IBM has a particularly big load of Big Data-related announcements this week (the first full week of October, 2015). It seems like a great time to take stock of what IBM has been up to lately.

  • IBM is unveiling Version 5.1 of the IBM DB2 Analytics Accelerator (IDAA) with new in-database analytics, in-database transformation, and accelerator-only tables. There’s literally nothing else like IDAA and its marriage of the world’s best, most secure Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) database with state-of-the-art, real-time analytics, warehousing, and business intelligence in a single, integrated information system. I literally don’t know of anybody who isn’t thrilled with their IDAA since it’s so thoroughly democratizing real-time, every-time analytics all the way out to end-users and mobile devices. This might be IBM’s biggest “killer app,” so do check it out.
  • Is DB2 12 here already? Almost. Yes, IBM is previewing its latest version of the flagship DB2 for z/OS. Among my favorite new features, DB2 12 will significantly improve its in-memory database capabilities and take more advantage of those many terabytes of system memory in the IBM z13 machines. There’s a great deal of emphasis on improved cloud provisioning capabilities including “SQL as a Service” (SQLaaS) RESTful interfaces. The new SQL TRANSFER OWNERSHIP statement is intriguing and mighty useful for maintaining security control over sensitive data. (And what isn’t sensitive data?) The efficiency improvements look unusually impressive, too, with IBM tossing out some bigger numbers than I’ve seen before. This’ll be a version you’ll have even more reason to get onto as quickly as possible even if only to pick up the efficiency gains, though you will likely have to allocate some more memory — an excellent trade to make. (Over-economizing on memory is false economy and a very bad idea.) If you’re interested in getting an early start on DB2 12 then IBM is putting out the call to sign up for the Early Support Program (ESP).
  • Version 8.8 of IBM’s Operational Decision Manager should be generally available in a couple months. Not only is this version particularly lucky in China, it’s particularly useful everywhere for its new “Decision Server Insights” feature that helps improve ODM’s ability to make snap decisions based on even complex rules and events. ODM for z/OS at least starts to imbue new, emerging cognitive computing and analytic capabilities into enterprise transactions and concurrent batch flows. As before it’s also a powerful, high performance way to cut down on application maintenance and, again, to democratize what used to be traditional application development. ODM is available for several platforms, but it’s an exceptionally strong fit with unique run-time benefits on z/OS and on Linux on z.
  • CICS Transaction Server Version 5.3 for z/OS is particularly notable for its new and enhanced cloud services capabilities, and the Java-related improvements are also impressive. No matter what programming languages you prefer — or non-programming approaches to building solutions — CICS TS probably has you covered and covered extremely well.
  • IMS Version 14 becomes generally available later this month, and (in particular) it includes several improvements that help assure continuous business service in what are among the most critical business and government systems in the world.
  • z/VSE users, this is your week, too: a new version of z/VSE and of CICS Transaction Server for z/VSE, both with lots of useful improvements. As before, I recommend pairing your z/VSE environments with Linux on z and/or z/OS to tap into those solution portfolios too, and IBM has a lot of options built into z/VSE to help you do that cost effectively.

To read up on these and other IBM announcements, visit IBM’s announcements Web site at http://www.ibm.com/common/ssi.

Posted in IBM.
Give a damn balloon

So the mainframe blogosphere has already written up and down about the new zBC12 mainframe that IBM announced yesterday.  Big woopdie do.  So what that it’s harder, better, faster, stronger? Most millennials don’t even know what the hell a mainframe is, let along why they should care about a faster one.  In contrast, here are four reasons that Millennials should care about the mainframe announcements.

