Sunday, 4 June 2023

iTech-Ed Ltd and Planet Mainframe announce collaboration on mainframe user groups

iTech-Ed Ltd and Planet Mainframe are pleased to announce a new collaboration supporting mainframe education and community. The partnership brings together two leading organizations in the mainframe industry to provide comprehensive resources and support for those interested in learning, working, and growing their mainframe expertise.

Under the new partnership, Planet Mainframe and iTech-Ed Ltd’s three user groups – the Virtual CICS user group, the Virtual Db2 user group, and the Virtual IMS user group – will work together to promote and broaden awareness of educational resources and tools for CICS, Db2, and IMS users. The two organizations will also share and promote each other’s respective resources and expertise, providing members access to a wider range of learning opportunities and support.

iTech-Ed Ltd’s CICS, Db2, and IMS user groups are vibrant communities of mainframe professionals dedicated to sharing knowledge and best practices for each specific mainframe technology. The groups host regular webinars, training sessions, and networking events that enable members to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the industry and explore other related mainframe technologies.

Planet Mainframe is the leading online resource for mainframe professionals, offering a wide range of articles, tutorials, and other resources to help users stay current on the latest trends and technologies in the industry. The platform also provides a forum for networking and collaboration among mainframe professionals worldwide. “We are very excited to partner with iTech-Ed Ltd to support mainframe education and community”, said Hanifa Anne Sekandi, Managing Editor of Planet Mainframe. “Our shared goals of education and community provide an opportunity where the result will be greater than the sum of its parts. Together we will provide users with more opportunities to collaborate and share the tools and resources needed to stay abreast of the latest developments in this dynamic field.”

“This collaboration with Planet Mainframe is a significant step in our efforts to support the CICS, Db2, and IMS communities and mainframe education in general”, said Trevor Eddolls, CEO of iTech-Ed Ltd and an IBM Champion for 2023. “We look forward to working together to provide even more valuable resources and opportunities for our members.”

iTech-Ed Ltd is a mainframe IT consultancy business specializing in consulting, writing, and editing services. In addition to running the Virtual CICS user group, the Virtual Db2 user group, and the Virtual IMS user group, as well as their respective bi-monthly newsletters, iTech-Ed Ltd. also produces the annual Arcati Mainframe Yearbook and provides the industry with technical education and training services.

Planet Mainframe is a leading online resource for mainframe professionals, offering a wide range of articles, tutorials, and other resources to help users stay current on the latest trends and technologies. The platform also provides a forum for networking and collaboration among mainframe professionals worldwide.

Sunday, 28 May 2023

How to choose which mainframe applications to ‘modernize’

It was just over a year ago that I was having a conversation with a colleague about which applications at their site would be best to modernize. My colleague spent a long time agonizing over the word ‘modernize’, which he was at pains to always accompany with highly exaggerated air quotes.

I have used this blog in the past to highlight my own belief that mainframes are probably the most modern computing platform around – as well as being the most secure, reliable, etc etc. My colleague kept stressing the point that what ‘the others’ (yes, more air quotes) were talking about wasn’t any form of modernization, it was simply migration. They were moving data or applications to the cloud. And we all know that mainframes work perfectly well these days with cloud, Web, and mobile. Just because I’m not writing this blog on a mainframe doesn’t mean that every single mainframe application should now run on my laptop. That would be silly! However, some people think that all mainframe applications should now run on the cloud instead.

My colleague was now well into moan mode. “It’s like the word ‘recycle’”, he said. “I bought some parts for my car” – he’s doing up an old Aston Martin – “and they were labelled recycled, but they were just old parts that were being reused”. He was in full swing now, “just because they are repaired or reused isn’t the same as being recycled, is it?” I didn’t have time to answer before he started again, “in the same way migrating is a word that has its own meaning and that is different from modernizing”.

There was more, but the main thrust of the conversation moved to how he and his team could choose which mainframe-based applications would be best to migrate to a cloud platform. We quickly agreed that anything involving batch updates was not a good choice because we needed the data and the application to both be on the mainframe or time delays would become a noticeable issue. But how to choose from the other mainframe applications currently in use?

