Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Leading Big Iron Edge

SHARE in Atlanta last week was an excellent event. Not only did I catch some great keynotes and many other valuable sessions, not only did I get to be with hundreds of my friends and favourite mainframers including many of the key players in the mainframe ecosystem, but I had the opportunity to see some of the many ways that the mainframe continues to be the most technologically-advanced business computing platform around.

But before I dig into the details, a couple of other notes, beginning with thanks for the comments on last week's blog post from my friend Marcel den Hartog (zMarcel) in the Netherlands and from my colleague Jerry Seefeldt with whom I attended a great session/discussion about local mainframe user groups at SHARE. It's inspiring to see the growing interest in local mainframe user groups, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they connect up and what role SHARE is able to play in it.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I met with my friends and colleagues from key mainframe publications at SHARE, including MainframeZone and the associated magazines z/Journal and Mainframe Executive, and IBM Systems Magazine (mainframe edition). I'm looking forward to continuing to publish articles and such with all three. And, I'd like to take the opportunity to refer you to the video series "Big Iron: The Mainframe Story (so far...)" which I worked on with the folks at CA Technologies, IBM Systems Magazine and various mainframe luminaries to produce. It's a great way to get more familiar with the mainframe.

Once you've seen those videos, you're ready to find out about just how leading edge today's mainframe is. I certainly was as I roamed the Technology Exchange Expo floor, and I was impressed with what I saw.

As always, IBM had the biggest booth, and in addition to having an actual mainframe running on the floor, they had other techology and plenty of people and stations to tell the world about all the great things happening on the mainframe that are keeping it at the forefront of high-end business computing, including Linux-on-z/VM cloud computing. One of IBM's biggest emphases was on their Smarter Planet initiatives.

Fortunately, the mainframe is much more than just IBM: it's an ecosystem with many technology vendors and the largest organizations on earth as the customers. So, each vendor had one or more (sometimes many more) things to show the world about how they're making the mainframe better all the time.

Many of the products are about enabling the mainframers of today and tomorrow to be more effective, including CA Technologies' role-based CA Mainframe Chorus workspace, and Chicago-Soft's Application Knowledge Capture™ service to retain valuable understanding from imminent retirees.

Of course, forming and educating a new generation of mainframers is a key focus, so Interskill was there, and CA Technologies announced scholarships for their Mainframe Academy.

There were also solutions for bringing greater end-to-end integration and functionality between the mainframe and the rest of the computing world, such as the Mainframe Event Acqusition System™ (MEAS™) which provides integration of real-time mainframe event information with McAfee's Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms.

One company, UNICOM® Global, even had their Founder, President & CEO Corry Hong at their booth, and giving presentations, in order to introduce everyone to all the solutions - both established and new - that they're involved with.

In addition to the content on the exhibit flor, there were also various other news and articles in the SHAREnews Dailies. And there were many discussions, including a focus group about "Big Data."

Of the many interesting sessions one of my favourites was Cheryl Watson's Hot Flashes, which has many of the latest and greatest tidbits about how to make mainframes run even better.

After a week at SHARE, it's clear that the mainframe is constantly staying ahead with world-class functionality and all the most modern technology to respond to the business needs of the largest organizations on earth, today and for the foreseeable future.

And SHARE is the place where it all connects.

Next blog post, I plan to share some interesting thoughts and insights from the various sessions and discussions I enjoyed at SHARE.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Back in the earliest days of business computing, when all printing and displaying of text was uppercase, it became apparent that the users of this technology would benefit from getting together to share their innovations and lobby for the improvements that would best respond to their business needs. Thus it was that, in 1955, nine years before the announcement of the System/360 mainframe, SHARE was born.

57 years later, the semi-annual SHARE conference has now opened in Atlanta with a great keynote by Jon Petz about how to survive and improve business meetings, to be followed by a week full of technical and how-to sessions.

When SHARE was founded, the name was what they did - not an acronym, but uppercase because computers didn't offer lowercase letters back then. One of the most important things that emerged from their first nine years of lobbying for their business computing requirements was the announcement of IBM's System/360, the epitome of business computing and progenitor of today's mainframe.

In keeping with SHARE's business orientation, the Monday and Tuesday of the conference now also include a parallel ExecuForum for key IT decision makers to meet and discuss issues from a business perspective. Many of these folks started their careers as mainframe technical experts before moving eventually to their current responsibilities.

One of the most important things SHARE has always offered above and beyond its sessions is an opportunity for business computing professionals - particularly those reponsible for large-scale business IT that includes mainframes - to network and do dynamic problem solving among peers. This hearkens back to the origins of SHARE, and it's something you'll see and hear in the hallways between sessions, at the various receptions, on the exhibit floor, in the session rooms before and after the presentations, and at meals and coffee meetings between colleagues who only ever see each other at SHARE - sometimes even if they work for the same organization!

While SHARE was the first computer user group ever founded, it didn't take long for others around the world to follow suit, so sister organizations in Europe and Pacific Rim countries have also existed for most of SHARE's history.

