Posts Tagged ‘Java’

The Next Generation of Mainframers

March 6, 2014

With seemingly every young person with any technology inclinations aiming to become the next WhatsApp and walk away with some of Facebook’s millions it is fair to wonder: Where is the next generation of mainframers going to come from and who are they going to be?

The answer: IBM is lining them up now. As the mainframe turns 50 you’ll have a chance to meet some of these up and coming mainframers as part of IBM’s 50th Mainframe Anniversary celebration in New York, April 8, when IBM announces winners of the World Championship round of its popular Master of the Mainframe competition.

According to IBM, the Championship is designed to assemble the best university students from around the globe who have demonstrated superior technical skills through participation in their regional IBM Master the Mainframe Contests. Out of the 20,000 students who have engaged in country-level Master the Mainframe Contests over the last three years, the top 44 students from 22 countries have been invited to participate in the inaugural IBM Master the Mainframe World Championship.

These students will spend the month of March working through the Systems of Engagement concept, an expansion of the traditional Systems of Record—core transaction systems—that have been the primary workload of mainframe computing. The students will deploy Systems of Record mainframe business applications written with Java and COBOL using DB2 for z/OS API’s to demonstrate how the Systems of Engagement concept takes full advantage of the mainframe’s advanced capabilities. In short, the mainframe is designed to support tomorrow’s most demanded complex workloads  Big Data, Cloud, and Mobile computing workloads and do them all with the most effective enterprise-class security. The students will showcase their applications on April 7, 2014 in New York City where judges will determine which student earns the distinction of “Master the Mainframe World Champion.”

Representing the United States are Mugdha Kadam from the University of Florida, Elton Cheng from the University of California San Diego, and Rudolfs Dambis from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. You can follow the progress of the competitors here.  After March 17 the site will include a leaderboard so you can follow your favorites. No rumors of betting pools being formed yet but it wouldn’t surprise DancingDinosaur.  Win or not, each competitor should be a prime candidate if your organization needs mainframe talent.

This is part of IBM’s longstanding System z Academic Initiative, which has been expanding worldwide and now encompasses over 64,000 students at more than 1000 schools across 67 countries.  And now high school students are participating in the Master the Mainframe competition. Over 360 companies are actively recruiting from these students, including Baldor, Dillards, JB Hunt, Wal-mart, Cigna, Compuware, EMC, Fidelity, JP Morgan Chase, and more.

Said Jeff Gill, at VISA: “Discovering IBM’s Academic Initiative has been a critical success factor in building a lifeline to our future—a new base of Systems Engineers and Applications Developers who will continue to evolve our mainframe applications into flexible open enterprise solutions while maintaining high volume / high availability demands. Without the IBM Academic Initiative, perhaps we could have found students with aptitude – but participation in the Academic Initiative demonstrates a student’s interest in mainframe technology which, to us, translates to a wise long-term investment.“ Gill is one of the judges of the Masters the Mainframe World Championship.

Added Martin Kennedy of Citigroup: “IBM’s Master the Mainframe Contest offers a great resource to secure candidates and helps the company get critical skills as quickly as possible.”

The Master of the Mainframe Championship and even the entire 50th Anniversary celebration that will continue all year are not really IBM’s primary mainframe thrust this year.  IBM’s real focus is on emphasizing the forward-moving direction of the mainframe. As IBM puts in: “By continually adapting to trends and evolving IT, we’re driving new approaches to cloud, analytics, security and mobile computing to help tackle challenges never before thought possible.  The pioneering innovations of the mainframe all serve one mission—deliver game-changing technology that makes the extraordinary possible and improves the way the world works.

DancingDinosaur covers the mainframe and other enterprise-class technology. Watch this blog for more news on the mainframe and other enterprise systems including Power, enterprise storage, and enterprise-scale cloud computing.

With that noted, please plan to attend Edge 2014, May 19-23 in Las Vegas. Being billed as an infrastructure and storage technology conference, it promises to be an excellent follow-on to last year’s Edge conference.  DancingDinosaur will be there, no doubt hanging out in the blogger’s lounge where everyone is welcome. Watch this blog for upcoming details on the most interesting sessions.

And follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog

February 25, 2014

How the 50 Year-Old Mainframe Remains Relevant

The mainframe turns 50 years old this year and the many pundits and experts who predicted it would be long gone by now must be scratching their heads.  Yes, it is still around and has acquired over 260 new accounts just since zEnterprise launch. It also has shipped over 320 hybrid computing units (not to be confused with zBX chassis only) since the zBX was introduced and kicked off hybrid mainframe computing.

