Czech Deer and Resistance to Change

Czech and Bavarian deer behave like some IT practitioners: their habits are hard to break. Animal researchers have discovered that deer living on either side of the now long ago disappeared Berlin Wall still remain on their respective sides of the border. Adult deer have a life expectancy of about 15 years, and the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago. None of the deer alive today have even seen a functioning Berlin Wall, yet they don’t cross that invisible line.

There are many invisible lines that some IT operators still do not cross. One example is restarting — “reIPLing” in mainframe vernacular — z/OS. There are many IT organizations with mainframes that reIPL z/OS on a regularly scheduled basis. Perhaps nightly, perhaps weekly, perhaps monthly. Why? Basically because their predecessors did — or maybe they did, since they have longer life expectancies than deer — starting some decades ago. For example, there might have been a memory leak IBM or another vendor fixed in 1974, but the operations team added a regular reIPL in 1973 in order to work around that particular problem. That was a great idea 40 years ago, but then nobody canceled that particular operational workaround.

The persistence of such obsolete operational practices could be a big problem. If the deer don’t cross that particular invisible line, their business users might not appreciate being knocked offline “just because.” Then somebody might decide to start shooting the deer, metaphorically speaking.

Please don’t act like a Czech or Bavarian deer. Try crossing a few invisible lines once in a while. Whether you’re a Millennial Mainframer or not, act like one. In this particular example, how about skipping the next IPL? You’ll then verify that your Cold War against memory leaks ended decades ago. Or implement Sysplex — inside a single mainframe works fine — with two production instances of z/OS and associated middleware supporting your most critical applications so that, if you insist on continuing to reIPL one instance, the other will keep providing business service to your users. There are some rather easy solutions to help you cross at least that particular invisible line affordably and with confidence.

It’s more than a bit frustrating when a computing technology (the mainframe) is more than capable of satisfying demanding business requirements, but a few people operating them or implementing them don’t support mainframe capabilities.

Please be a dear, not a deer.

U.S. Executive Office for Immigration Review Needs a Mainframe

They’ve reportedly been down hard since April 12. Reportedly five servers failed, and it’s taking weeks to locate and install parts. Wow.

The EOIR is supposed to adjudicate immigration cases in the United States. If your immigration case cannot be heard you’ll either not be cleared to stay in the United States until some time in the future, or your removal from the United States will be delayed. You’ll continue to be stuck in limbo, in other words. That might be good news for some, but overall it’s a disaster. An unrecovered one thus far.

It sure would be nice if the EOIR bought a modern mainframe. Or simply used a small portion of a modern mainframe at any of the U.S. government’s many agencies with mainframes, including the U.S. Department of Justice itself.  The U.S. government already has a mainframe-based cloud. My advice would be to use that mainframe cloud more and more often to help the EOIR and other agencies stay up-and-running.

Why I Liked and Disliked (But Mostly Liked) “Mainframe 50″

Last week IBM held a “Mainframe 50″ birthday celebration in New York City. While I wasn’t able to attend in person, I watched the live stream in its entirety along with thousands of others. If you’re interested in enterprise IT architecture and its future, I recommend watching at least some of the broadcast, particularly John Kelly’s (IBM Research’s) glimpse into the future.

There were a few bits I disliked, so let’s get those out of the way:

1. The event started at 2:00 a.m. in Singapore on April 9, 2014. No, you can’t please everyone, but 2:00 p.m. New York time on April 8, 2014, was a puzzling choice to celebrate the 50th birthday of the IBM mainframe, announced on April 7, 1964. (Never mind that IBM didn’t actually ship its first System/360 machines to customers until about 12 months later in 1965.) Thank goodness for replays so that I could pay closer attention to the details.

2. I wish I could have learned a bit more about why and how IBM’s zEnterprise is helping to fight the transmission of HIV from mothers to newborns in Africa.

3. With one significant exception I discuss below, I thought IBM could have had better product announcements to discuss at the 50th birthday party.

4. There were too many apologies and near apologies about age. In particular, there is no meaningful analogy to draw between 50 years of lineal mainframe application compatibility — an information technology and business triumph! — and the age of a human being. I would have drawn contrasts in any such attempted comparisons, not parallels. The fundamental financial industry business process rules concerning debits and credits are timeless and have no relationship to human lifespans. We’re all mortal, but application platforms supporting mission-critical core enterprise business processes based on timeless, foundational principles ought not be mortal. Big difference!

Those quibbles aside, I liked (a lot):

1. The customers. As is often the case, the customers brilliantly outshone IBM. Rightly so. I was seriously impressed when Anthony DiSanto described how (and why), within 6 months, Citibank replaced all the mainframes they had everywhere in the world — and they had/have many — with brand new mainframes, and with nobody having any idea when they did the work. “I can’t replace one blade server in 6 months,” he said, closely paraphrasing. Great point. Citi routinely performs heart and lung replacement surgery while the patient (their bank) runs its marathon, metaphorically speaking. It’s still an amazing feat I regard with a mixture of awe and admiration, and it’s what mainframes (and their people) do superbly and routinely. DiSanto also revealed that Citi is working with IBM on a “Bank in a Box.” Jim McCarthy from Visa and the other featured customers were also great. More, please.

2. The future of mainframe technology. John Kelly handled most of that mission. When you take a look at the video, take a close look at the chart Kelly showed with several cutting edge technologies specifically named. He also spent a major part of his talk explaining how past and current IT architectural practices involving extracting and moving data to processing are increasingly not viable. They simply don’t scale, especially when trying to solve many “Big Data” problems, securely. They never will given the surge in data volumes and the limits of physics. The common thread is that IBM is redoubling its efforts to move the processing to the information rather than the other way around, and the ultimate expression of that design philosophy is the IBM zEnterprise and its future iterations. Consequently most of the cutting edge and future technologies he listed on that #1 most important chart relate to continuing, significantly improved deliveries based on that core design philosophy. I think he’s spot on.

3. Relatedly, IBM announced (or highlighted?) Veristorm’s zDoop, i.e. Hadoop for Linux on zEnterprise. zDoop is a specific example of IBM’s vision, and it’s here now. In my view zDoop was the most important product-related announcement at “Mainframe 50.”

4. Hello, Africa! It’s obvious from “Mainframe 50″ that IBM is investing heavily in Africa and that zEnterprise infrastructure will figure prominently. I think that’s smart. It’s presently difficult to do business in Africa, and one has to be extremely patient, working diligently with businesses and governments over extremely long timescales. Africa’s development story is only just beginning, and it will take many decades to unfold. Africa is a good fit for IBM and for zEnterprise in many respects. If you’re considering an internationally oriented enterprise IT career, at least don’t rule out Africa as a place to spend some time developing and sharing skills.

Overall, well done, IBM. I’m definitely looking forward to the next 50 years, and I intend to be walking on this planet to the 100th birthday party.

A Fresh and Modern Look at All Things Mainframe