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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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
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