As for MIPS, although IBM experienced a MIPS decline last quarter that follows the largest MIPS shipment in mainframe history a year ago resulting in a 2-year CGR of +11%.  (Mainframe sales follow the new product release cycle in a predictable pattern.) IBM brought out the last System z release, the zEC12, faster than the mainframe’s historic release cycle. Let’s hope IBM repeats the quick turnaround with the next release.

Here’s what IBM is doing to keep the mainframe relevant:

  • Delivered steady price/performance improvements with each release. And with entry-level BC-class pricing and the System z Solution Edition programs you can end up with a mainframe system that is as competitive or better than x86-based systems while being more secure and more reliable out of the box.
  • Adopted Linux early, before it had gained the widespread acceptance it has today. Last year over three-quarters of the top 100 enterprises had IFLs installed. This year IBM reports a 31% increase in IFL MIPS. In at least two cases where DancingDinosaur recently interviewed IT managers, Linux on z was instrumental in bringing their shops to the mainframe.
  • Supported for SOA, Java, Web services, and cloud, mobile, and social computing continues to put the System z at the front of the hot trends. It also prominently plays with big data and analytics.  Who ever thought that the mainframe would be interacting with RESTful APIs? Certainly not DancingDinosaur’s computer teacher back in the dark ages.
  • Continued delivery of unprecedented scalability, reliability, and security at a time when the volumes of transactions, data, workloads, and users are skyrocketing.  (IDC predicts millions of apps, billions of users, and trillions of things connected by 2020.)
  • Built a global System z ecosystem of tools and technologies to support cloud, mobile, big data/analytics, social and non-traditional mainframe workloads. This includes acquisitions like SoftLayer and CSL Wave to deliver IBM Wave for z/VM, a simplified and cost effective way to harness the consolidation capabilities of the IBM System z platform along with its ability to host the workloads of tens of thousands of commodity servers. The mainframe today can truly be a fully fledged cloud player.

And that just touches on the mainframe platform advantages. While others boast of virtualization capabilities, the mainframe comes 100% virtualized out of the box with virtualization at every level.  It also comes with a no-fail redundant architecture and built-in networking. 

Hybrid computing is another aspect of the mainframe that organizations are just beginning to tap.  Today’s multi-platform compound workloads are inherently hybrid, and the System z can manage the entire multi-platform workload from a single console.

The mainframe anniversary celebration, called Mainframe50, officially kicks off in April but a report from the Pulse conference suggests that Mainframe50 interest already is ramping up. A report from Pulse 2014 this week suggests IBM jumped the gun by emphasizing how the z provides new ways never before thought possible to innovate while tackling challenges previously out of reach.

Pulse 2014, it turns out, offered 38 sessions on System z topics, of which 27 will feature analysts or IBM clients. These sessions promise to address key opportunities and challenges for today’s mainframe environments and the latest technology solutions for meeting them, including OMEGAMON, System Automation, NetView, GDPS, Workload Automation Tivoli Asset Discovery for z/OS and Cloud.

One session featured analyst Phil Murphy, Vice President and Principal Analyst from Forrester Research, discussing the critical importance of a robust infrastructure in a mixed mainframe/distributed cloud environment—which is probably the future most DancingDinosaur readers face—and how it can help fulfill the promise of value for cloud real time.

Another featured mainframe analyst Dot Alexander from Wintergreen Research who looked at how mainframe shops view executing cloud workloads on System z. The session focused on the opportunities and challenges, private and hybrid cloud workload environments, and the impact of scalability, standards, and security.

But the big celebration is planned for April 8 in NYC. There IBM promises to make new announcements, launch new research projects, and generally focus on the mainframe’s future.  A highlight promises to be Showcase 20, which will focus on 20 breakthrough areas referred to by IBM as engines of progress.  The event promises to be a sellout; you should probably talk to your System z rep if you want to attend. And it won’t stop on April 8. IBM expects to continue the Mainframe50 drumbeat all year with new announcements, deliverables, and initiatives. Already in February alone IBM has made a slew of acquisitions and cloud announcements that will touch every mainframe shop with any cloud interests (which should be every mainframe shop at one point or another).

In coming weeks stay tuned to DancingDinosaur for more on Mainframe50. Also watch this space for details of the upcoming Edge 2014 conference, with an emphasis on infrastructure innovation coming to Las Vegas in May.

Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog

A Maturity Model for the New Mainframe Normal

February 3, 2014

Last week Compuware introduced its new mainframe maturity model designed to address what is emerging as the new mainframe normal. DancingDinosaur played a central role in the creation of this model.

A new mainframe maturity model is needed because the world of the mainframe is changing rapidly.  Did your data center team ever think they would be processing mainframe transactions from mobile phones? Your development team probably never imagined they would be architecting compound workloads across the mainframe and multiple distributed systems running both Windows and Linux? What about the prospect of your mainframe serving up millions or even billions of customer-facing transactions a day?  But that’s the mainframe story today.

Even IBM, the most stalwart of the mainframe vendors, repeats the driving trends—cloud, mobile, social, big data, analytics, Internet of things—like a mantra. As the mainframe celebrates its 50th anniversary year, it is fitting that a new maturity model be introduced because there is, indeed, a new mainframe normal rapidly evolving.

Things certainly are changing in ways most mainframe data center managers wouldn’t have anticipated 10 years ago, probably not even five years ago. Of those, perhaps the most disconcerting change for traditional mainframe shops is the need to accommodate distributed, open systems (systems of engagement) alongside the traditional mainframe environment (systems of record).

Since the rise of distributed systems two decades ago, there has existed both a technical and cultural gap between the mainframe and distributed teams. The emergence of technologies like hybrid computing, middleware, and the cloud have gone far to alleviate the technical gap. The cultural gap is not so amenable to immediate fixes. Still, navigating that divide is no longer optional – it has become a business imperative.  Crossing the gap is what the new maturity model addresses.

Many factors contribute to the gap; the largest of which appears to be that most organizations still approach the mainframe and distributed environments as separate worlds. One large financial company, for example, recently reported that they view the mainframe as simply MQ messages to distributed developers.

The new mainframe maturity model can be used as a guide to bridging both the technical and cultural gaps.  Specifically, the new model defines five levels of maturity. In the process, it incorporates distributed systems alongside the mainframe and recognizes the new workloads, processes and challenges that will be encountered. The five levels are:

  1. Ad-hoc:  The mainframe runs core systems and applications; these represent the traditional mainframe workloads and the green-screen approach to mainframe computing.
  2. Technology-centric:  An advanced mainframe is focused on ever-increasing volumes, higher capacity, and complex workload and transaction processing while keeping a close watch on MIPS consumption.
  3. Internal services-centric:  The focus shifts to mainframe-based services through a service delivery approach that strives to meet internal service level agreements (SLAs).
  4. External services-centric:  Mainframe and non-mainframe systems interoperate through a services approach that encompasses end-user expectations and tracks external SLAs.
  5. Business revenue-centric:  Business needs and the end-user experience are addressed through interoperability with cloud and mobile systems, services- and API-driven interactions, and real-time analytics to support revenue initiatives revolving around complex, multi-platform workloads.

Complicating things is the fact that most IT organizations will likely find themselves straddling different maturity levels. For example, although many have achieved levels 4 and 5 when it comes to technology the IT culture remains at levels 1 or 2. Such disconnects mean IT still faces many obstacles preventing it from reaching optimal levels of service delivery and cost management. And this doesn’t just impact IT; there can be ramifications for the business itself, such as decreased customer satisfaction and slower revenue growth.

DancingDinosaur’s hope is that as the technical cultures come closer through technologies like Java, Linux, SOA, REST, hybrid computing, mobile, and such to allow organizations to begin to close the cultural gap too.

Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter: @mainframeblog

Next Generation zEnterprise Developers

April 19, 2013

Mainframe development keeps getting more complicated.  The latest complication can be seen in Doug Balog’s reference to mobile and social business on the zEnterprise, reported by DancingDinosaur here a few weeks ago. That is what the next generation of z developers face.

Forget talk about shortages of System z talent due to the retirement of mainframe veterans.  The bigger complication comes from need for non-traditional mainframe development skills required to take advantage mobile and social business as well as other recent areas of interest such as big data and analytics. These areas entail combining new skills like JSON, Atom, Rest, Hadoop, Java, SOA, Linux, hybrid computing along with traditional mainframe development skills like CICS and COBOL, z/VM, SQL, VSAM, and IMS. This combination is next to impossible to find in one individual. Even assembling a coherent team encompassing all those skills presents a serious challenge.

The mainframe industry has been scrambling to address this in various ways.  CA Technologies added GUI to its various tools and BMC has similarly modernized its various management and DB2 tools. IBM, of course, has been steadily bolstering the Rational RDz tool set.   RDz is a z/OS Eclipse-based software IDE.  RDz streamlines and refactors z/OS development processes into structured analysis, editing, and testing operations with modern GUI tools, wizards, and menus that, IBM notes, are perfect for new-to the-mainframe twenty- and thirty-something developers, the next generation of z developers.

