Evangelizing Mainframe
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If Your Mainframe Were an Animal, What Would It Be?

It all started as a bit of a joke with colleagues, asking them which animal they would be and why. But then it moved on to cars and other devices, and finally someone asked about their mainframe. If it were an animal, what animal would it be?

Obviously, the easy answer is that it would be a dinosaur – and that was the first suggestion. But after we’d all laughed at the well-worn joke, the next question was which dinosaur? Is it a  tyrannosaurus rexx, fiercely destroying other animals (computing platforms) to survive. A tyrannosaurus rexx is a top carnivore and that seemed right for the top computing platform. While we liked the strength of the image, it didn’t seem quite right. The next suggestion was that the mainframe was like a brontosaurus because it gets through huge amounts of work in a day, but there’s much more to them than that. Then we suggested a velociraptor because it was agile and could work in packs with other mainframes and looked like a good survivor in any kind of conflict. Mainframes can work together and have managed to survive (and evolve) since the 1960s.

One of our number suggested that their mainframe was like a goldfish. It sat inside a bowl all day and people looked at it. That was what happened with their mainframe: people would be allowed to look into the room and see all the boxes of hardware. We liked the image, but it didn’t really describe what the mainframe actually did. Some other fish—like a shark— were suggested, but they didn’t really hold water. One suggestion was that their mainframe was like an octopus because it had its tentacles into so much else within the business.

But then someone suggested that a mainframe was more like an eagle. It could soar high above other computing platforms and it was strong and resilient—the reason why it had successfully existed for so many years. One joker suggested that if it was a bird, then for some of its life it had been an ostrich with its head buried in the sand pretending that other computing platforms didn’t exist. These were the days leading up to the 1990s. But, of course, others argued that IBM wasn’t that bad at the time, and, besides, ostriches, which can be seven to nine feet tall and weigh up to 350 pounds, don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. Apparently, when nesting, they dig shallow holes in the ground to use as nests for their eggs, which makes it look like it's burying its head in the sand, There were some other suggestions, for example that their mainframe was like a penguin because it ran Linux.

We moved on from birds to mammals. Perhaps a mainframe would be a lion—and with Ginni Rometty as CEO— a female lion. The lioness has been described as the pinnacle of hunting prowess much like mainframes are considered by many as the pinnacle of computing. Like the velociraptors, lionesses hunt in packs—again like mainframes being linked together to do more work.

Another person suggested that mainframes were more like cats, saying that you could find out things from a mainframe, and cats were inquisitive. They went on to suggest that they liked working on a mainframe and cats were friendly. They’d played games on their mainframe and cats were playful. Their mainframe got lots of work done and their cat was very active too. But the idea was shot down in flames because cats are too independent and only do things on their terms, and mainframes aren’t like that (much).

Perhaps, a mainframe could be likened to a cheetah because it ran so fast. Or perhaps it was like an elephant because it carried so much responsibility for the success of the organization running bet-the-business work on it.

The next suggestion was that mainframes were like dogs because dogs can be trained to do so many useful things from seeing-eye guide dogs for blind people to herding dogs used by farmers. In the same way, mainframes can be used to do many different kinds of work using CICS, IMS, Db2 and other subsystems. And they don’t let you down.

A dog seemed to be the best animal analogy for a mainframe, but even so it didn’t scratch the surface of what a mainframe can do. How it can connect securely to browsers on laptops to send information backwards and forwards, how it can connect to the Internet of Things  and act on data received and send commands back. There’s no animal analogy for the API economy, DevOps or all the other rapid evolution that takes place inside mainframes while preserving the success of COBOL and Assembler applications that may well have evolved many years ago.

What animal would you suggest?

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and was an IBM Champion between 2009 and 2016.

Posted: 10/17/2017 12:30:17 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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