All posts by Jim Porell

Is z/OS relevant in the Cloud? ASG’s Cloudfactory says yes!

Cloud – one of the biggest buzzwords for the moment. It mostly deals with virtualization of workloads. As a mainframe architect, I am proud of the virtualization heritage of the z/OS and z/VM systems with  over 50 years of solving customer problems. IBM is always the first  to point out that the mainframe is the original Cloud platform. While I want that to be the acceptable answer, I was originally skeptical, but then, I think I’ve seen the answer.

What does it mean to be “in the Cloud”?

Recently, talking to one of my peers, who was telling me that “every problem” in Cloud could be solved on a mainframe, I decided to challenge him. I’ll start with the usability. I always fall back on three users: Consumers, Application Developers and Systems Programmers. I know on the mainframe, we have terms like Started Task that is analogous to Server instance or Daemon. I’ve written before how I believe the mainframe sales mantra has been to “boldly go sell where we’ve already sold before”. To me, Cloud is about new markets. So the challenge is, how do you “start the cloud” on a mainframe. For z/OS, my friend told me it would be via JCL. What? How many “newbies” know JCL? That’s pretty limiting. Okay, that’s the Systems Programmer’s perspective. What’s the end user interface for this “cloud”? 3270 command line? As soon as I hear 3270, my radar goes off….a mainframe unique skill. Well, the reality of 3270 command line is that it is really no different than a Terminal session within Windows or Linux. However, the commands, unless network focused, have a different syntax and semantic than those other platforms. So that doesn’t necessarily help ease the learning curve. So my hunt for the ultimate mainframe Cloud deployment continues.

ASG Cloudfactory for Mainframe

I attended a demo of Allen System Group’s (ASG) Cloudfactory solution.  It’s got an x86 version that allows a business to create a private cloud with a user interface that is simple and Amazon-like. What really struck me is that they’ve figured out how to use the same interface and apply that to z/OS. This appears to be the Holy Grail that I’ve been searching. I was not disappointed.

The new face of z/OS

First a look under the covers. ASG uses the, relatively new, z/OS Management Facility (z/OS MF), introduced to enable web interfaces to traditional mainframe management facilities. The goals of z/OS MF include creation of  a common interface, make it light weight browser-based, without need for “client” code on the end user’s device, leverage JAVA as the programming language and to get exploitation by all IBM system and middleware components, as well as offer the interface to vendors. z/OS does have a split personality disorder when it comes to a “common management interface”. IBM and every other vendor can and has presented their own “personality” for managing the mainframe. Here is a component that could help standardize that personality across vendor products. ASG is the first vendor that I was aware of to take advantage of the interface within their own products.

Traditional mainframe administration in a Cloud container

The engineers showed me how mainframe IMS and CICS transactions can easily be changed toward deployment via a web-based interface. They showed me how they could start and stop transactions. They showed how to do some typical mainframe systems programming, using the cloud interface. Cloudfactory Storefront

In their words, they’d like to transition the level of knowledge and effort of “older” mainframe admins into something simple and familiar that any Generation Y, 25 years old, can operate easily.

The workflow is fairly simple. A user enters the “Cloud store” to request a service. Information is filled in, specific to that task,  via the web interface. A job is submitted via z/OS MF, the results are received and presented back to the user.

Cloudfactory Mainframe work flow
Cloudfactory Mainframe work flow

Cloud based charge back

A capability that intrigued me is they can associate a price with each type of transaction. That price is “customer” specific. Was it a competitive price? It is only competitive in the eyes of the business that deploys this because they are the ones that set the price. However, it did present a new “charge back” model for consumers of mainframe IT within a business. I hold out hope that IT groups can use this pricing model to offer a competitive hosting environment.

It’s not all smoke and mirrors

Set up is required by systems programmers to enable middleware like IMS and CICS to enable deployment via Cloudfactory. That set up requires “traditional” mainframe management skills and up to two weeks to get an environment properly configured.

Mainframe Set up
Mainframe Set up

However, that is time well spent. The effort is to leverage the experts to automate, document and provide templates for re-use that allow the next generation of admins to become effective and capable faster. In the process, less human errors will occur and result in better business continuity.

In the presentation I received from ASG, it discusses an ASG Public Community Model that will enable a business to share templates with its peers. The goal is to help “lower the bar” on the effort required to learn, and speed time to deployment of simpler and automated management capabilities. This looks to be an intriguing capability, if effectively, utilized by the mainframe community.

See it yourself

ASG Cloudfactory for Mainframe looks like it really can change the “face” of deploying workloads on z/OS and make it a true competitor for Cloud hosting workloads.

If there is a downside, it’s that you can’t find many details or examples on the ASG website. That appears to be their unintended consequence of minimizing the details on their site. I received a presentation from them, from which I’ve included a few screen shots here on this blog post. You currently can’t find this level of detail on the ASG site. However, don’t be alarmed. I strongly encourage you to ask for your own demo. Feel free to contact ASG for more information by clicking here to request a demo. And truth in advertising, I have no business relationship with ASG, nor am I compensated by them. It was that impressive a demo that I thought it was worth sharing with this community.

Cloud and mainframes can definitely be synonymous. ASG’s Cloudfactory could be an important element toward opening up existing businesses to new opportunities. Happy programming.

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Secure Hybrid Computing – White paper

I’ve written several times about Hybrid Computing, data patterns, reducing costs, etc. Well, it’s all wrapped up in a White paper now, available at this site. HybridComputing.CaseStudy.Whitepaper.V1

Readers of this blog know that it is mainframe centric. They might be surprised that there is no mainframe nor, for that matter, any other platform mentioned in the paper.  Why?  It’s not about technology.  It’s about business.  Saving money and growing profits.  If that doesn’t get attention, I don’t know what will.   When systems are built together collaboratively, instead of fiefdoms, any business can save on a wide variety of server platforms.