Compuware brings its mainframe workbench, described as a modernized interactive developer environment that introduces a new graphical user interface for managing mainframe application development activities.  The interactive toolset addresses every phase of the application lifecycle.

Most recently, Micro Focus announced the release of its new Enterprise Developer for IBM zEnterprise.  The product enables customers to optimize all aspects of mainframe application delivery and promises to drive down costs, increase productivity, and accelerate innovation. Specifically, it enables both on- and off-mainframe development, the latter without consuming mainframe resources, to provide a flexible approach to the delivery of new business functions. In addition, it allows full and flexible customization of the IDE to support unique development processes and provides deep integration into mainframe configuration management and tooling for a more comprehensive development environment. It also boasts of improved application quality with measurable improvement in delivery times.  These capabilities together promise faster developer adoption.

Said Greg Lotko, Vice President and Business Line Executive, IBM System z, about the new Micro Focus offering:  We are continually working with our technology partners to help our clients maximize the value in their IBM mainframes, and this latest innovation from Micro Focus is a great example of that commitment.

Behind all of this development innovation is an industry effort to cultivate the next generation of mainframe developers. Using a combination of trusted technology (COBOL and mainframe) and new innovation (zEnterprise, hybrid computing, expert systems, and Eclipse), these new developers; having been raised on GUI and mobile and social, can leverage what they learned growing up to build the multi-platform, multi-device mainframe applications that organizations will need going forward.

As these people come on board as mainframe-enabled developers organizations will have more confidence in continuing to invest in their mainframe software assets, which currently amount to an estimated 200-300 billion lines of source code and may even be growing as mainframes are added in developing markets, considered a growth market by IBM.  It only makes sense to leverage this proven code base than try to replace it.

This was confirmed in a CA Technologies survey of mainframe users a year ago, which found that 1) the mainframe is playing an increasingly strategic role in managing the evolving needs of the enterprise; 2) the machine is viewed as an enabler of innovation as big data and cloud computing transform the face of enterprise IT—now add mobile; and 3) companies are seeking candidates with cross-disciplinary skill sets to fill critical mainframe workforce needs in the new enterprise IT thinking.

Similarly, a recent study by the Standish Group showed that 70 percent of CIOs saw their organizations’ mainframes as having a central and strategic role in their overall business success.  Using the new tools noted above organizations can maximize the value of the mainframe asset and cultivate the next generation mainframe developers.

Getting the Payback from System z Outsourcing

February 1, 2013

A survey from Compuware Corporation on attitudes of CIOs toward mainframe outsourcing showed a significant level of dissatisfaction with one or another aspect of mainframe outsourcing. Check out the survey here.

Mainframe outsourcing has been a fixture of mainframe computing since the outset. The topic  is particularly interesting in light of the recent piece DancingDinosaur posted on winning the talent war a couple of weeks ago. Organizations intending to succeed are scrambling to find and retain the talent they need for all their IT systems, mainframe and otherwise.  In short, they need skills in all the new areas, like cloud computing, mobile access, and most urgently, big data analytics.  In addition, there is the ongoing need for Java, Linux, WebSphere, and CICS in growing System z data centers.  The rise of z-based hybrid computing and expert integrated hybrid PureSystems to some extent broadens the potential talent pool while reducing the amount of skilled experts required. Still, mainframe outsourcing remains a popular option.

The new Compuware survey found that reducing costs is a major driver for outsourcing mainframe application development, maintenance, and infrastructure. Yet multiple  associated costs are frustrating 71% of CIOs. These costs result from increases in MIPS consumption, as well as higher investments in testing and troubleshooting due mainly to poor application quality and performance.  In fact, two-thirds (67%) of respondents reported overall dissatisfaction with the quality of new applications or services provided by their outsourcer. The source of the problem: a widening in-house skills gap and difficulties with knowledge transfer and staff churn within outsource vendors.

Compuware has published a related white paper titled, Mainframe Outsourcing: Removing the Hidden Costs, which expands on the findings from the study. The company’s recommendations to remove the costs amount to reverse engineering the problems revealed in the initial survey. These include:

  • Utilize MIPS better
  • Explore pricing alternatives to CPU-based pricing
  • Improve the quality of new applications
  • Boost knowledge transfer between outsourcers and staff
  • Measure and improve code efficiency at the application level
  • Take advantage of baseline measurement to objectively analyze outsourcer performance

The System z offers numerous tools to monitor and manage usage and efficiency, and vendors like Compuware, CA, BMC, and others bring even more.