He came up with the idea of using Bayesian statistics. Now if you’ve not come across this before, it is a mathematical way of turning probabilities into a number that you can use to assess, in this case, the most likely candidate application for migration. There’s more to it than just “the computer says ‘no’”, or ‘yes’, but it proved an interesting way to select five and finally three applications to trial the use of the cloud. Remember, in the early months of last year, at many mainframe sites, cloud was still something that was mainly being talked about on PowerPoint slides rather than actually being used in a hybrid cloud environment.

Bayes theorem was created by Reverend Thomas Bayes (1701–1761). He was an English statistician and a philosopher. He was looking for a way to determine the probability of a future event based on the number of times it occurred in the past. The theorem introduced the idea of conditional probability.

The probability of any event occurring is measured in the range from 0 to 1 (from 0 percent to 100 percent). That value can be found from counting the number of times a specific event happens with respect to all the events in a set of data. What makes Bayesian analysis interesting is that it answers questions about unknown parameters using probability statements.

Any individual who knows about the mainframe applications and has some knowledge of how things work in the cloud could quantify their belief in a mainframe application being a suitable candidate for migration and their confidence in that belief can be quantified as a probability. Other members of the team may have different opinions. Their data can be added to the calculation using the Bayesian procedure.

Bayes rule is then used to carry out Bayes inference. If you really want to see the maths, you can Google it – this isn’t the right place for that, nor for that matter am I any kind of expert. The basic idea of Bayesian inference is to continually update the original thinking (prior beliefs) about the suitability of an application for migration (events) as new evidence is presented.

Putting the views of ‘experts’ together produced a way to choose the most suitable applications. Further analysis of those applications allowed updates to the figures to be made and more informed decisions to finally be made.

The methodology helped eliminate the chances of any application being chosen because it was someone’s ‘favourite’ application or excluding any applications that someone was less familiar with.

Basically, Bayesian statistics gave them a way to incorporate their prior beliefs, and evidence, to produce new beliefs. Of course, they did need to find someone who understood the maths behind the formula and a computer to run the calculations. But the final applications selected generally worked well in the cloud.

Other mainframe sites might find it a useful way to select applications in the future.

Monday, 22 May 2023

IBM and AI

Everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days. Either it’s going to take over the world or, apparently, it thinks the bald head of a football referee is the ball and follows that instead! Clearly, we have a few years to go before we become extras in a Terminator movie.

In the meantime, there are lots of interesting AI developments being announced. IBM has announced IBM watsonx at its annual Think conference. Watson is a new AI and data platform enabling enterprises to scale and accelerate the impact of the most advanced AI with trusted data. It will help them to train, tune, and deploy AI models, including foundation models and machine learning capabilities, across their organization with trusted data, speed, and governance – all in one place and to run across any cloud environment.

So, what do you get with watsonx? There’s an AI development studio with access to IBM-curated and trained foundation models and open-source models, access to a data store to enable the gathering and cleansing of training and tuning data, and a toolkit for governance of AI that will ensure a business’s AI models are compliant with regulations.

IBM Chairman and CEO, Arvind Krishna, said, “Foundation models make deploying AI significantly more scalable, affordable, and efficient. With IBM watsonx, clients can quickly train and deploy custom AI capabilities across their entire business, all while retaining full control of their data.”

IBM watsonx consists of three product sets:

  • IBM is an enterprise studio for AI builders to train, test, tune, and deploy both traditional machine learning and new generative AI capabilities powered by foundation models through an open and intuitive user interface.
  • IBM is a data store built on open lakehouse architecture that is optimized for governed data and AI workloads, supported by querying, governance, and open data formats to access and share data.
  • IBM watsonx.governance is an AI governance toolkit to enable trusted AI workflows.

