Monday, 26 May 2008

What’s in a data centre – or the Wild Bunch ride again!

What’s in a data centre? The answer must be IBM mainframe boxes of various sorts, mustn’t it? But the truth is that the data centre, since the hay day of the glass house, has always housed an array of hardware from a variety of sources.

Does anyone remember the BUNCH? In the late 1970s, IBM was the top mainframe vendor, followed by: Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell. Before my time – during the 1960s – the computer manufacturers had apparently been known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That’s IBM, the BUNCH, and two other companies (RCA and General Electric).

The next question is where are they now? General Electric sold its computer business to Honeywell, and RCA sold its to UNIVAC back in the very early 1970s. In 1986 Buroughs bought Sperry – the people who owned UNIVAC – and formed Unisys, which is still with us. AT&T bought NCR in 1991, but brought it back in 1997. The hardware manufacturing part was sold to Solectron in 1998, and NCR is still going – but not making mainframes. Control Data Corporation gradually disappeared and is now part of BT Global Services. Honeywell is still with us, but sold its computer division to Groupe Bull.

That was then, this is now. Who has replaced the (wild) BUNCH? If you walked into a data centre today, whose hardware would you expect to see? IBM is still there. The company recently upgraded its mainframes to the z10. Not only does it have mainframes it also offers Unix boxes (the old RS/6000s) and it has x86 servers for people who want that sort of thing – and, to be brutally honest, that’s everyone except large banks, building societies, airlines, and any other giant corporation. Hewlett-Packard (the company that swallowed Compaq, the company that bought DEC) is a major player. I’m still convinced most of their revenue comes from replacement print cartridges!! HP is keen on virtualization and green strategies in the data centre. Sun is still a major player. The people who brought us Java now offer "instant data centre" with their Project Blackbox – a data centre in a shipping container that can set up your data centre anywhere and be running immediately. Fujitsu Siemens has their Primergy servers using quad-core processors. There’s also Dell, which has partnered with Oracle, EMC, and Intel to produce project MegaGrid, for grid computing. And still with us is Unisys, which now has ES5000 blade servers, and Bull, which is also keen on virtualization.

Other names you may remember are Amdahl – which used to produce mainframes that were said to be better than the IBM equivalents. There was Cray – the supercomputers that were used by the meteorological service to predict the weather and other organizations needing really powerful number crunching. I mentioned DEC briefly above. They were the people who gave us the PDP11 and other great computers.

It will be interesting in 10 years time to see which hardware vendors are still around. Maybe Nokia will be in the data centre! Homework this week is to try to make a word (like bunch) from the initials of HP, Sun, Fujitsu Siemens, Dell, Unisys, and Bull!!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Saving money on mainframes

Mainframes have always been expensive. The hardware is expensive in the first place, and the software is expensive to run on it. That’s the main reason given by many organizations for migrating off the mainframe – it’s too expensive. A couple of Windows laptops and a bit of freeware downloaded off the Internet and you’re back in business!! Well, the old Dinosaur Myth publication put that sort of logic in its place years ago, and, although the publication is a good few years out-of-date now, the theory behind it is still correct.

And for people who have never seen the Dinosaur Myth, you can still download a copy from

So, we’re left with the unenviable conclusion that all computing is expensive, it’s just whether you’re prepared to pay the money up front or you’re forced to pay out later.

This rather grim conclusion would lead one to ask, is there any way of saving money? And the answer is a pleasing "Yes". Traditionally, mainframes have a General Purpose Processor (GPP) that performs all the processing on the computer. Usage of that processor has been measured in Millions of Instructions Per Second (MIPS) and that has given IBM an easy way to charge for their computers – on how much work you are making them do, ie how many MIPS they are using. It’s a bit like charging for van hire by how many miles the van goes while it is being rented. What users really wanted was some other processing engine that could do some processing and reduce the MIPS used by the GPP. IBM came up with such a solution. They invented (and of course sold) specialty processors. I’m talking here about zIIP (System z9 Integration Information Processor) and zAAP (System z Application Assist Processor). Basically, any workloads run on these specialty engines do not form part of an organization’s contracted mainframe processing capacity. So their use results in a reduction in that organization’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). As a consequence, not only do they get reduced software costs, they also get additional processing capacity – and that can be used to eliminate or delay the next upgrade

It’s a bit of a swings and roundabouts situation though. An organization needs to pay for a specialty processor, and it needs to buy software that can make use of the specialty processor, and then it can start saving money – I hear the sound of Excel Pivot tables being used to present the result of what can be quite a complicated calculation. But is there any software that can make use of this hardware? We know about DB2, but that’s from IBM. What else is there? DataDirect’s Shadow software has been around for a little while, and last week NEON Enterprise Software announced that Version 5.1 of its Eclipse Reorganization Utilities for IMS will.

NEON claims in its press release that by using Eclipse Reorganization Utilities, it is possible for customers to experience capacity gains of more than 70 percent for some IMS database maintenance processing.

Now that more software is becoming available to exploit specialty engines, it does seem that users could have a way to save money on their mainframes.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

What a gadget!