In the paper, you’ll see that IBM and Vicom Infinity are working together with infrastructure that can be used to demo or develop proof of concepts to put these ideas to work. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me for additional information.

So get started thinking differently.  You can start with this blog and white paper. Happy programming. HybridComputing.CaseStudy.Whitepaper.V1

Rocket Software is Making z/OS more Open

Twenty years ago, IBM introduced OpenEdition MVS, their first foray into “opening” the mainframe to a new community of developers. This release included the Shell and Utilities priced feature.  Production cost varied with the size of the mainframe. If you consider that only a handful of people might actually use this code when originally shipped, the “cost per seat” was astronomical compared to what was free or inexpensive on desktop systems.  This was corrected when IBM began shipping this feature as part of the base of the new OS/390 operating system. This dramatically reduced the cost and skills needed for new workload development on the mainframe for customers and vendors. But without the revenue associated with the previously priced feature, IBM didn’t keep up with the open source community and quickly, these tools fell behind. This was an unintended consequence.

Over the years, IBM worked to resolve this through relations with other companies and their own developers, but the net was the code was still aging, until they met with Rocket Software. Rocket has been in the business of supporting  mainframe customers for over twenty five years. IBM found that Rocket was using open source tools within their own z/OS development team. Given the gap in true “openness” for z/OS, Rocket decided to release their source modifications and z/OS binaries into the open source community. Through the Rocket web site, any business can download the z/OS binaries at no charge, just as they might do with Linux offerings. If a business is looking for support of those binaries, a fee offering is available, just as one might find from the paid Linux distro providers.

Rocket originally provided five ported tools as a trial last year. This month, Rocket has delivered over four times that number of tools. This re-opens the Unix System Services development environment of z/OS. This latest group of ported tools can be utilized to bring more open source middleware and utilities to z/OS, by customers, other vendors or Rocket Software. Rocket is working to provide a level of skills portability across platforms and ease the knowledge base required to create, build and operate on the mainframe, regardless of z/OS, Linux or z/VM operating system deployment. Rocket has also developed Application Lifecycle Management  for Linux on System z. This new offering is currently available as a beta offering. It’s goal is to provide greater management of Linux applications that are natively developed and managed on and from the mainframe.

Now, let’s dream how the new ported tools can be used on z/OS. Some basic items: make will help you take other open source code and get that built for z/OS.  If you are considering some of your own development activities on z/OS, cvs can be deployed as a source code library management tool. In every instance, it’s all about how the use of open source software can be integrated with existing applications and databases to create something new that’s better than a collection of software that runs across platforms. Websphere developers that work on Linux or Windows systems will find some of these new tools will add value and ease deployment and improve skills portability for building applications for z/OS. If you really want to go crazy, the Apache web server is now part of z/OS. Add in PHP and DB2 and you can have WordPress running on z/OS. Now why have WordPress? You might integrate directly into your business applications.

Rocket’s not done adding to this list. If you ask nicely, they might be willing to give you an update to bash – a shell program that’s common on all Linux and the MacOS system. In fact, if there are other tools that you are interested in, let them know via their contact site. The ported tools can be accessed here. The Application Management Lifecycle for Linux tool can be accessed by sending an email here. Happy programming.

Unintended Consequences

I’ve found that many times in my career, a decision that was made for one reason, had unintended consequences in another area. Sometimes, these were good things and sometimes, they were not. I’ve decided to write about some of these activities in this blog. So you’ll see this title, as a recurring theme throughout my writings.

Here’s a list of the items I’m thinking about writing. Let me know what you think is most interesting to you and I’ll try to get them done earlier than the others:

  1. z/OS “stabilizes” it’s Shell and Utilities offerings at very old code levels- Rocket Software “fixes” that.  Done.
  2. OS/390 and z/OS are a better package, but they lost their sales channel. Now Solution Editions and new workloads help to drag z/OS. TCO and High Availability remain king.
  3. Apple and IBM mobile deal is pretty cool, but reminds me that Apple MacOS and z/OS are a lot alike – tons of value in a single package  – Done
  4. Use of z/OS Unix System Services introduces “surrogate” security – which might end up giving too much authority to an individual – what can be done to reduce that risk.
  5. MVS and zVM might have been considered the first cloud platform, but no one originally marketed it that way. Now, ASG’s Cloudfactory provides an Amazon Web services like front end for z/OS workloads. Done
  6. The IBM Mainframe is advertised as hacker proof, but the weakest link is not the mainframe, it’s the end user interface and people using them. What can be done to help prevent problems? Use of Intellinx zWatch is one method that a wide range of customers use to prevent human errors across platforms.
  7. Application development on the mainframe wasn’t always as simple as it was before the IBM Rational products came along and the Unit Test feature was added, which is also known as  the zPDT . This was difficult to bring to market. For the first time,  IBM separated development pricing from production pricing.
  8. Linux is ported to S/390 in December 1999.  Novell is offered the opportunity to be the first vendor on Linux on S/390. They say no.
  9. Human Resource lessons learned in a 30+ year career.
  10. High availability lessons learned. It’s not always the technology, it’s the process.
  11. Multi Level Security – probably the answer to a lot of cloud sharing problems, but no one knows what it is or does. It’s in production in some very secure locations today. Done.
  12. Thin Client Computing and usage with Mainframes