Sunday, 27 June 2010

Poor mainframe performance

If my new batch applications aren’t performing as well as I’d hoped, what should I do? Well, the most likely answer is go back to the original code and see what was going wrong. Another solution might be to forget all about developing mainframe-based applications all together and move to a “newer” platform. I put newer in quotes because the IBM-compatible (does anyone ever say that anymore?) PC has been around since 1981 (12th August, I’m told) – which makes it older than many of the legacy applications it’s meant to replace and older than many of the “experts” who work on it! But there’s a third alternative – one well-known to senior mainframers who still inhabit enterprise sites. I can sum it up in three letters. J, C, and L – Job Control Language.

I had it drawn to my attention by Guy Giuffre that the main causes for batch applications wasting mainframe resources such as DASD, tape, and CPU cycles is invariably poor JCL and improper job scheduling. I was assured that the majority of performance problems are “caused by programmers who may know how to write code but are completely lost in writing effective JCL or in putting together job streams that run efficiently”. And if that particular blind spot wasn’t bad enough, there was another target of attack. Mr Giuffre asserted that: “These problems are then compounded by application support analysts who either blindly install what is given to them by the programmers or who do not have the ability to dissect what is given to them and optimize it.”

Hard-hitting stuff, but where’s the evidence? Again, Guy was able to identify his own successes by confirming that he didn’t need code to be re-written, he could achieve better performance by rewriting JCL and realigning job scheduling so successfully that he achieved DASD reductions of as much as 45%, tape reductions of as much as 50%, and overnight batch application run-time reductions of as much as 40%.

There are more savings to be had for an organization. For example, it becomes possible to avoid having to man shifts over a weekend because this and scheduling optimization results in the weekend cycle finishing by 7:30am on a Saturday morning instead of 5:30pm on a Saturday evening.

If someone were to turn up for a meeting with the IT Director and offer them a product that could bring about similar savings, then I bet they would have an easy sale on their hands. And yet, many sites have experienced mainframe programmers or system support personnel like Guy Giuffre, who understand the bigger picture and are not seduced by the need to run every application from a browser using AJAX and RESTful states. They can picture what’s going on inside the mainframe and make changes to improve performance of individual applications. And because it’s their job, their skills and abilities are not always celebrated the way more fashionable successes might be.

And, with so many experienced mainframe people coming towards retirement age, this powerful ability – this sense of what needs to be done to improve performance without pouring over hundreds of line of code – may soon become lost to many organizations. So I suggest that managers start picking the brains of the mainframe staff they have to ensure that this kind of knowledge is preserved. Otherwise, their companies will need bigger and faster hardware, not because their programs are bigger or clumsier, but because no-one has taken the trouble to look at the JCL and the job scheduling. Thanks Guy, for drawing our attention to this.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Do technical blogs help get the message out there or do they just confuse readers?

What sort of a title for a blog is this? Can a blogger really be going to suggest that people reading blogs are going to get confused or, even worse, misled? Well, without wishing to shoot myself in the foot or appear like a turkey voting for an early Christmas, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. The blogosphere is fully of conflicting and confusing information. There – I’ve said it!

Let’s turn our attention away from mainframes for a moment. And there’s a reason for doing so – people reading this article probably already share many of the same assumptions as I do about mainframes. So I want to turn your attention to the gee-whiz gadget at the moment – the Apple iPad. Now before we go any further, let me be absolutely clear that I’m not going to name names – Google makes it very easy to find examples of what I’m talking about. So, here’s the question we may have all asked ourselves: “do I want an iPad?” To help make up my mind, I start searching the Internet for articles and blogs by people who attended the launch. The first thing you find is that opinions are divided. I never bothered to count because the number of pages was very large, so I can’t give you a percentage of “fors” and “againsts”, but, suffice it to say, numerous bloggers were totally sold on the gadget and can’t wait to get their hands on one, while other blogs listed the iPad’s faults – no multitasking, no camera, awkward keyboard, no flash, not HD, and locked into Apple apps, etc. So for someone who doesn’t really understand, how do they make a choice?

