Posts Tagged ‘Java’

Compuware Aims for Mainframe Literacy in CIOs

November 13, 2014

Many IT professionals, especially younger ones, are clueless about the mainframe. Chris O’Malley, president of the mainframe business at Compuware, has met CIOs who are versed in everything about IT and have seemingly done everything there is with computers, but “they are not literate about the mainframe.” That means the mainframe never comes to mind. IBM could give away a zEnterprise for free, which it comes close to doing today through the System z Solution Edition program and these CIOs would ignore it. O’Malley wants to address that.

compuware MainframeExcellence2025_cover

In response, Compuware is following the path of the IBM System z Academic Initiative, but without the extensive global involvement of colleges and universities, with a program called Mainframe Excellence 2025, which it describes as a generational call for strategic platform stewardship. “We’re also trying to debunk a lot of issues around the mainframe,” O’Malley continues.

compuware O'Malley headshot

Chris O’Malley, Pres. Mainframe, Compuware

Compuware refers to Mainframe Excellence 2025 as a manifesto, something of a call to arms for millennials to storm the IT gates and liberate IT management from enslavement to x86 computing. Somehow DancingDinosaur doesn’t see it happening exactly that way; it envisions coexistence and synergy.

Most of the Mainframe Excellence document goes over ground DancingDinosaur and many others have covered before. It is delightful, however, to see others refreshing the arguments. And, the document adds some interesting data. For instance, over 1.15 million CICS transactions are executed on System z every second of every day! That’s more than all Google searches, YouTube views, Facebook likes, and Twitter tweets combined.

It also pays homage to what it refers to as the mainframe’s culture of excellence. It characterizes this culture by rigorous adherence to a standard of excellence demonstrably higher than that associated with other platforms, notably x86. IT organizations actually expect, accept, and plan for problems and patches in other platforms (think Microsoft Patch Tuesday). Mainframe professionals, on the other hand, have zero-tolerance for downtime and system failures and the mainframe generally lives up to those high expectations.

Ironically, the document points out that the culture of excellence has created a certain chasm between mainframe professionals and the rest of IT. In fact, this ingrained zero-failure culture of the mainframe community—including both vendors and enterprise IT staffs—can sometimes put it at odds with the very spirit of innovation that allows the mainframe to deliver the repeated advances in price/performance and new capabilities that consistently produce tremendous value.

Compuware concludes its report with an action checklist:

  • Fully inventory existing mainframe data, applications (including business rules), capacity, utilization/MSUs and management tools, a veritable trove a value embedded in mainframe code and business rules.
  • Build a fact-based skills plan with a realistic timeline.
  • Ramp up current and road-mapped mainframe capabilities.
  • Rightsize investments in mainframe application stewardship.
  • Institute an immediate moratorium on short-term cost-cutting that carries long-term negative consequences.
  • Combat denial and hype in regards to non-mainframe platform capabilities, costs and risks.

And Compuware’s final thought should give encouragement to all those who must respond to the mainframe-costs-too-much complaint:  IT has a long history of under-estimating real TCO and marginal costs for new platforms while over-estimating their benefits. A more sober assessment of these platforms will make the strategic value and economic advantages of the mainframe much more evident in comparison.

Compuware certainly is on the right track with Mainframe Excellence 2025. Would like, however, to see the company coordinate its efforts with the System z Academic Initiative, the Master the Mainframe effort, and such.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran IT writer/analyst. You can follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. Also check out my other IT writing at Technologywriter.com and here.

Mainframe Appeal Continues in 9th BMC Survey

October 30, 2014

With most of the over 1100 respondents (91%) reporting that the mainframe remains a viable long-term platform for them and a clear majority (60%) expecting to increase MIPS due to the normal growth of legacy applications and new application workloads the z continues to remain well entrenched. Check out the results for yourself here.

Maybe even more reassurance comes from almost half the respondents who reported that they expect the mainframe to attract and grow new workloads.  Most likely these will be Java and Linux workloads but one-third of the respondents listed cloud as a priority, jumping it up to sixth on the list of mainframe priorities. Mobile was cited as priority by 27% of the respondents followed by big data with 26% respondents.

ibm zec12

Apparently IBM’s steady promotion of cloud, mobile, and big data for the z over the past year is working. At Enterprise2014 IBM even made a big news with real time analytics and Hadoop on the z along with a slew of related announcements.

That new workloads like cloud, mobile, and big data made it into the respondents’ top 10 IT priorities for the year didn’t surprise Jonathan Adams, BMC vice president/general manager for z solutions.  The ease of developing in Java and its portability make it a natural for new workloads today, he noted.

In the survey IT cost reduction/optimization tops the list of IT priorities for 2014 by a large margin, 70% of respondents, followed by application availability, 52%.  Rounding out the top five are application modernization with 48%, data privacy, 47%, and business/IT alignment, 44%. Outsourcing finished out the top 10 priorities with 16%.

When asked to look ahead in terms of MIPS growth, the large majority of respondents expected growth to continue or at least remain steady. Only 9% expected MIPS to decline and 6% expected to eliminate the mainframe.  This number has remained consistent for years, noted Adams. DancingDinosaur periodically checks in with shops that announce plans to eliminate their mainframe and finds that a year later many have barely made any progress.

The top mainframe advantages shouldn’t surprise you:  availability (53%); security (51%); centralized data serving (47%) and transaction throughput (42%). More interesting results emerged when the respondents addressed new workloads. The mainframe’s cloud role includes data access (33%), cloud management from Linux on z (22%) and dynamic test environments via self-service (15%). Surprisingly, when it comes to big data analytics, 34% report that the mainframe acts as their analytics engine. This wasn’t supposed to be the case, at least not until BigInsights and Hadoop on z gained more traction.