  1. The old-school mainframe stuff is getting more user friendly.  At present, most IT professionals that work on mainframes use an interface known as a 3270 “green screen” terminal.  However, Millennials have probably never seen an actual 3270 terminal, unless they play the Bethesda Software Fallout series.  This is because older mainframe professionals have adopted a “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude and used 3270 emulators on their PCs or tablets.  While 3270 isn’t a deal-breaker, it can be annoying as hell to Millennials when they first discover that their laptop keyboards seem to be missing many critical mainframe keys (um. Where’s the reset key?) or that 3270 isn’t character-oriented like UNIX terminals, but stuck with 80 x 24 character panels that behave statically and are difficult to resize.  Well, the mainframe leadership has recently come around and realized that the future vitality of the mainframe is tied to making interfaces more full-featured and attractive.  This is reflected in the latest announcements, which feature deeper integration of web-based management consoles into z/OS (the workhorse operating system for massive databases, analytics, and transaction processing) and z/VM (the hypervisor used to run Linux workloads).  On the z/OS side, the z/OS Management Facility has become Larry Page snappy due to a move to a lightweight TomCat-like app server called Liberty Profile.  Additionally, it’s learned new skills and can now do many things BETTER than old-school methods.  On z/VM, the new version comes preinstalled with a nifty management GUI called xCAT, but it’s likely that IBM’s purchase of CSL recently means that the xCAT will be replaced by an even niftier CSL-Wave and its “lickable GUI.”  The bottom line is that while the legacy 3270 interfaces currently remain critical for mainframe professionals, the newer web portals are rapidly catching up in functionality and usability, making Millennial Mainframers far more productive.
  2. The new-school mainframe is getting more millennial.  While there are still a fair amount of CICS applications written in COBOL out there, Java and Linux workloads are the largest growth areas on mainframes, accounting for more than half of mainframe sales over the past few quarters.  That’s largely because IBM has committed to pricing these sorts of workloads lower than the old-school stuff, resulting in double digit revenue growth and shipped mainframe capacity.  Given that this is what most millennials learn in school, this shift very much plays to our advantages.  Our learning curves become that much less steep, as we actually get a chance to teach our older mentors a thing or two about tech.  Plus, we feel a bit more vindicated for racking up all that student debt for Linux and Java coursework.
  3. The mainframe is lifting off into the clouds.  Unlike the trope that the “mainframe has already been a cloud” or that “cloud is just marketing-speak,” the mainframe is actually starting to resemble what the market actually considers cloud computing.  With z/VM 6.3, Linux virtualization on the mainframe is now OpenStack compliant, which means that any OpenStack-based infrastructure can orchestrate and manage these workloads.  While Amazon is still the dominant cloud vendor (and seems to have kicked IBM’s ass in a fight for the CIA’s private cloud), IBM’s alliance with Rackspace and deep investments in the open-source OpenStack community position seem to be helping position the mainframe for cloud data centers.
  4. The Mainframe is critical to IBM’s future and Millennial talent is critical to the Mainframe.  If the trade rags are to be believed, IBM has long been in discussions with the Chinese tech giant Lenovo over selling IBM’s Intel-based server division.  These systems are the sorts of “industry-standard” systems that power most major data centers, but given that these servers are now considered a commodity, most major internet companies have stopped buying their server infrastructure from tech vendors and build their own or order from low-cost third parties.  If IBM were to disengage from this market, they would likely increase their focus on mainframes and POWER-based systems.  IBM software and services would continue to support Intel-servers, but there would likely be incented to support and grow footprints of IBM systems running IBM processors.  Between the fact that mainframes are more profitable for IBM and that the mainframe’s z/Architecture is ideally suited for the sorts of high I/O workloads of a shared-everything cloud data center, I predict that mainframes would greatly benefit from this turn of events.  This in turn would mean that millennials that position themselves for this sea change would profit handsomely.

So that’s why Millennials should give a damn about these new announcements.  If you’re a millennial and you read this entire article, mad kudos.  Consider hooking up with Millennial Mainframer by clicking one of the social login buttons and setting up a profile.  Our community of young mainframers would love to help you get your mainframe swag on.  Speaking of swag, think about checking out the IBM Master the Mainframe Contest, where you can win glory, T-Shirts, iPads, and full-expense paid trips to Poughkeepsie, NY (Hells Bells!).  The new iteration of the contest should be kicking off in most countries in the near future.  If you try it and like it, maybe then check out the world’s first Mainframe Computing MOOC from Marist College.  Once you’ve done all that, you can lean back old-g style and represent za za za za za zee-unit by racking up stack of achievements here on Millennial Mainframer.

Peace!

In an earlier post this summer, Anthony Critelli and Alex Belcher touched on their experiences with mainframe education at RIT, and more importantly, how as young technologists they’ve come to understand the mainframe and its continuing importance. In another previous article, we’ve referenced the IBM System z Academic Initiative and popular mainframe education offerings from partner schools like Marist College, which each work to make the mainframe accessible and attractive to a new generation. However, as a proud graduate of the University of Arkansas and native Arkansan, I think I’d be amiss if I didn’t talk a little about the role of mainframe educationat the University of Arkansas and what we do here in Fayetteville to promote the body of skills and technological understanding that today’s students need to be competitive in mainframe roles. Just as our football program (currently ranked #10 in the most recent poll) gets students yelling “Woo Pig Sooie!” with our skills on the field, it’s my opinion that the school is likewise a leader in the classroom for training students in the skills that modern businesses need.

At the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business, the mainframe is a key component of not just the Information Systems program itself, but the greater college’s technology education offerings as well.  The IBM-donated z10 system operated by the Enterprise Systems group at the college serves up a number of key business applications and datasets that benefit student learning interests across disciplines.