The AI studio provides a range of foundation models, training and tuning tools, and infrastructure that facilitate the entire data and AI lifecycle, from data preparation to model development, deployment, and monitoring. The studio also includes a foundation model library giving users access to IBM curated and trained foundation models. Examples of model categories include:

  • fm.code – models built to automatically generate code for developers through a natural-language interface to automate many IT tasks.
  • fm.NLP – a collection of large language models (LLMs) for specific or industry-specific domains that utilize curated data where bias can be mitigated more easily and can be quickly customized using client data.
  • fm.geospatial – model built on climate and remote sensing data to help organizations understand and plan for changes in natural disaster patterns, biodiversity, land use, and other geophysical processes that could impact their businesses.

The studio will build on Hugging Face's open-source libraries and offer thousands of Hugging Face open models and datasets.

IBM can manage workloads both on-premise and across multi-cloud environments, reducing data warehouse costs by up to 50 percent. will allow users to access their data through a single point of entry while applying multiple query engines to uncover valuable insights.

IBM watsonx.governance operationalizes governance to help mitigate the risk, time, and cost associated with manual processes and provides the documentation necessary to drive transparent and explainable outcomes. It also provides the mechanisms to protect customer privacy, proactively detect model bias and drift, and help organizations meet their ethics standards.

IBM also plans to infuse foundation models throughout all its major software products going forward, for example:

  • Watson Code Assistant uses generative AI to allow developers to generate code with a straightforward English language command.
  • AIOps Insights provides greater visibility into performance across IT environments, helping (ITOps and SREs resolve incidents in a more expedient and cost-efficient way.
  • Watson Assistant and Watson Orchestrate will be combined with an NLP foundation model to enable enhanced employee productivity and customer-service experiences.
  • Environmental Intelligence Suite (EIS) Builder Edition can use the geospatial foundation model, allowing organizations to create tailored solutions that address and mitigate environmental risks based on their unique goals and needs.

Also announced was a GPU-as-a-service infrastructure offering, which is designed to support AI-intensive workloads, an AI-powered dashboard to measure, track, manage, and help report on cloud carbon emissions, and a new practice for watsonx and generative AI from IBM Consulting that will support client deployment of AI.

Elsewhere, Google has made its AI available. Go to and register with an existing Google account. Google Bard runs on Google’s large language model, Language Model for Dialogue Applications. Google has announced plans to integrate it with Google Search. And currently, it only comes in US English.

Microsoft has AI built into its Azure product and Copilot coming to help with its Office suite. It’s also using OpenAI’s GPT-4 with its Bing search engine. Open AI was the first to really hit the headlines with its ChatGPT product that most people have now had a play with. And there are others out there.

Interesting times!


Sunday, 14 May 2023

Dealing with the stress of being a mainframer


While there isn’t a better job in the world than working with mainframes – after all, why do so many people do it? Especially as many of those people are over retirement age or getting quite close to it. But even so, the life of a mainframer isn’t without stress. I’m not talking about the threat of a ransomware attack or even simply ensuring that recovery processes can take place quickly and easily in the event of a file becoming corrupted or deleted. I’m thinking more of those interminable meetings with, sometimes, senior people who joke that mainframes are dinosaurs and believe that as soon as the company ditches them, the business will naturally go from strength to strength.

Now I’m not talking about how to change someone’s beliefs today. I’m not going to rehearse all the arguments about why mainframes are cheaper and more secure than many other platforms. What I am going to talk about is how to unwind – how to destress – after a day or a week arguing with members of the flat-earth society (or at least that’s how it seems!).

Obviously, I use a laptop, a phone, and a tablet. Some of the apps I use reside in the cloud. I’m not saying that different IT platforms don’t have their role. It’s people who don’t recognize and acknowledge the role of the mainframe that I, and many other mainframers, find frustrating, irritating, and stressful.

So, what can you do to retain your equanimity? How can you return to your Zen-like peacefulness and calm after yet another encounter? Here are some thoughts.

The easiest and most straightforward way to relax is by breathing! Two very simple and effective techniques are 7-11 breathing and square breathing.

7-11 breathing involves breathing in for a count of 7, then breathing out for a count of 11. The important thing is to breath out for longer than you spend breathing in. If the timings seem too long, count faster! Most people feel calm after a few minutes with this technique.