Meanwhile, 28% say they move data off platform for analytics, and 14% report they federate mainframe data to an off-platform analytics engine. Yet, more than 81% now incorporate the mainframe into their Big Data strategy, up from 70% previously. The non-finance industries are somewhat more likely to use the mainframe as the big data engine, BMC noted. Those concerned with cost should seriously consider doing their analytics on the z, where the data is. It is costly to keep moving data around.

In terms of mobility, making existing applications accessible for mobile ranked as the top issue followed by developing new mobile applications and securing corporate data on mobile devices. Mobile processing increases for transaction volume came in at the bottom of mobility issues, but that will likely change when mobile transactions start impacting peak workload volumes and trigger increased costs. Again, those concerned about costs should consider IBM’s mobile transaction discount, which was covered by DancingDinsosaur here in the spring.

Since cost reduction is such a big topic again, the survey respondents offered their cost reduction priorities.  Reducing resource usage during peak led the list.  Other cost reduction priorities included consolidating mainframe software vendors, exploiting zIIP and specialty engines (which have distinctly lower cost/MIPS), and moving workloads to Linux on z.

So, judging from the latest BMC survey the mainframe is far from dead. But at least one recent IT consultant and commentator, John Appleby, seems to think so. This prediction has proven wrong so often that DancingDinosaur has stopped bothering to refute it.

BTW, change came to BMC last year  in the form of an acquisition by a venture capital group. Adams reports that the new owners have already demonstrated a commitment to continued investment in mainframe technology products, and plans already are underway for next year’s survey.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding. You can follow him on Twitter, @mainframeblog. Or see more of his writing at Technologywriter.com or in wide-ranging blogs here.

IBM POWER8 CAPI for Efficient Top Performance

August 21, 2014

IBM’s Power Systems Power8 Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI) is not for every IT shop running Power Systems. However, for those that aim to attach devices to their POWER8 systems over the PCIe interface and want fast, efficient performance CAPI will be unbeatable.  Steve Fields, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Director of Power Systems Design introduces it here. Some of it gets pretty geeky but slides #12-17 make the key points.

DancingDinosaur first covered CAPI here, in April, shortly after its introduction. At that point it looked like CAPI would be a game changer and nothing since suggests otherwise. As we described it then, CAPI sits directly on the POWER8 board and works with the same memory addresses that the processor uses. Pointers de-reference the same as the host application. CAPI, in effect, removes OS and device driver overhead by presenting an efficient, robust, durable and, most importantly, a direct interface. In the process, it offloads complexity.

In short, CAPI provides:

  • SMP Coherence Protocol transported over PCI Express interface
  • Provides isolation and filtering through the support unit in the processor (“CAPP”)
  • Manages caching and address translation through the standard POWER Service Layer in the accelerator device
  • Enables accelerator Functional Units to operate as part of the application at the user (direct) level, just like a CPU

What you end up with is a coherent connected accelerator for just a fraction of the development effort otherwise required. As such, CAPI enables more efficient accelerator development. It can reduce the typical seven-step I/O model flow (1-Device Driver Call, 2-Copy or Pin Source Data, 3-MMIO Notify Accelerator, 4-Acceleration, 5-Poll/Int Completion, 6-Copy or Unpin Result Data, 7-Return From Device Driver Completion) to just three steps (1-shared memory/notify accelerator, 2-acceleration, and 3-shared memory completion). The result is an easier, more natural programming model with traditional thread-level programming and no need to restructure the application to accommodate long latency I/O.  Finally it enables apps otherwise not possible, such as those requiring pointer chasing (e.g. Java garbage-collection).

Other advantages include an open ecosystem for accelerators built using Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA). The number and size of FPGAs can be based on application requirements, and FPGAs can attach to other components, such as private DRAM, flash memory, or a high-speed network.

Driving the need for CAPI is the insatiable demand for performance.  For that, acceleration is required, which is complicated and resource-intensive to build. So IBM created CAPI, not just for pure compute but for any network-attached or storage-attached I/O. In the end it eliminates the overhead of the I/O subsystem, allowing the focus to be on the workload.

In one example IBM reported it was able to attach an IBM Flash appliance to POWER8 via the CAPI interface. As a result it could generate Read/Write commands from applications and eliminate 97% of code path length, a savings of 20-30 cores per 1M IOPS. In another test IBM reported being able to leverage CAPI to integrate flash into a server; the memory-like semantics allowed the flash to replace DRAM for many in-memory workloads. The result: 5x cost savings plus large density and energy improvements. Furthermore, by eliminating the I/O subsystem overhead from high IOPS flash access, it freed the CPU to focus on the application workload.

Finally, in a Monte Carlo simulation of 1 million iterations, a POWER8 core with FPGA and CAPI ran a full execution of the Heston pricing model for a single security 250x faster than the POWER8 core alone. It also proved easier to code, reducing the lines of C code to write by 40x compared to non-CAPI FPGA.

IBM is just getting started with CAPI. Coming up next will be CAPI working with Linux, mainly for use with analytics. Once Linux comes into the picture, expect more PCIe card vendors to deliver products that leverage CAPI. AIX too comes into the picture down the road.

Plan to attend IBM Enterprise2014 in Las Vegas, Oct. 6-19. Here is one intriguing CAPI presentation that will be there: Light up performance of your LAMP apps with a stack optimized for Power, by Alise Spence, Andi Gutmans, and Antonio Rosales. It will discuss how to leverage CAPI with POWER8 to create what they call a “killer stack” that brings together continuous delivery with exceptional performance at a competitive price. Other CAPI sessions also are in the works for Enterprise2014.

DancingDinosaur (Alan Radding) definitely is attending IBM Enterprise2014. You can follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog, or check out Technologywriter.com. Upcoming posts will look more closely at Enterprise2014 and explore some session content.

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.


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