So, let’s go back to mainframes and see what people are blogging about mainframe futures. Well, we have people convinced that the IBM z11 processor is the route to Nirvana, and other people suggesting that unless we migrate all our applications on to Microsoft boxes our data centres will come crashing down around our ears. There are blogs extolling the virtues of cloud computing to finally make the end user computing experience like shopping or using utilities (like gas or electricity not like IEBPTPCH or IEHMOVE!). There are other blogs suggesting that using a mainframe has many of the characteristics of cloud computing already and we’ve been doing it for 40-odd years already – plus ça change!

I’m sure I could do exactly the same thing with car models – some writers would extol their virtues, while others would focus on the vices of the vehicle. Or I could use the Internet to make a choice about a washing machine, a fridge, a university course, anything!

The problem is simple. The more egalitarian the Internet has become, the more people are happy to share their opinions or repeat the opinions of others. As a consequence of more people giving an opinion, there are more opinions out there are to read – leading directly to more confusion amongst the browsing population!

So what’s the solution, I hear you ask? Well the answer is to rely on the opinions of people you trust. Now, that’s easier said than done. So, if I wanted to get a good inside into mainframe trends, I would look at the following blogs:

IBM’s Mainframe Blog, which is part of its zNextGen initiative, ( This has a number of short videos as well.

Another good blog is James Governor’s Monkchips site (

Definitely worth a look is Marc Wambeke's Mainframe Watch Belgium at

There’s a humorous blog by CA’s Reg Harbeck at I still like his entry, “How to Talk Like a Mainframer”.

Bob Thomas, who owns zJournal, is blogging at

Willie Favero’s excellent DB2 for z/OS blog is at

There's an interesting blog at The Raised Floor by Jeffrey M Birnbaum, Mike Desens, Tom Gross, Rich Lechner, Chris Mines, Jerry Murphy, John Patrick, Neil Rasmussen, Will Runyon, and Steve Sams, which is at

There’s a group of techie/creative people working in and around IBM’s Hursley Park Lab in the UK. They produce an interesting blog is at

There are a number of very insightful blogs at IBM’s My developerWorks. You can click on the links from

Always up-to-date is Mark Fontecchio’s blog at Mainframe Propeller Head. He’s been a reporter for TechTarget since 2006. The URL is
An occasional blogger is Steve Baugh, styling himself The CICS Guy. His blog is at

And, of course, don’t miss the Mainframe Update blog at

But when it comes to buying an iPad, or a car, etc, you’ll have to find your own experts in the blogosphere!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Change is the only constant!

“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” So said Arnold Bennett the novelist, playwright, critic, and essayist, who lived from 1867 to 1931. Winston Churchill’s take on the subject was: “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction”. And Harold Wilson, who was also a British Prime Minister said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”

This week I want to talk a little bit about change – or, more particularly, change management. We’re all so use to change these days we perhaps forget that there are ways of carrying out change in an organization that work – and, of course, ways of performing change that lead simply to chaos! There’s hardly a new leader, whether in government or within an organization that doesn’t feel making a few changes will stamp his or her mark on that organization (or country or whatever).

So what is change management? Well, Wikipedia informs us that: “change management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. Change management (or change control) is the process during which the changes to a system are implemented in a controlled manner by following a pre-defined framework/model with, to some extent, reasonable modifications.”

In terms of mainframes, you might be looking at products such as the CA Endevor or ChangeMan. The CA Web site tells us: “CA Endevor Software Change Manager automates your entire development process, adapting to specific business requirements while ensuring consistency and complete control, protecting your software assets, and maintaining application integrity”. Integration with IBM Rational Developer for System z improves productivity, accelerates time-to-delivery, and ensures the auditability of all programmer activities. Serena’s Web site says: “Serena ChangeMan ZMF, Change Management for Mainframe Systems, protects your corporate assets – and in the process, lets your programmers get more done in less time. Serena ChangeMan ZMF controls every code change in your mainframe environment. It guarantees source-to-load integrity and ensures that only successfully tested programs make it into production. ChangeMan ZMF reduces maintenance costs and regression errors by moving code through an automated mainframe life-cycle with strict accountability and quality assurance at every step. It can support developer communication and perform regression analyses as part of the most thorough concurrent development available. With ChangeMan ZMF, application code is easier to find, modify, and deploy.”

