and one that I blogged about last November anyway. Well, the exciting news is that the video of last year’s event is now available. You can stream it from YouTube from And you can download a copy from

The Guide Share Europe (GSE) UK Annual Conference ran 16 streams, had 32 vendors, 326 attendees on day 1 and 314 on day 2, with 260 dinner reservations at the end of day 1. It took place on 13-14 November at Whittlebury Hall, Whittlebury, Near Towcester, Northamptonshire NN12 8QH, UK.

If you were there, watch the video to bring back happy memories. And if you weren’t there, watch the video to see what you missed! The people who organize GSE UK are happy for you to share the link with your colleagues and post it on your own Web site and tweet it, and whatever other social media you’d like to use.

And if you like wallowing in nostalgia, the 2011 conference video can be found at

So, if all that has whetted your appetite, this year’s conference will be on 5 and 6 November at Whittlebury Hall. Put the dates in your diary – don’t miss it.