However, SHARE is the pinnacle - or, as I prefer to think of it, the nexus - of mainframe and large enterprise computing user organizations. And it's where you'll meet the key players - both people and organizations - in the ecosystem.

Interestingly, while SHARE is now 57 years old, it's actually getting younger. The number of first-time attendees seems to increase each time. Many of these newbies will associate with the zNextGen project at SHARE, but regardless of whether or not they do that, you'll see them taking every opportunity to chat with and learn from the many highly-experienced attendees who are delighted to be able to mentor them.

Of course, the session content is of significant value all by itself, so many people who can't be at SHARE in person are virtually attending SHARE Live! from Atlanta to benefit from the keynotes and other valuable sessions.

However, the opportunities that come from attending in person are even greater, and they include not only networking and mentoring, but also building lasting friendships that can be there for you at a time of need. I have personally experienced this.

Being at SHARE in person has yet another benefit: the Technology Exchange Expo, where you can meet people from just about any organization that wants to be seen as a credible part of the mainframe ecosystem, and learn about the latest in business information technology.

For those who wish to take their benefits even further, there are many volunteering and speaking opportunities, as SHARE is a volunteer-run organization (with the paid assistance of an organization that handles many of the logistical details, of course). That means that, whether you'd like to develop your speaking, people, or organizational skills, there are ways to do so with SHARE.

SHARE also has its share of traditions, from pins and ribbons on badges, to receptions, to group dinners and networking events, to special sessions that everyone tries to attend. One of my favourites has always been "Cheryl Watson's Hot Flashes" which is  at 9:30 am on Friday morning, and contains a summary of everything significant happening in the mainframe ecosystem, much of which she has gleaned from the content of the week leading up to her session.

Why all this detail about a user group and educational conference? Because, until you've understood the mainframe community and culture, you can't possibly understand the platform. The mainframe is much more than merely technology: it's at the beating heart of the key organizations in the world economy, and the beating heart of the mainframe is the people that make it run. And those people can be found at SHARE.

In my next blog post, inspired by all the leading-edge technology being announced and displayed at SHARE, I intend to write about some of the important innovations currently happening on the mainframe.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Easy Does IT

In my last blog post, I discussed the generations of mainframers, and called the current new generation of the technical experts that will act as the beating heart of this platform "Generation Easy." The problem is, getting this generation fully in place before the previous ones depart is not turning out to be particularly quick or easy. This post is about how to make it so.

First, though, I should mention that I also had some nice and appreciated comments from friends of mine in generations Charlie and Easy - thanks!

In 2005, I wrote a whitepaper and an article, and gave a presentation at SHARE, about the need to get a new generation in place on the mainframe, and what steps were necessary to do so. Since then, I've continued to develop my thinking and experience on this, and am continuing to write more articles on the topic as well.

So, this blog post is a good opportunity to sketch out the basics. To find out more, you can read my articles at and the related magazines (z/Journal and Mainframe Executive), or contact me for a consultation or presentation.

The first step is to hire new people while you still have experienced ones around to teach and mentor them, and do a proper transfer of responsibilities.

In-house projects and mentoring, including tracking down and updating obsolete configurations and programs, are important activities to get them going.

However, before that happens, you'll likely need to get your new people introduced to the mainframe, unless you're lucky enough to hire people have have done some initial learning at universities and colleges working with the IBM Academic Initiative. Even in those cases, though, some additional training can be helpful. There are a number of good options for this. Three that I'm familiar with (though this is not an official endorsement) are:

1) Have them join the z/NextGen project of SHARE (free). This will give them the opportunity to start connecting and learning, and also give them access to a select number of mainframe introductory eLearning courses made available for free to z/NextGen members by the folks at Interskill.

2) Go for the whole meal deal and sign them up for the complete selection of eLearning courses from Interskill.

3) Sign them up for CA Technologies' Mainframe Academy.

Of course, there are other options for introductory courses as well - and, ideally, if your organization is big enough to have its own mainframe, you should also have some of your own in-house introductory courses to help people get familiar with your particular context.

I can also strongly recommend self-study to complement this, and IBM's Red Books are excellent resources for this purpose.

Now, once your new people have the basics in place and have begun being mentored, getting to know your environment and doing introductory projects, the next important thing is to get them connected and acculturated into the mainframe culture. If you've already signed them up for z/NextGen, you've made a good start. Getting them involved with such communities is important. The follow-on step is to send them to a mainframe educational conference such as SHARE.

In fact, if you happen to be in the Atlanta area (or have the financial and schedule flexibility to make a last-minute travel booking), I can strongly recommend sending your newbies to attend SHARE in Atlanta next week. Or, you can sign them up to attend virtually with SHARE Live! from Atlanta.

In addition to the above, you'll want to update your local mainframe technology and culture to be more compatible with this new generation, and the one that follows it. I intend to dig into that in future blog posts. And, of course, there's room for plenty of elaboration on the above basics.

Next week, however, I plan to blog more about SHARE.