The MIPS consumption problem is typical. As Compuware reports: mainframes are being used more than ever, meaning consumption is naturally on the rise. This is not a bad thing.

However, where consumption is escalating due to inefficient coding, adding unnecessary costs. For example, MIPS costs are increasing on average by 21% year over year, with 40% of survey respondents claiming that consumption is getting out of control. Meanwhile, 88% of respondents using pay structures based on CPU consumption (approximately 42% of those surveyed) think their outsourcer could manage CPU costs better, and 57% of all respondents believe outsourcers do not worry about the efficiency of the applications that they write.

New workloads also are driving costs. For example, 60% of survey respondents believe that the increase in applications like mobile banking are driving higher MIPS usage and creating additional costs. Just think what they’d report when big data analytic applications start kicking in although some of this processing should be offloaded to assist processors.

The Compuware study is interesting and informative. Yes, outsourcers should be pressed to utilize MIPS more efficiently. At a minimum, they should shift workloads to assist processors that have lower cost per MIPS.  Similarly, developers should be pressed to boost the efficiency of their code. But this will require an investment in tools to measure and benchmark that code and hire QA staff.

A bigger picture view, however, suggests that focusing just on MIPS is counterproductive. You want to encourage more workloads on the z even if they use more MIPS because the z can run at near 100% utilization and still perform reliably. Higher utilization translates into lower costs per workload. And with the cost per MIPS decreasing with each rev of the zEnterprise the cost per workload keeps improving.  Measure, monitor, and benchmark and do whatever else you can to drive efficient operation, but aim to leverage the zEnterprise to the max for your best overall payback.

Winning the Talent War with the System z

January 17, 2013

The next frontier in the ongoing talent war, according to McKinsey, will be deep analytics, a critical weapon required to probe big data in the competition underpinning new waves of productivity, growth, and innovation. Are you ready to compete and win in this technical talent war?

Similarly, Information Week contends that data expertise is called for to take advantage of data mining, text mining, forecasting, and machine learning techniques. The System z data center is ideally is ideally positioned to win if you can attract the right talent.

Finding, hiring, and keeping good talent within the technology realm is the number one concern cited by 41% of senior executives, hiring managers, and team leaders responding to the latest Harris Allied Tech Hiring and Retention Survey. Retention of existing talent was the next biggest concern, cited by 19.1%.

This past fall, CA published the results of its latest mainframe survey that came to similar conclusions. It found three major trends on the current and future role of the mainframe:

  1. The mainframe is playing an increasingly strategic role in managing the evolving needs of the enterprise
  2. The mainframe as an enabler of innovation as big data and cloud computing transform the face of enterprise IT
  3. Demand for tech talent with cross-disciplinary skills to fill critical mainframe workforce needs in this new view of enterprise IT

Among the respondents to the CA survey, 76% of global respondents believe their organizations will face a shortage of mainframe skills in the future, yet almost all respondents, 98%, felt their organizations were moderately or highly prepared to ensure the continuity of their mainframe workforce. In contrast, only 8% indicated having great difficulty finding qualified mainframe talent while 61% reported having some difficulty in doing so.

The Harris survey was conducted in September and October 2012. Its message is clear: Don’t be fooled by the national unemployment figures, currently hovering above 8%.  “In the technology space in particular, concerns over the ability to attract game-changing talent has become institutional and are keeping all levels of management awake at night,” notes Harris Allied Managing Director Kathy Harris.

The reason, as suggested in recent IBM studies, is that success with critical new technologies around big data, analytics, cloud computing, social business, virtualization, and mobile increasingly are giving top performing organizations their competitive advantage. The lingering recession, however, has taken its toll; unless your data center has been charged to proactively keep up, it probably is saddled with 5-year old skills at best; 10-year old skills more likely.

The Harris study picked up on this. When asking respondents the primary reason they thought people left their organization, 20% said people left for more exciting job opportunities or the chance to get their hands on some hot new technology.

Some companies recognize the problem and belatedly are trying to get back into the tech talent race. As Harris found when asking about what companies are doing to attract this kind of top talent 38% said they now were offering great opportunities for career growth. Others, 28%, were offering opportunities for professional development to recruit top tech pros. A fewer number, 24.5%, were offering competitive compensation packages while fewer still, 9%, offering competitive benefits packages.

