Sunday, 28 July 2013

New Business Class baby

Anyone who’s been on holiday this week would probably have been holidaying on Mars to have missed Tuesday’s excited announcement from IBM of its new zBC12 mainframe computer! The zBC12 follows last year’s announcement of the zEC12 (Enterprise Class), 2011 saw the z114, and 2010 gave us the z196. So what’s special about the new baby?

Well, the zEnterprise BC12 (zBC12) features a 4.2GHz processor, and, for cloud computing, it can consolidate up to 40 virtual servers per core or up to 520 in a single footprint. It offers similar capabilities to the IBM zEC12, including specialty processors. There’s the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) engine for running Linux applications, and the System z Application Assist Processor (zAAP) and System z Integrated Information Process (zIIP) for off-core workload processing. The big difference is that the zBC12 has a maximum memory of 496GB compared to the zEC12’s maximum of 3TB, and it has more limited connectivity options.

If you need to ask the price, as they say, you can’t afford it, but a new zBC12 starts at $75,000, which is a very good price tag. IBM also claims that it can help customers save up to 55% over their x86 distributed environments.

One big difference with this year’s announcement is that IBM is also launching a Linux-only based version of the zBC12, which it’s calling the Enterprise Linux Server (ELS). This is aimed at first-time zEnterprise users. The deal is that the product includes hardware, hypervisor, and three-years of maintenance service, plus, it can be upgraded to analytics and cloud mainframe products. I think that’s called upselling!

IBM also released Version 6.3 of z/VM, which supports up to 1TB of real memory, enabling support for more virtual servers than any other platform in a single footprint. It’s also enabled for OpenStack for advanced enterprise-wide service management. In addition, there’s z/OS Version 2.1, which, among all its other features, is very good at securing private cloud workloads.

IBM claims that when integrated with DB2 Analytics Accelerator, the zBC12 can perform business analytics workloads with response times up to nine times faster, with 10 times better price performance, and 14 percent lower total cost of acquisition than the closest competitor. I wonder who they mean by that??

For cloud computing, IBM has enhanced its OMEGAMON for z/OS family to better detect performance problems in the cloud and minimize impact to the business and increase analytics visibility.

The new z/OS 2.1 operating system (mentioned earlier) enables the latest zEnterprise hardware features, including zEDC (Enterprise Data Compression) and SMC-R (Shared Memory Communications over RDMA – and that one stands for Remote Direct Memory Access). The so-called ‘Crypto as a Service’ enables Linux on System z applications to use z/OS services to encrypt data, thereby providing more secure encryption. Additionally, enhancements to z/OS Management Facility improve start up times and provides services for automating workflow, further reducing costs.

Of course, you may have missed IBM’s baby announcement because the news was swamped with Kate and William’s baby prince!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Disappointing figures all round?

It seems that now might not be a good time to invest in IT firms with both IBM and Intel reporting drops – Intel saw second quarter profits down 29% from last year at $2bn, and IBM’s earnings fell by 17% to $3.23bn.

When you look at revenues, you’ll see Intel’s fell by 5% and IBM’s by 3%. You’ll remember that last quarter IBM cut a large number of jobs (over 3,000) and started to make a big deal of its Big Data strategy and cloud computing. Intel is really being hit because of the drop in PC sales as people migrate to smart phones and tablets – and around 95% of those use ARM chips.

IBM’s sales were down 3.3 per cent to $24.92bn, and IBM reported adjusted second-quarter earnings of $32.91 a share. It also raised its guidance for the year and said it expects at least $16.90 a share in adjusted earnings. IBM saw zero revenue growth in its “growth markets”, the so-called emerging markets. Its earnings per share were reasonable and that was due to the earlier cost-cutting measures. IBM announced $1 billion write-off for downsizing. Services sales dropped by 5%, hardware sales dropped by 12%, but software revenue went up by 4%. Intel’s shares fell 3.7% to $23.23 after the company cut its forecast for the year.

It was also bad news for eBay, whose shares fell 6.4% to $53.70 after announcing their second-quarter results.

SAP AG, one of the biggest makers of business-management software, experienced its first software-sales decline in more than three years. Software licences fell around 3% to 982 million euros. Its software sales in Asia dropped by 9%.

Back in May, PC vendor, Dell, reported a 79% drop in net profit, which they attributed to a crash in PC sales as consumers migrate to smartphones and tablets. Dell’s net profit fell to $130m on revenue down 2% to $14bn. Michael Dell is still waiting for a vote on his proposal to buy out the company. He plans to transform the company from a PC vendor to one pushing higher-margin software and services to enterprises. He’s apparently got a $2bn loan from Microsoft.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, doing well is Sandisk, who reported a 43% jump in second-quarter revenue. Yahoo! posted an attributable net income of $331.15m for the second-quarter, which is an increase of 46%, which it attributes to its investment in Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba and product overhauls. However, its revenues declined by 7% to $1.13bn and that was attributed to a decrease in advertising revenues and Web traffic.

Interestingly, in the USA, tech advertising has increased by 30% with Microsoft, now being the biggest spender. Its spending on advertising has gone up 200% in an attempt to drum up business for Windows 8 and its Surface tablet. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on the company’s bottom line.

So, the picture isn’t all bad for IT companies, and some companies are trying to do something about it, and perhaps dividends are OK, but, taken together, the figures don’t make the happiest of reading for the IT industry as a whole.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Mainframe apps

Who doesn’t have a smart phone these days? Or who goes to meetings without a tablet device? I thought it would be interesting to look at the mainframe apps available for Android devices – and there are quite a few.

The Mainframe IBM Interview QA app provides a wide range of questions that can be asked during an interview. The application answers the most commonly asked interview questions and they’ve been grouped into categories for ease.

