Apple and IBM Mobile solution deal could be a boon to z/OS as well

IBM has announced their strategy is around Big Data Analytics, Cloud and Mobile Computing. Apple has made an art of mobile computing through it’s iOS devices and App Stores. It’s clear that IBM wants to capitalize on that success and Apple wants to further entrench itself in the enterprise.

Going back in time, it’s not the first collaboration between IBM and Apple. The most famous relationship was Apple’s use of the PowerPC chip in earlier Macintosh computers.

Lessor known was a consortium, led by Oracle and including IBM, Apple, Sun, Alcatel and Netscape to promote the Network Computer Reference Profile, which would now be considered a Thin Client computer. This was circa 1996. This consortium was created to help attack the “lock” that Windows and Intel had on corporate desktops. The Network Computer was to be a less expensive alternative to PC’s and be centrally managed.
I had the pleasure of demonstrating a Thin Client connecting to an IBM mainframe at the launch of the reference profile at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The original IBM thin client was developed with the AS/400 organization (now System i) in Rochester, MN. They really understood the value and importance of these devices as the 5250 was just recently declared a “dead technology” by IBM and the AS/400 needed a new connection device. I was enamored (and still am) by the ability of a thin client to provide the best type of access to a server, with graphics and multi-media support, but leaving the device as stateless. In other words, no data is downloaded to the device so there is less risk of loss or mis-use of corporate data. I worked closely with Apple to ensure they had a 3270 emulator available for businesses to connect via Macintosh desktops.

Ultimately, this consortium failed. The chips were too slow. It was before Linux was becoming ubiquitous for embedded devices. There were too many embedded home grown operating systems that weren’t extendable nor easy to update with the latest web browsers and terminal emulators. They were probably ahead of the curve. Now, Thin Client computers are affordable an an attractive alternative to PC’s. I’ll be writing about mainframe possibilities in a future post.

Back to IBM and Apple. It may seem odd, but there’s a link to IBM’s mainframe operating system, z/OS as well. z/OS began in the 1970’s as the MVS operating system. IBM sold a base operating system and then a collection of piece parts on top of it: storage management, communications, transaction processing, databases, compilers, job schedulers, etc. These products were individually purchased, managed and operated. There was quite a collection of support personnel required back then. In the 1990’s, along came OS/390 and now its successor, z/OS. The same products are now integrated into a single system. This simplified installation, customization, ordering and management. It reduced problem resolution and improved up time. It has been a predictable schedule from IBM that demonstrated business value in each release. In many cases, the cost for a release remained the same or less than the prior release, to ease adoption and provide the customer with a technology dividend.

Let’s compare that to the evolution of Apple’s MacOS. There’s an awful lot of function in a single operating system image as well. At the kernel level, it can process the bash shell and look a lot like a Linux system. There is a tremendous amount of middleware shipped at no additional charge with the system. Recently, I was trying to run FTP and some other basic, UNIX-like, commands on Microsoft Windows. I found that if the code was available, it was not comparable and would require buying additional software to get a comparable level of support to the Mac. At the end user interface, there is a tremendous amount of functionality. The installation of new applications is simple. The systems management, at a high level, is fairly simple, but can be very complicated when it needs to be for advanced users. Apple’s iOS mobile system inherits many of these characteristics as well, but on a different chip, the ARM chip rather than the  64 bit x86 Intel chip. The ARM chip is a topic for another day.

Both z/OS and MacOS get labeled as expensive, out of the box, when compared to other systems. Each suffer from a lack of understanding of the true cost of ownership for their respective hardware and software systems. Both have excellent security reputations. Both run at higher levels of availability than the systems with which they are being compared. Looking inside those statements, a business must recognize that there is certainly an element of technology applied to those values, but also people and processes. Neither system is hacker proof, nor truly fault tolerant. However, through their wise use of technology, including close collaboration between hardware and software development and automation of processes, each of these systems can handle difficulties or risks that other “comparable” systems cannot handle.  It’s always been hard to put a price on “down time” or avoiding planned and unplanned outages. While it’s true that some folks complain about the skills set necessary to operate a mainframe is “different” than other platforms, there are generally fewer people required to manage the aggregate amount of work running on a mainframe than the comparable amount of work running on other systems. The reality is people can learn to work with anything, as long as they are allowed.

One of the biggest differences between the IBM mainframe and Apple systems is that IBM no longer supplies the end user device necessary to operate and work with the mainframe. There is no “face” to the mainframe. Originally, the mainframe was accessed by a 3270 “green screen” command line terminal, or worse, punch cards. Now 3270 emulators are available on just about every “smart device” there is. The 3270 interface remains a boring command line interface out of the box. Graphics and multimedia support, as well as touch pads and speech recognition are now state of the art for end user computing. z/OS needs an upgrade in that arena. New technologies, such as the z/OS Management Facility, have built in web access to do a variety of functions. IBM and independent software vendors have taken advantage of this new capability to further improve and reduce the skills necessary for the management experience of z/OS.

There can be even greater synergy, in the areas of transaction pricing and application development.

Back in May, IBM announced new mobile workload pricing for z/OS. Given the volume of new mobile applications and the fact that many of them might be just a query (e.g. Account balance, order tracking), and not revenue generating to a business, IBM is offering discounted pricing and lower measured usage pricing for these types of transactions. This could be a significant benefit to existing customers and future transactions that are developed to exploit the mobile technologies. The measurement tool began shipping on June 30th.

The IBM Rational organization, responsible for application development tools, acquired Worklight, a product tailored to enable rapid deployment across a variety mobile computing operating systems with a single code base. Now integrated with the suite of Rational products, businesses can build applications that support back end transaction processing and database serving on the mainframe, while at the same time, providing new end user accesses and experiences from a wide range of smart computing devices, including phones, tablets and desktops.

The only thing to stop this integration of the best of both worlds might be a business itself. By isolating development, deployment and operational teams by platform silos e.g. mainframe vs. Unix. vs. PC’s vs. BYOD, a company could actually have the unintended consequence of blocking integration and overall improvement of their business’ end user experience both internally and for their customer’ experiences.

Here’s to hoping that the Apple – IBM mobile collaboration is significant enough to get businesses to open up their apertures so that true integration of systems can occur, from the end device all the way through to their business critical systems. The reality becomes the end to end workflow is their mission critical business, not just one server or device vs. another. When fewer systems are involved in the overall integration of business processes, a business should see benefits in their overall security, availability and easier compliance toward business initiatives. Happy programming.


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