Sunday, 12 June 2011

Mainframes, cloud, and trans-derivational searches

Communication is a bit of a hit-and-miss business at the best of times. Suppose I was sitting in a large comfortable leather armchair and I wrote the word ‘chair’. I would be thinking about my armchair. You might be sitting at your computer on an office chair with wheels and no arms. When you read the word ‘chair’, you might think that your office chair was what I had in mind. Perhaps a trivial example, but you get the idea.

What happens if I write a complicated sentence and it’s not immediately clear what I’m saying. You would read it and perform a trans-derivational search in your mind to try to find meaning. What is a trans-derivational search? Well, it’s a bit like going to Amazon and typing the word ‘cloud’ into the search box. Amazon will search in ‘Books’, ‘Film, Music & Games’, ‘Kindle’, ‘Electronics’, etc and display all the answers. You can then make a choice. When it happens in your mind, you do a similar search and select the search result that seems to be the best fit for the unclear sentence.

The reason I mention this is because when one person says the words ‘cloud’ and ‘mainframe’, the image in their mind may be quite different to the image in anyone else’s mind. I like to think of mainframes as interesting and powerful bits of kit that keep the business world turning. Someone else may picture rusting hardware that should have disappeared in the 1990s! It’s much the same with the word ‘cloud’. One person may envisage an outsourcing opportunity, while another may view cloud as a security nightmare – a disaster waiting to happen. You can see now just how tricky this communication stuff really is!

There are people who argue that the mainframe is a cloud already. Suggesting that both are resource that can be dynamically allocated and de-allocated on demand, and can be made available within a company with the necessary security and management controls.

Typically the users of cloud computing have x86 platforms and need to be able to get what they want when they want it – ie on demand. They use primarily Amazon, Google, or Microsoft services. And, of course, everyone is now talking about cloud with announcement of Apple’s iCloud.

Going back to the mainframe, recent surveys have shown mixed interest in cloud computing from mainframers. It seems that the closer to the coal face (or whatever the mainframe metaphor for systems people might be) people are, the less interested they are in cloud. Whereas more high-level thinkers are interested to see what advantages cloud computing offers their organization.

Same words, different mental picture. It’s that communication conundrum again.

If you do have any experience of using cloud and mainframes, I’d be interested to hear about your experience over on IT Toolbox (

And for those of you who are IMS professionals, don’t forget the Virtual IMS user group meeting on Tuesday. Gary Weinhold and Verna Bartlett from Data Kinetics will be talking about MSU reduction due to in-memory table management with (any) IMS applications. Full details including how to register are on the Web site at


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Bruce Stanley said...

I see the mainframe and cloud in more of a "private" cloud perspective than the more open version of a cloud from say a hosting perspective. There has been a tremendous movement in the form of virtualization on IFL's with zLinux due to the closeness (spelled performance) of data on the zOS side of the machine. This solves the security, performance, power and consolidation questions, not to mention cost.

As an example, I have one customer (I am currently a vendor) where their first virtualization platform is zLinux on IFL's (they have 33 IFL's currently with over 800 VM's running there), then go to VMware on x86 and then if you need a physical machine, you have to justify it. They have also reduce the high cost of MIPS based licensing on the mainframe (spelled zOS here) by moving applications off of zOS (WebSphere and more) onto zLinux.

They use this model to host internal applications as well as hosting external customers who may or may not need access to the back end data in the same model.

So a private cloud to internal company customers and a semi public cloud/hosting model to external customers. The bottom line is the security, cost and convenience (can I get there and move it when needed) all come into play.