Test Your Mainframe Skills!!! claims it will help you to assess your mainframe skills as well as develop them. It’s aimed at people who are looking for a new job and want to hone their technical skills. This app is designed so that you can go through different technical tests, assess your skills, and, simultaneously, hints are provided for each question to help you to understand and learn the information in better way!

Similarly, Mainframe interview questions provides over a 100 interview questions for assistance in getting your next mainframe-related job.

Mainframe Translator costs $1.99, and makes it easier to translate mainframe error codes and even machine instructions without having to always look them up in a manual. It also allows you to view the messages and codes on your device without having to minimize your source code or error screen. You can choose a specific code to translate or choose a translation type and scroll through all of the codes. The current translation options are: ASCII, EBCDIC, Machine Instruction, COBOL File Status, CICS EIBRESP, CICS EIBFN, DB2 SQL Errors, and FTP Codes. It also functions as a calculator performing decimal, hexadecimal, and binary maths. The dual pane feature in landscape mode allows for calculator and translation codes to be seen on the same screen. Users can customize colours and default settings.

Mainframe Guides explains how to code mainframe applications. It includes all the topics that are needed to learn about mainframes with a basic programing knowledge. Currently this app plays tutorials in high quality video.

Emulator Access 3270 cost $5.99, and allows users to easily access their employer’s Web-based emulator and mainframe with this utility. BNSF users get automatic login and their username and password are saved. It’s compatible with all Open Connect / 3270 emulator systems common in transportation, government, manufacturing, and financial industries.

TN3270, costing $16.72,  is a client for connecting to mainframes with the telnet 3270 protocol. Features include: connecting to standard 3270 mainframes; text size configuration through buttons; and keyboard configuration.

Mocha TN3270 for Android provides TN3270 emulation for IBM mainframe terminal access. The paid version includes keys f1-f24.

Julian Date Conv Calendar is a simple calendar that displays a whole month of both standard (Gregorian) and Julian days together in the same display for easy conversion between the two. It’s useful for those who work with Julian dates, eg mainframe programmers and schedulers.

I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that leaped out at me when I searched for mainframe apps. I thought it was interesting to see what was currently available.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

IBM’s approach to Big Data

IBM has taken lots of the open source Big Data technologies – like Hadoop, MapReduce, HBase – and added its own technology – like Big Sheets, DB2, DataStage – to create something hugely more powerful.

IBM’s InfoSphere BigInsights builds on open source Hadoop capabilities for enterprise class deployments. The enterprise-level capabilities can be grouped together as: visualization and exploration, development tools, advanced engines, connectors, workload optimization, and administration and security.

IBM claims the business benefits are: quicker time-to-value because of IBM’s technology and support, reduced operational risk, enhanced business knowledge with a flexible analytical platform, and it leverages and complements existing software.

In terms of administration and security, the Web console can start and stop services, run and monitor jobs (applications), explore and modify the file system, and built-in apps make it easy to do common tasks.

The connectors link to databases like DB2, Netezza, Oracle, Teradata. And there’s integration with: InfoSphere Data Stage (data collection and integration), InfoSphere Streams (real-time streams processing), InfoSphere Guardium (security and monitoring), Cognos Business Intelligence (Business Intelligence capabilities), and IBM Platform Computing (cluster/grid infrastructure and management), and more. Big SQL is coming with BigInsights V2.1. This will provide SQL access to data stored in BigInsights through JDBC/ODBC and use rich standard SQL to leverage Map/Reduce parallelism or achieve low-latency.

Advanced engines include an advanced text analytics engine that can automatically identify and understand key information in text. Text Analytics is really useful because most of the world’s data is in unstructured or semi-structured text; social media is full of discussions about products and services; internal information in organizations is locked in blobs, description fields, and sometimes even discarded. It’s been suggested that over 80% of stored information is unstructured – such as e-medical records, hospital reports, case files, police records, emergency calls, tech notes, call logs, online media, insurance claims, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and forums.

In terms of development tools, there is an Eclipse-based development environment for building and deploying applications. There are developer tools and a set of analytic extractors for fast adoption that reduce coding and debugging time by up to 30% (IBM claims). There are also plug-ins for text analytics, MapReduce programming, Jaql development, Hive query, etc.

Visualization and exploration has Big Sheets, providing Web-based analysis and visualization for users with a familiar spreadsheet-like interface that can define and manage long-running data collection jobs.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has identified Hadoop users as a useful market to get into. Speaking recently at the Hadoop summit, Quentin Clark, corporate VP of data platforms said: “We believe Hadoop is the cornerstone of a sea change coming to all businesses”.

Microsoft is integrating Hadoop with its products and services. And, Clark says that Microsoft intends to stick to the principles of open source by contributing to the Hadoop project, rather than simply using it and adding its own stuff. Hortonworks recently announced management packs for Microsoft System Center Operations Manager and Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager – both products for administering the Hortonworks Data Platform (HDP) distribution.

Apparently Microsoft is positioning itself as a big data player with a powerful set of Business Intelligence (BI) tools. Data Explorer for Excel 2013 is a self-service BI add-in allowing users to import data from a variety of sources, including Hadoop. SQL Server 2012 Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW) is a massively parallel processing data warehousing appliance designed for Hadoop integration. Microsoft is also trying to bring Hadoop into the cloud using Windows Azure.

Businesses can’t ignore Hadoop, and the fact that major software vendors are getting behind it means it’s not going to be some flash-in-the-pan idea. Certainly, I can imagine major organizations looking to get a huge business advantage by embracing the technology now – to be ahead of their competitors. Smaller organizations will probably take a few years before they see a business case for it. By then the IBM products (and Microsoft’s) will be very mature and eminently suitable.