To retain the top tech talent they already had 33.6% were offering opportunities for professional development, the single most important strategy they leveraged to retain employees. Others, 24.5%, offered opportunities for career advancement while 23.6% offered competitive salaries. Still a few hoped a telecommuting option or competitive bonuses would do the trick.

Clearly mainframe shops, like IT in general, are facing a transition as Linux, Java, SOA, cloud computing, analytics, big data, mobile, and social play increasing roles in the organization, and the mainframe gains the capabilities to play in all these arenas. Traditional mainframe skills like CICS are great but it’s just a start. At the same time, hybrid systems and expert integrated systems like IBM PureSystems and zEnterprise/zBX give shops the ability to tap a broader array of tech talent.

System z Application Modernization

December 10, 2012

People still complain about how they are held back by old green-screen mainframe applications. It’s not the underlying business logic or application performance they usually are complaining about—that apparently remains rock solid and relevant and has been, in some cases, for decades—but the user interface. Granted, 3270 apps are clunky to use and require plowing through cumbersome screen sequences to complete even a simple task and scream for modernization but they can be modernized through CICS.

Another complaint is that the applications are difficult to change, especially now when organizations want to provide access to mainframe logic and data to users with smartphones or tablets. The question then is what degree of modernization: a pretty GUI facelift or something more structural or maybe a migration to a new platform.  In the age of IBM hybrid computing, you actually have a lot more options than you did even a year ago.

IBM, mainly through the Rational Software group, offers a variety of ways to modernize z applications. You can start with the System z tools here. They enable you to develop mainframe-based applications in COBOL, PL/I, Assembler, C/C++, and Java, as well as workstation-based applications in COBOL, PL/I, and Java.

WebSphere, the app server, is another way to modernize z apps using Java and J2EE. IBM Rational Application Developer for WebSphere accelerates the development and deployment of not only Java, Java EE, Web 2.0 but mobile, portal, and service-oriented architecture (SOA) applications by providing integrated tools for development, testing, profiling, and delivery of applications. Recent upgrades to CICS also make SOA-based modernization even more appealing with support for some of the latest goodies like Atom feeds, RESTful interfaces, and more.

For several years DancingDinosaur has been touting SOA as the most direct way to modernize and repurpose mainframe logic and data. IBM Rational Developer for SOA Construction enables you to create and maintain RPG and COBOL applications as well as modernize them with a variety of techniques using IBM HATS. IBM’s developerWorks has the latest on SOA and web services. Ball State University has been using SOA to modernize its z applications for several years. For example, the school made the critical student schedule app, a CICS system, available to students anywhere, anytime, from any device.  You can read Independent Assessment’s case study here.

Since social business promises to be the next thing, you can develop social business applications through Linux on z, either Red Hat or SUSE, using IBM Connections and WebSphere.  Social business will become of interest to z shops as companies begin collecting social sentiment data on the z and want to analyze it fast.

System z shops actually have been doing some of this for a while.  IBM reports an ISV seeking to increase efficiency and improve time to market for its z software products took advantage of the Metal C feature of the IBM z/OS XL C/C++ compiler to enable its programmers to write code in the C syntax and leverage advanced optimization technology in the z/OS XL C/C++ compiler. The IBM compiler’s Metal C feature cut development time by up to 66% while the company capitalized on C programming skills.

Even IBM reports its CICS dev team tapped IBM Rational Team Concert and IBM Rational Developer for System z software to convert its product development cycle from the existing waterfall development processes to agile development methods. The team used the Rational products to create a highly configurable, end-to-end integrated development environment. Adopting an agile approach and using IBM Rational software has helped the team reduce the amount of preparation required for status meetings by 75% and improved the efficiency of status meetings, decreasing meeting times by 33%. Anything that shortens meetings is worth its weight in gold.

The point is that z shops can do all the sexy app dev stuff—Java, cloud, social, mobile, agile, SOA—to produce richer, more flexible apps faster. And do so without abandoning the z or eating its considerable investment in the mainframe and still bring the z’s compelling virtues it brings to the party.

Two Mainframe Career Futures

September 20, 2011

From a career standpoint, are these the best of times or the worst of times for mainframe people? If you read the front page of last Sunday’s Boston Globe, it looks terrible. If you listen to IBM, it couldn’t be better, and some job boards appear to back up IBM on this.

