Evangelizing Mainframe
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What is the ‘Third Platform?’

In the U.K., during Tony Blair’s rise to power, there was a lot of talk of the “third way”—as an alternative to the more traditional alternatives, but at the same time, offering a new and unique solution. Now we have IBM talking about a “third platform.”

What is this third platform? Well, the suggestion is that it represents the next phase of the IT revolution! The thinking is that the first platform is the mainframe; the second is the PC; and the third comprises cloud services, mobile computing, social networking and big data analytics. While we’re doing definitions, “big data” is a general term used to describe the large amount of unstructured and semi-structured data that companies create from a whole variety of sources during a normal working day.

Analyst firm IDC, which kind of came up with the name, predicts that in 2013 the transition to this third platform will become a major focus of activity for organizations. And fitting in with this is IBM’s 2015 road map. This states that third-platform services and emerging markets will be key drivers for revenue growth. And IDC predicts that 51 percent of all new growth in the IT marketplace will be associated with this third platform.

In terms of third platform products, IBM has recently announced:

• Digital Analytics Technology, which is cloud-based and helps users analyze big data to identify customer behavior patterns
• IBM Docs, which allows users to share, view and edit their office productivity files
• MobileFirst, an aggregation of mobile tools to combine big data analytics and cloud computing
• SmartCloud storage access to implement private cloud storage

The move to this third platform, while interesting in terms of technology, is driven by purely commercial reasons. It’s an opportunity for IBM to become a major player in emerging markets where Oracle and Microsoft are already making inroads. And companies like Google and Amazon are looking to get in on the act, with Samsung hoping to dominate the hardware market for end-user devices.

From an end-user point of view, all you want is an easy-to-use interface that’s intuitive (skeuomorphism again) in a box that you can easily carry (if you’re a person who needs to move around) or sits on your desk. The interface needs to be small, so it doesn’t take up too much space, while at the same time being large enough so your fingers (if that’s how you’re inputting information) don’t accidentally press two keys at the same time or cause unwanted activities. You don’t really care where anything is located. Cloud storage for your files is fine so long as you can access them quickly and you know that they’re being backed up. Software as a service (SaaS) is fine, again, so long as the response time is fast enough.

The downsides of this approach, as any IT professional will tell you, are the usual bêtes noires of security, integrity and reliability. Data on a moveable device could be lost along with the device itself. Data could be hacked moving across WiFi links between the device and more secure areas. And the cloud storage needs to be secure, with regular backups and logging of changes in order to restore right up to the last second when the disks went down (or whatever mishap occurred).

In these days of data sharing and collaborative working, it’s important to maintain the integrity of files and ensure that two people aren’t updating a document at the same time. Or if people are working locally on their documents because there’s no WiFi in their area, then again, changed data mustn’t be overwritten. And reliability refers to the impact on the network and IT infrastructure, as a whole, while running a multitude of possibly disparate devices almost anywhere in the world. There are issues around support, licenses and infrastructure, as well. For example, can your IT hardware handle large numbers of staff watching the latest training video at the same time?

The issues around the ideas grouped into the concept of a third platform are definitely where the focus of attention will be for many organizations—and probably not because the IT department is pushing for it, but because other staff members are. It’s no wonder IBM wants to be a part of it.

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: 3/26/2013 1:01:01 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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