I recently bought a Nokia E90 Communicator – which is a tool that comes under the category of mobile phone, but I have found it so useful for ‘everything’ that I thought I’d tell you about it.

When you first see it, it looks like a phone from the early ’90s – you know, a bit like a brick. But the great thing about it is that it opens up and you have a small computer that you can keep in your pocket! The actual dimensions are 132mm x 57mm x 20mm, and it weighs in at 210g. You can have a look at the Nokia Web site at to see what it looks like. Internally, it’s running Symbian OS V9.2, S60 R3.1.

So, why do I think it’s so clever? Well, it can scan for wifi networks, and, provided I have a WEP key (or it is open) then I can surf the Internet for free. It’s less easy than on a PC, but it’s certainly doable. I have my Web site (, my company Web site (, this blog, Yahoo, Google, and the Virtual IMS Connection ( Web sites as Favourites/Bookmarks. So when I am out meeting people, I can show them Web sites or search the net, or whatever.

The other feature I’ve been using a lot is copying files (documents, spreadsheets, and, more recently, presentations) onto the phone’s microSD card, and then taking that with me. I have been able to show Powepoint presentations on my phone! Yes, it was far from ideal, but it worked. It certainly works for minutes and meeting agendas stored as Word documents. It’s also easy to look up budget items in Excel without having large amounts of paper spread all over the place. It can also handle ZIP files and PDFs (I’ve used that a few times as well). So with browsing and accessing documents, it has replaced my little laptop.

The other good thing it has is a media player. I have uploaded lots of songs and now use my phone instead of having to take my mp3 player. It means I have to remember only one piece of technology. I also keep some recent photos of my family on my phone to show old friends when we meet. The screen quality is very good and it’s easy to zoom in. Of course, the phone has a camera, which can be used for stills or video. It can also be used as a bar-code reader! But I’ve not tried that yet.

There is a radio attached, which I’ve only used once. Importantly, all my contact information is on that phone. Everyone’s name, address, and multiple phone numbers – home, office, mobile, fax, etc. Plus the calendar facility has my complete diary on it. If you ask am I free next Wednesday at 10:00, I’ll be able to tell you.

There’s also a GPS facility on the phone that identifies where you are. I need to find time to try out this facility further. It has Bluetooth, and I’ve used that to swap ring tones with friends. In fact I have personalized ring tones so I can recognize who is phoning me. I also have photos associated with some of my contacts.

The battery seems pretty good for such multi-featured device. What else… I have installed a couple of games – just to see whether I could. I have sent and received loads of text messages. Oh, yes, nearly forgot, I have used it to make phone calls!! The volume is very good and the sound quality is very clear.

It is the perfect smartphone/PDA. It is handier than a small laptop for carrying around. If you are planning an upgrade to your PDA or mobile phone, definitely take a look at this device.

In comparison, my new Blackberry 8120 is an absolute nightmare. Any hints and tips about how to do the simplest things on this chocolate teapot will be gratefully received.

And finally, a correction to last week’s blog… Wrongly, I said that Opalis had been bought by CA. This is NOT the case. Opalis and CA have recently signed a partnership agreement, but no-one has been bought. I hope that clarifies the point.

And finally, finally (!), the IMS survey is still running. If you haven’t completed it yet, go to Many thanks.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Data Centre Automation – again

I blogged about data centre automation on the 25 March, but I forgot to say that it now has its own acronym – DCA (obviously). I mentioned that BMC had bought BladeLogic, but I didn’t mention that the price was $800 million. And since then, CA has bought Opalis Software Inc – an IT process automation specialist.

The reason behind the acquisitions and new product announcements is that software vendors can make a lot of money from automation software. And the reason for that is because companies running data centres want to save as much money as possible, and automation is a great way of doing that – even though it involves paying money to software vendors.

Good automation allows an organization to maintain the reliability of their data centres. It also allows all the processes running on the mainframe to proceed at least as efficiently as before. Lastly, it removes the possibility of operator error – whatever action is carried out is always to the same high standard.

In fact, as well as BladeLogic, BMC also bought a company called RealOps last summer. RealOps was an automation specialist. With Opalis being bought by CA, it seems likely that any smaller automation specialist company is going to feel itself alone at sea being circled by sharks – or larger software companies.

According to a recent Forrester report, Hewlett-Packard (who, as I mentioned previously, bought automation-specialists Opsware last summer) came out as market leader in the DCA space, with BladeLogic and BMC coming in second and third – although, of course, now they are a single company. Also according to this survey, CA came behind IBM – so the Opalis acquisition must be intended to push them up the rankings.

A data centre automation product has got to do far more than simply automate tasks previously performed by operators. We’re now expecting to see workload automation, process automation, provisioning automation, ITIL automation, disaster recovery automation, security automation, asset and capacity management automation, etc etc. If you think a process happens at your data centre, then you need software to automate it!

The DCA space looks like it is quite an exciting area to be in. And hopefully, as consumers, we can benefit from the efforts the software vendors are putting into being able to provide all-singing all-dancing products.