The IBM Mainframe: A Closed & Difficult To Commission Platform?

All too often in life we are led to believe that some things are just too difficult to achieve.  Sometimes we believe them, but hopefully, more often than not, the human spirit wins and we try to achieve the allegedly impossible.  Some might call it reverse psychology; I learned this myself as a 17 year old, having a serious leg injury having been knocked off my motor cycle, where the surgeon said “you will never walk without a limp or play sport again”.  Luckily, I thought differently and worked very hard to prove the surgeon wrong.  The surgeon wasn’t wrong, he was just far more experienced than myself and this was his way of telling me to do the hard work…

In the last several decades or so, there will be many instances of scenarios where people have stated that the IBM Mainframe is just too difficult to operate; too expensive to even consider and in general, just the preserve of an aging workforce, which will inevitably become extinct, just like the dinosaurs.  Of course, such a viewpoint isn’t necessarily balanced and pragmatic and the IBM Mainframe community, supplier and customers alike have safeguarded the longevity and strategic importance of this platform.

Having worked with the IBM Mainframe platform for ~35 years, one of the most inspiring and can do scenarios I have encountered was articulated at the recent SHARE Winter 2016 conference.  In a session named, I Just Bought an IBM z890 – Now What?, Connor Krukosky a student from Cecil Community College articulates how he commissioned a used z890 in his home environment for $340.60!  The several hundred dollars cost is impressive, but the most impressive aspect of this story is the can do attitude of Connor and the community spirit of those who assisted them.

In a timeframe where very young students can learn programming with low cost platforms such as the Raspberry Pi and The BBC micro:bit, isn’t it great that we can see a young adult student find a seemingly obsolete Mainframe platform via an on-line auction site and then find a way of commissioning that platform once again?

As always, where there is a will there is a way, and if you look closely enough at this scenario, even if you don’t know anything about the IBM Mainframe platform, you might just learn that even an IBM Mainframe first released in 2004 can be considered as an “open system” and with a “can do attitude”, can be implemented with little or no experience.

As for Connor Krukosky, good luck young man and great job!  I hope you find a great job in your chosen field and if it’s working with the System z platform, we welcome you to our open and proud community.

How Can We Energize Our Emerging zCommunity?

No doubt we have all experienced that most things in life and business are cyclical, hence the terms déjà vu, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, et al…

For System z, with the glass half-full, there are encouraging signs of pragmatic and collaborative executive leadership from the supplier ecosystem; for example, BMC, Compuware and IBM collaborating on a Standard Software Product Install Methodology For All Vendors. With the glass half-empty, even though there are proven statistics to demonstrate the penetration of System z in global large organizations, there are still some misplaced legacy perceptions associated with System z, from significant executive leaders.

Just as the IBM Mainframe automated business processes more than several decades ago, introducing IT into the business workplace forever more, we’re currently undergoing another IT revolution. Quite simply, an exponential growth in data, typically associated with Cloud, Analytic, Mobile & Social technologies. With this in mind, we should always be mindful that an IT solution should solve a business challenge and/or provide value for a business requirement. Therefore, the business themselves are best placed to articulate the framework and ultimate size and shape of solutions delivered by the vendor community.

The IBM Mainframe environment has always benefitted from User Groups that conceptually represent the customer, articulating requirements to IBM for future IBM Mainframe enhancement. For the avoidance of doubt, SHARE in The USA, celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2015, with SHARE Europe, the forerunner to GSE, being founded in 1959. These groups are the ideal forums for collecting and articulating user requirements to IBM, for IBM Mainframe and current System z evolution. Without doubt, there has been a resurgence in support for SHARE USA and GSE events in the last decade or so, but from a dispassionate viewpoint, how many IBM Mainframe customers are members of these User Groups?

As previously referenced, the executive leadership of major System z Mainframe vendors are demonstrating a willingness to collaborate. Perhaps now is an ideal time for the System z Mainframe customer to articulate their requirements to the major System z Mainframe vendors?

My admiration for those volunteers that contribute their time, knowledge and passion to User Groups such as SHARE and GSE is without doubt. I’m also positive that these User Groups would welcome the opportunity to represent a larger number of System z end users, which would no doubt generate more end user presentations at conferences, supplemented by generic and business orientated user requirements for System z ecosystem vendors to consider. This can only happen if the end users of the IBM System z Mainframe platform embrace this opportunity to shape the future of the System z Mainframe, as it rapidly evolves, both in technological advancement and an emerging willingness for collaboration from vendors.

Having worked with IBM Mainframes for over 30 years, I’m no longer surprised about the quality and professionalism of personnel I encounter at user sites. A granularity of knowledge can sometimes be applied, with all-rounders demonstrating savvy technical and commercial knowledge at small capacity installations and Subject Matter Experts (SME), typically in larger capacity installations, demonstrating level 3 diagnostic capability. In an ideal world, the executive leadership at these System z Mainframe user sites should also participate in a forum of like-minded peers, allowing them to embrace and value the System z platform. There are certainly such Senior Management streams at SHARE and GSE events, but once again, if the System z end user isn’t a User Group member and/or doesn’t attend these events…

In our real life domestic environments, we can lobby our local government official (Member Of Congress/Parliament, MC/MP, et al), allowing for generic or specific representation for all people alike. In theory, in an evolving IT world, there is no reason why a System z Mainframe user can’t lobby a vendor for a user requirement. As always, no one of us, is as good as all of us! Therefore just as System z Mainframe vendors are collaborating, as and when practicable, now is the time for the System z Mainframe end users to collaborate, no matter how large or small, for the benefit of all. Given that the forums for collaboration already exist, for example SHARE USA and GSE, System z end users can easily leverage from these User Groups, to generate a coherent and notable voice.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if 80%+ of System z Mainframe end users were User Group (E.g. SHARE, GSE) members and several of their technicians and one senior manager attended their local annual conference? The cost, minimal, the value, arguably priceless!

From my own viewpoint, I have recent real-life experience of engaging a major System z vendor, with a commercial user requirement collected from tens of smaller capacity Mainframe users, where said submission is being considered. This is perhaps a brave new world…