Boston Globe writer Katie Johnston started her piece this way: Brewster Smith specialized in mainframe systems for 35 years in the technology industry, recently converting his employer’s mainframe to servers that use newer programming languages. When Smith completed the project in July, his company laid him off because his skills no longer fit the new system. “It will take at least two years to train you to be productive,’’ he recalled his Concord, N.H., employer telling him. “Why do that when we can just hire someone off the street and they’ll be productive immediately because they know the languages.’’

Smith recently got a call from John Hancock Financial Services. The conversation ended quickly when the hiring manager found out he didn’t have experience with the current Microsoft Windows development framework.

IBM takes a decidedly different view. In a recent survey sponsored by the IBM Academic Initiative, it reports customers and business partners placed a high priority on the need for mainframe skills: Over 85% ranked mainframe application development skills as strongly required or required within their organization. These results point to an increasing need for organizations to groom the next generation of mainframe development skills.

As Johnston noted in her piece:  There is a dark side of tech, an industry in which skills and people can quickly become obsolete and some companies, believing high unemployment will give them the pick of ready-to-produce workers, don’t provide training. In fact, many companies demand candidates with skills that perfectly match their requirements.

There are very few jobs anymore where the skills you originally mastered will keep you securely employed for a decade or more. Almost every job skill in the computer industry is fleeting. Just think of all those Symbian programmers who recently had mastered a key mobile technology only to be reduced to near irrelevance by the rapid rise of smartphones with totally different operational attributes.

One high level IT manager in a leading mainframe shop puts it this way: There are some professions– dentistry, the priesthood, psychology, law– which require that members of that profession acquire a vast amount of knowledge and skill early and then can coast along for the next 40 years simply using that knowledge. Or maybe not. You can’t go skiing at Vail or golfing in the Virgin Islands without running into educational seminars for doctors or lawyers.

Then there are other professions, like IT, where everything one learns is obsolete within ten years or sooner.  You have to keep learning new things just to keep abreast of the technology, notes the IT manager.

Both types of professions can be rewarding, he concludes, if you go into them with the proper attitude. And that attitude is that you have to be willing to learn, even if you have to do it on your own nickel and your own time.

Are there programmers out there, asks the IT manager, spending 10 hours a week expanding their skills but learning the wrong things?  Undoubtedly.  Good IT managers not only should encourage their staff to broaden their skills but guide them toward which skills will be most valuable going forward even if they are not given the budget to support it.

The hybrid zEnterprise provides a valuable opportunity for mainframers to expand their skills into Linux, Java, and soon even Windows. The hybrid mainframe can handle SOA and mobile technologies and play in the cloud. Start familiarizing yourself with these technologies.

Today, every mainframer has access to other means to gain leading edge skills. All they need is a smartphone in their pocket. Apple and Droid provide rich SDKs to develop apps and marketplaces to distribute those apps. One mainframer leveraged his mainframe knowledge and rudimentary Java skills to write an iPhone app that sent a photo of he took of a wiring mistake to the trouble ticket system. The wiring got fixed, the company streamlined a process, and he demonstrated a valuable leading edge skill. The lesson: both old and new IT dogs must continually learn new tricks.

New Workloads for the zEnterprise

July 18, 2011

Even before the introduction of the z196 a year ago, IBM had been steadily promoting new mainframe workloads. With the introduction of the zEnterprise, consisting of a z196 and an attached zBX, the hybrid mainframe became real and with it the possibility of running and managing truly new workloads through the z.

Obvious new workloads would be AIX workloads previously running on Power Systems servers, but these aren’t truly new to the organization, only new to the z. The adoption of the Smart Analytics Optimizer, as Florida Hospital plans to do for medical research analytics, is a truly new application for the hospital and for the z.

The introduction of the z114 opens up the potential for new workloads on the z. This would be due mainly to its lower cost, entry pricing starts at $75,000. This lowers the risk of testing new workloads on the z. For example, would an organization now be more willing to try BI against production data residing on the z as a new workload if they could get a discounted price? They could, of course, run BI on a slew of Intel servers for less, but they would give up the proximity of their data and the potential for near real-time BI.

As recently as this past March Marie Wieck, General Manager of IBM Application and Integration Middleware, made the new workloads case in a presentation titled New Workload and New Strategic Thinking for z. In that presentation she identifies five categories of new workloads she deemed strategic. They are:

  1. Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics
  2. Virtualization and Optimization
  3. Risk Management and Compliance
  4. Business Process Management (BPM)
  5. Cloud computing

None of these, with the possible exception of Cloud, are new workloads. Organizations have been running these workloads for years, just on other platforms. But yes, they certainly are not the traditional System z workloads, which typically revolve around CICS transaction processing, OLTP, and production database management.