With square breathing, you sit upright in a chair with both feet on the floor. Breath in for the count of four, hold your breath for the count of four, exhale for the count of four, and hold your breath for the count of four. Keep repeating the pattern until you feel relaxed.

If you know a meeting is going to be stressful, at home before the meeting, lie on your back on the floor and put one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen and simply breathe. As you relax, you should feel your abdomen rising and falling rather than your chest. This is what you want in order to become relaxed. 10 minutes of abdominal breathing is good. 30 minutes is better. If you can do this every day, it will help you stay relaxed in difficult situations.

Sometimes, coming out of a meeting where you are still feeling angry or upset, it can be useful to carry out grounding exercises. These provide a way to anchor you in the present. The idea behind it is to use your senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) to link your mind and body in the present moment and turn off any intrusive feelings. Some techniques that have been suggested for grounding include:

  • Slowly, think of five things you can see. Then think of four things you can hear. Next find three things you can feel (eg your feet touching the floor). Then two things you can smell. And, finally, one thing you can taste.
  • Talk about yourself. Say your name, your current age, where you are now, what you have done so far today, and what you plan to do next.
  • Splash water on your face.
  • Sip a cool drink of water.
  • Hold a cold can or bottle of soft drink in your hands. Notice the coldness and the wetness on your hands. When you drink it, notice the bubbles and taste.
  • Hold a mug of tea or coffee in both hands and feel its warmth. Then take small sips and really notice the tastes with each mouthful.
  • Wear an elastic band on your wrist and gently flick it, so that you feel it spring back on your wrist. Notice the sounds you can hear and the sensations you feel when you do that.

Mindfulness, after some practice, provides techniques for a person to dissociate from what’s happening. For example, you can recognize how you feel at any instant and you can accept that that’s simply how you are feeling. That takes all the emotional power out of the feeling. You can also recognize that however you currently feel, that feeling won’t last forever, and will probably pass in a few seconds or so. (Some estimates have been quoted that an urge, eg for a cigarette or a bar of chocolate, last no more than eight seconds.) Using mindfulness techniques does require a certain amount of practice before it becomes easy for a person to use, but that training can be worth it.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT therapy) calls this ‘defusion’ because it stops thoughts and feelings becoming completely fused with your attention or focus and becoming your reality.

NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) offers a number of techniques that people can learn to use to help them to stay calm. For example, anchoring is a very effective technique. You know how a smell or a tune can remind you of a particular place or time in your life. Anchoring is a bit like that. It’s also a bit like the bell and Pavlov’s dogs. A particular stimulus – that smell, tune, or bell – results in a particular response, eg salivating! In this case, the stimulus might be rubbing your earlobe, and the response might be you feeling very calm and in control. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the stimulus has to be learned, but, after that, rubbing your earlobe (or whatever stimulus you want to use) can make you feel very calm in any situation.

Another NLP technique is peripheral vision relaxation. The fovea in the eye is where most light is focused when looking at something (eg reading) and is associated with sympathetic nerves (associated with fight and flight) of the autonomic nervous system. This is where most of the cones are found, the light receptors that see colour. Outside this area are the rods, the light receptors for seeing shapes. These are associated with parasympathetic nerves associated with rest and digest. By using the brain to focus on the signals from these peripheral cones, it’s possible to move the body from fight-and-flight mode to rest-and-digest mode – and so become calmer.

Another NLP technique is to use the circle of excellence. With this, you imagine there is a circle on the floor in front of you that has all the skills and feelings you need to perform a particular task – like staying calm when talking to flat-earthers. You can even imagine that someone who you know is highly skilled has put all their skills in this invisible circle. Just step into the circle and feel what it’s like to be very calm and able to think of logical and quick answers to criticisms etc. Then you take your circle of excellence with you an use it whenever you need to.

Other de-stressing techniques you might use include going for a walk in the countryside (woodland is particularly good), progressive muscle relaxation, exercise or dancing, listening to music, stroking your dog, and there are many others.

Hopefully, these will help you to keep your cool, as you go into your next meeting.