Evangelizing Mainframe
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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Sometimes it’s hard to be a mainframer—as Tammy Wynette almost sang back in 1968 when she recorded “Stand by Your Man” (or was it “Stand by Your Mainframe”)! I’m not trying to be flippant, but there are times I find myself explaining for the millionth time the advantages you get from a mainframe to people who use and work with (usually) PCs and have a completely different view of what computing is meant to be like.

I wrote a book in 1989 called “VM Performance Management.” And for the past few years, the PC guys have assumed that my book was at the cutting edge of technology, not 20 years old. They were busy installing VMware or its equivalent on their servers and were totally gobsmacked that the idea, let alone the technology, had been around for so many years—on a mainframe.

And then there’s CICS. This subsystem has been around for donkey’s years—1969 to be precise—and is still going strong. CICS TS V4.2 is the current release. With such a venerable piece of software running on the mainframe, why would anyone try to sell an off-mainframe version? An interesting question and one that the people at Dell must know the answer to. Dell, as you know, was one of the first companies to sell PCs directly to customers. It had a good reputation, and you find a lot of Dell kit in a variety of organizations. But it seems (and I have no inside knowledge here) that Dell are trying to grow in the B2B marketplace. Think about it, it’s better to sell 100 laptops to a company than just one to an individual.

And Dell recently took over Clerity, which currently markets UniKix, which Clerity calls mainframe re-hosting software. It runs on UNIX, Linux and Windows platforms. Basically, you can run transactions on Unikix in much the same way you can on CICS.

Unikix started in the early 1990s and was marketed by Groupe Bull for its UNIX machines. Fisher Technology bought it in the late ’90s and ported it to Windows. In 1999, PeerLogic got hold of it. Critical Path acquired PeerLogic in 2000. Sun bought Unikix in 2001 and sold it to Clerity in 2006. And now Dell owns it. Dell also recently bought Wyse—which used to make terminals. I use their Pocketcloud to connect from my tablet to my laptop. And Dell also bought Make Technologies. Which make’s you think they’re gunning for enterprise customers, offering alternative platforms and some kind of cloud solution.

So, my problem is that I’m busily trying to explain why centralized mainframes are a great solution to numerous IT problems, and yet the non-mainframe “experts” at the other end of the conversation are shaking their heads and saying no—only to find that a major supplier like Dell is moving toward its own version of a centralized system with its own alternatives to familiar mainframe software. It’s confusing.

And then there’s the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) platform issue. About 10 years ago, mainframe articles and PowerPoint presentations were incomplete without the letters S, O and A. Service oriented architecture provided a way to “modernize” CICS transactions, etc., so that the input and output device could be a browser window running on any device. The hard work was still done on the mainframe, but the user interface was no longer the traditional green screen; it was something nicely designed with the end user in mind. And nowadays, things have moved a step further, with the systems programmer being able to get monitoring information presented in a browser window, with full drill-down capabilities. What’s more, apart from being bang up-to-date, today’s mainframe can still successful run COBOL programs written 40 years ago!

Many distributed systems are even now still locked into using Windows XP because some specialized piece of software the business needs doesn’t work with Windows 7 or IE9, or whatever. These sites are beginning to see the benefits of software that allows people to log-in with their own devices and access the software that runs on the centralized corporate servers—you know, a bit like you can with a mainframe.

Perhaps imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s confusing to talk to people who reject every mainframe idea as being outmoded, expensive and arcane—only to find a short while later that they are embracing exactly the same model from a different source with a different name.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd., an IT consultancy. For many years, he was the editorial director for Xephon’s Update publications and is now contributing editor to the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. Eddolls has written three specialist IT books, and has had numerous technical articles published. He currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups.

Posted: 4/17/2012 4:01:53 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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