DancingDinosaur would like to suggest some areas of other new workloads for the z, especially if you can grab a deeply discounted z114 cheap through the Solution Edition program. And since they are new workloads, they should automatically qualify for the discount program.

The first would be Linux development and testing using a deeply discounted enterprise Linux Solution Edition for the z114. Developers could put up and take down servers at will, runs gads of test data through them, and the machine wouldn’t break a sweat.

Another should be SOA. Enterprise Linux combined with CICS access to production data should be a ripe area for new services-oriented, web-based workloads. You could even pull in smartphones and tablets as access devices.

Finally, there should be much that organizations could do in terms of new workloads using Java, WebSphere, SAP, and even Lotus on the z114. Here too, there will likely need to be Solution Edition discount programs available to reduce costs even more.

And then there are the x blades for the zBX and the imminent arrival of Windows on those x blades. That has the potential to open maybe the largest set yet of new workloads for the z.

The big obstacle to new workloads on the z is that these workloads already are running in some form on other platforms in the organization. So, what the z gains, the other platforms and the teams that support them lose. That’s a difficult political battle to fight, and the best way to win is to offer an unbeatable z business case. Even with the z114, IBM isn’t there yet.

To get there, IBM has to add the last piece missing from the new workloads picture painted above—a System z Solution Edition discount program that also includes a deeply discounted zBX. That could prove irresistible to organizations otherwise contemplating new system z workloads.

Mainframe modernization as the latest rage

May 3, 2010

With the economy beginning to improve, companies are crawling out of their bunkers and realizing they need new capabilities to compete in the post-recession world. Suddenly mainframe modernization is a hot buzzword. It even is being featured at Innovate in June.

To many, mainframe modernization means ditching the mainframe for sexy, low cost distributed x86-based systems with VMware or Microsoft’s Hype-V. The low cost of acquisition alone, they argue, makes this type of modernization a no-brainer.

However, the faster, easier, and, ultimately, cheaper way to modernize the organization’s capabilities is through the existing mainframe. This is where the organization’s most valuable business logic, proven functionality, and data live. Trying to duplicate all that and build a secure, 99.999% available x86-based environment is a losing proposition.  Rather, modernize the mainframe itself by deploying that logic and functionality in new ways and making that data accessible in more ways to more people for new purposes.

The old approach to mainframe modernization entailed unleashing an army of DBAs and system programmers to tweak database tables and CICS to squeeze yet another smidgen of performance out of the mainframe. This was tedious, labor-intensive work, and the results were far from transformative.

By contrast, today’s mainframe modernization promises to be thoroughly transformative by delivering System z functionality in new ways. This involves anything from DB2 financial data appearing on mobile phones to CICS data being mixed with distributed data in mashups so a worker can see, say, all aspects of a customer’s relationship on one graphical screen.  Now that’s transformative.

Mainframe batch processes can be modernized too. As IBM says in a Redbook titled Batch Modernization on z/OS: “New functional and non-functional requirements might require changes in the way batch is organized as well as require new technologies.” IBM calls it batch modernization. This is likely to be more operational than transformative. You can find the Batch Modernization Redbook here.

IBM, however, has been cheerleading a vision of mainframe modernization that revolves around SOA, Linux, Java, cloud computing, and a slew of web 2.0 technologies involving WebSphere, Lotus, and Rational as well as Linux and the System z. Now almost the entire third party ecosystem of System z tool providers is jumping on the mainframe modernization bandwagon. This includes GT Software, Rocket/Seagull, SOA Software, CA, and others.

SOA and services sit at the heart of IBM’s mainframe modernization vision. The basic idea calls for identifying and wrapping specific chunks for business functionality as services. It works. Sun Trust used SOA to modernize its System z for mobile banking.

Upgraded System z assist processors present another path to modernization. Specifically, adding an IFL opens up the mainframe to a wide range of Linux applications. Deploying a zAAP enables a System z to run Java applications. IBM has slashed prices on assist processors, cutting the cost in half in most cases.  Software licenses treat assist processors very favorably.

Combining Linux and Java applications on the System z with WebSphere or Lotus Live open up other modernization opportunities. To make this easier and cheaper, IBM is offering System z Solution Editions that include the necessary hardware, software, and middleware greatly discounted—sort of mainframe modernization in a box.

With signs that the recession is winding down, this is a good time to think about mainframe modernization. You’re going to need to compete, and IBM is eager to deal.


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