Many of the change management products that Google can find claim to adopt ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) models. ITIL, as I’m sure you know, provides a source of best practice for a range of IT tasks. It claims on its Web site to be: “the only consistent and comprehensive documentation of best practice for IT Service Management. Used by thousands of organizations around the world, a whole ITIL philosophy has grown up around the guidance contained within the ITIL books and the supporting professional qualification scheme.”

But suppose you’re looking for a Software Change Management (SCM) product, a version and release management tool for the enterprise, and an application deployment tool not just for the mainframe but also for your distributed platforms. The choice is usually to buy three pieces of software. Interestingly, ISPW – the organization, – has a product called ISPW that does just that.

On their Web site, they inform us that: “ISPW is a DB2-based all-in-one SCM solution that manages z/OS and distributed applications in one seamless solution. It has a z/OS based server and three thin-client interfaces:
  • A traditional 3270 interface for mainframe developers
  • A browser for supervisors and approvers
  • An Eclipse-based client for mainframe and distributed users.
User friendliness and productivity are ISPW strengths, along with a unique tools integration capability.”

I also discovered at the beginning of the month that ISPW has partnered with RSM to market and support the product in the UK. The press release also says about ISPW (the product that is): “ISPW allows programmers to work from their platform of choice and eliminate many common sources of error in the process. Advantages for complex IT installations include:
  • Exposing ALL change components to standard audit and approval processes
  • Expedited traceable implementation and roll-back procedures
  • Automatic inclusion in corporate disaster recovery processes
  • Improved project management through early conflict resolution and comprehensive visibility
  • Reduced cost, via time and effort savings, without the need to retrain or modify procedures.”
Which all seems to make ISPW an interesting product, and well worth a second look.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Staying up-to-date with IMS

IMS – Information Management System – has been around for quite some time. In fact it’ll be 42 in August. Isn’t 42 the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything? Anyway, IMS runs on IBM mainframes and provides an incredibly fast hierarchical database system and an excellent transaction processing system. And in the intervening 41 years and 10 months there have been enormous improvements not only to the way it works, but also to the thinking behind what can be done with it.

Anyone working with IMS will be able to explain to you the different types of database that exist. They’ll talk at length about Full-function databases, Fast-path databases, and High-availability fast path databases. In addition to this database side of IMS, they will also be able to explain how the transaction management system works – how end users can access information and how messages are queued to make this possible. This is great, but what IMS professionals also need is some way of ensuring they keep up-to-date with what else IMS can do. What IMS will be able to do next year when it’s 43 and work towards that.

One easy way is for IMS professionals to join the Virtual IMS Connection user group at This user group has virtual meetings every other month, so that members can watch presentations without needing to leave their office – all they need is an Internet-enabled PC and a telephone. Most of these Webinars take place at 10:30 Central Time and last around an hour.

As well as seeing a presentation by another IMS professional and the ability to ask as many technical questions as they want, they are also kept up-to-date with the latest product announcements (new products or new versions or releases of existing products) and latest IMS-related articles appearing in the press. On the Web site they can find jobs or people looking for jobs and (added quite recently) they can find consultants available for work.

The next meeting of the Virtual IMS Connection user group will be on the 8th June, and the meeting includes a presentation by Patrick Fournier of SysperTec Communications, who will be discussing “Improving the performance, efficiency, and TCO of SOA integration for IMS applications”.

The presentation will look at:
  • Web-enabling IMS and other 3270 applications. 
  • Providing a way to serve IMS application screens on thin-client Web browsers
  • Developing Web 2.0 user interfaces that combine IMS 3270 data flows with AJAX functionality and JavaScript widgets.
  • Creating interactive bi-directional connections between IMS and Web applications, eg Web applications that consume IMS transaction.

In a constantly changing industry, the only way to stay up-to-date and to keep your skills honed is join these regular Webinars. And being a virtual meeting, you don’t have to convince your company to fund your user group experience.

If you’re an IMS professional, it makes sense to join the user group and take part in a free Webinar.