How does that work, exactly?  In my opinion, this is made possible due to three key factors: innovative educators, the modern mainframe’s incredible workload flexibility, and the generous support of Fortune 500 companies in the University’s backyard: companies which understand and advocate the vital importance of all students gaining a practical technology background to be competitive in the 21st century.

Arkansas-grown members of the Fortune 500, such as Walmart Stores, Tyson Foods, and Dillard’s Department Stores have each donated obfuscated real-world datasets from their own daily operations and data warehouses to the college.  These real-world warts and all’ datasets not only enable IT students to learn core technology topics and problem solving on data as it appears in the wild, but access to these datasets can also empower business students to study the technology component of their fields, too.

For example, students in marketing and management disciplines can learn marketing techniques
by using business intelligence tools on obfuscated department store transaction data from Dillard’s, served up by DB2 under z/OS.  For another key example, many students in accounting, finance and logistics can learn a top-down view of their roles and business processes in general via competitive simulations and reporting in the world’s leading enterprise resource planning software, SAP.The SAP courses (which the college hosts on the mainframe in instances of SUSE Linux running under z/VM) have remained popular across all disciplines since their inception nearly eight years ago, as training in enterprise resource planning suites offer both valuable application skills and exposure to some of the practical aspects of executing modern business processes.

Again, at Arkansas, the mainframe helps empower all of these capabilities to drive serious educational benefits for students, in addition to the usual IT topics like programming & design.  Did I mention that these educational opportunities have been provided to programs internationally which partner with the college—not just those local to the University of Arkansas?  This is a bit of a testament to the scale, security, and reliability that the modern mainframe can provide.In this case, the mainframe is a significant driving component in the education of hundreds of students each year across a variety of the applications that truly run businesses today, and it does it all while sharing those learning opportunities to a wider audience at other schools in other locations.  Today’s modern mainframe is immensely capable and powers many of the world’s best organizations, and the University of Arkansas business technology curriculum keeps that in mind.

This arrangement really demonstrates that the mainframe is a key platform in an ideal mix to give students the technology tools they need to be competitive across business disciplines today:  it helps drive teaching in business process understanding and the technology aspects of traditional business disciplines.  And for IT-centric students, the mainframe can help deliver education for more practical skills in more areas than you might expect:  business analytics, ERP, Linux, web development, modern and legacy applications, and more!

Students who want an emphasis in enterprise Information Systems can progress to write programs in languages such as ABAP, COBOL, Java and .NET to integrate their mainframe-hosted projects with a variety of other enterprise technologies, such as Teradata-hosted warehouses or Microsoft SQL Server-hosted databases.

Two Enterprise Systems courses in particular are offered at Arkansas to specifically teach the mainframe in depth.  With a bit of a call-back to Akram Wahab’s recent post on IBM’s Rational software offerings for the mainframe, these courses both use a mix of the very nice Rational Developer for z graphical tools and good ‘ol green screen to provide an easier route to understanding what the mainframe can do.  With access to the Rational toolset, students new to the mainframe at Arkansas get a great balance of accessibility and familiarity through development tools they already know, while enabling them to gradually build comfort in getting down and dirty with a more traditional terminal for building deeper skills.  Personally, I really liked the experience of having both means to develop my applications when I was in the program’s two mainframe courses.

The first Enterprise Systems course, an introductory one, focuses on some of the essential basics, like getting comfortable with TSO, ISPF & JCL in z/OS, and building a website with an associated web application in virtualized SUSE Linux.

The second, a more advanced class, focuses on building transactional applications much like what a bank, retailer, insurer or logistics firm might use to conduct their daily operations.  Teaching students some elementary COBOL basics, DB2 essentials and CICS transaction server administration skills, the class helps students understand how the key transactional systems that run the world are architected and administered.  Furthermore, students can learn how to roll their coursework into web services to be used online or in a set of practical business services to be accessed by other systems.

Having been a graduate of both the Information Systems undergraduate and graduate programs, it’s my opinion that the University of Arkansas is an excellent champion of the ideals developed and supported by the IBM Academic Initiative for System z.  For students, I’d say it’s a true win-win to say “Woo pig sooie!” and make the choice to learn real business computing as a Razorback at Arkansas!

To learn a little bit more about how the University of Arkansas uses the mainframe to educate students, check out the University’s Enterprise Systems site and have a listen to this great IBM developerWorks interview with Enterprise Systems head Dr. David Douglas and Dr. Paul Cronan, MD Matthews endowed chair and director of the school’s MIS program.

Posted in Uncategorized.