Sunday, 16 December 2012


It seems that as you get closer to Christmas and the New Year, everything starts to run down like an old clockwork toy. Meetings scheduled for 2013 seem ages away, even though some are at the beginning of January. And phone calls so often find the person you’re ringing out of the office – whether that’s doing a bit of family shopping or attending the numerous party and lunch invitations. And as for e-mail, people seem to leave their out-of-office message on permanently!

To be honest, I’ve been closeted away trying to get the bulk of the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2013 sorted out. I’ve been calculating the numbers for the user survey – and very interesting they are too. But I’ll talk more about them next year. I’ve been busy placing articles and organizing entries for vendors and consultants in the appropriate sections. So, no partying for me this week. BTW if you wanted to be included in the Yearbook, e-mail me immediately here.

I’ve also been working away at a speaker programme for the Virtual IMS user group and the Virtual CICS user group. The first meeting is on 15 January when IBM speakers will talk about the CICS V5.1 - Portfolio Update. But, as I say, it’s in January and seems an age away! If you or your company are interested presenting to either group during the year, then let me know here.

It seems that no matter whether you’re Christian, atheist, agnostic, or a person of any other faith, everyone likes a present from Father Christmas (Santa). So what do you buy the IT guy who seems to have pretty much everything? Somehow socks just don’t seem to show any real thought. Alcohol is usually well received, as are things from the more expensive end of the catalogue. But I’ve got a couple of other suggestions.

I’ve been playing with a magic magnetic balls cube. It’s 216 small magnetic balls that you can shape into all sorts of 3D things. And then you can scrunch them all up and start again. But the really hard part, is getting them back into the cube shape. Remember magnets repel as well as attract. So you can play with them for ages.

I’ve also been working with a variety of organizations on social media – getting Facebook fan pages set up, starting using Twitter, and putting videos on Youtube. And I found the like and dislike Facebook-like stamps can be quite fun. Whatever happened to the paperless office? As documents pass across my desk, I can (mainly for my own amusement) stamp them with a Like or Dislike (thumbs up or thumbs down). You’ll probably enjoy doing much the same!

There are lots more ideas at, such as touch-screen gloves, iHat music hat, USB mug warmer, flying monkeys, a one million pound bank note, alcohol breath tester keyring, tap shower radio, and light changing glow ball.

And, for the mainframer in your life, you could try to get hold of a “Proud to be part of z” poster. You can see a copy here.

So, whatever you’re doing over the next couple of weeks, have a great time. See you next year.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Putting it all together

I was chatting to Tony Amies, product architect at William Data Systems, about the best way to get information from a mainframe (and about what’s happening on that mainframe) out to someone who has access to a browser. He had a number of nifty techniques that I’d like to share with you.

Assuming you want to get the information from your mainframe to a browser, your first really big decision is do you want to go with two-tier architecture, or do you want to go with three-tier architecture? Tony’s advice was that two-tier was enough.

That leads to the second really important decision to be made, which is where should the processing take place? You’ve got to look at what needs to be done and then make a choice about which platform does that work best on. So, for example, and perhaps quite obviously, if you want to monitor what’s going on with IP, FTP, or EE (Enterprise Extender) on your mainframe, you want that processing to take place on the mainframe. That all seems fairly easy!

But what do you want to do with your results from those different monitors (and indeed any other monitoring software you have running)? Do you want to look like mission control and have a 3270 screen for each monitor that’s running. Now, I remember how impressed visitors used to be when they saw something like that, but if my plan is to get the information to laptop or tablet device running a browser, then I probably need to consolidate the different feeds first. And, again, I want to do that on the mainframe, in the same LPAR (Logical PARtition) that the monitors are running in. It makes sense because much less work has to be done than if I choose to send that data somewhere else for processing.

If you’re familiar with WDS products, you know about their ZEN monitor for their other products. They’re written in Assemble and C and they use a little DLL inside each product that talks to a DLL in ZEN and you can see a nice display of what’s going on – on everything. As a side note, using the DLLs allows the products to talk to each other, so that if the IP monitor spots something, then the IP trace tool can be used to investigate further.

So, using the two-tier architecture, ZEN is logically split into two parts. One part is mainframe friendly and one part is Web friendly. Associated with the Web-friendly part of ZEN are the necessary JavaScript libraries and JQuery libraries, and the usual HTML bits. If you’ve not come across JQuery before, it’s like a lot of clever JavaScript that’s been already written that you can use to make your Web site look very modern. Lots of sites use the jQuery lightBox plugin to show photos.

There’s always a problem with busy Web pages in that lots of information has to come from the server to the browser, resulting in lots of network traffic – and if you’re monitoring your mainframe’s network from a browser there can be even more. So the first technique they’ve used is AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), which means that only the parts of the Web page that have changed are sent, the rest of the page stays the same. They also use JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) as a lightweight data-interchange format.

But there’s always an issue with any User Interface and that’s how to separate the actual user interface itself from the business logic behind it. In technical terms, these are known as the view model and the data model. To make this work as effectively as possible, they’re using MVVM (Model View ViewModel), which is a framework or architectural pattern coming originally from Microsoft, but now extended to include JavaScript MVVM. You can get a clearer idea of the sorts of things they’ve done – and perhaps the sorts of things you could do from The site describes itself as “simplifying dynamic javaScript UIs by applying the Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM) pattern”. The WDS developers also familiarized themselves with, a site describing itself as “a foundation for ambitious web user interfaces”. They go on to say: “Prototype takes the complexity out of client-side web programming”.

For WDS, basically an object is requested from the browser by the user. This goes up to ZEN. Using JSON, a data object comes down and binds with the layout defined in the MVVM skeleton. As a user, you see dynamically updated information in your browser. If one new value affects other values, those other values are automatically update appropriately.

I’m not endorsing WDS’s products, I’m saying that they have very effectively made use of the very latest technology at the browser end to make their product work very efficiently. I’m suggesting that the two-tier architecture with really clever stuff on the browser side is definitely worth taking a look at.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Computer futures

It’s December. It’s the time of the year when people are either reviewing what kind of a year it has been for them or predicting the future. I thought that this week I’d look forward to next year.

The big news for mainframe users is, of course, the price hike promised by IBM. If you go to you can see that from 1 July, the price of Flat Workload License Charges (FWLC) will increase.

According to Timothy Prickett Morgan writing for The Register: “IBM has a wide variety of monthly software pricing schemes for its System z mainframes, but the FLMC scheme is interesting in that it applies to all machines regardless of size or vintage equally and as you increase the capacity of the mainframe, the software fees stay flat.

“The bad thing about the FWLC scheme is that it does not have what IBM calls sub-capacity pricing, where customers use virtualization to isolate capacity on a particular mainframe and then only get charged for that software based on the MSUs consumed in that logical partition.” MSUs are Metered Service Units. It looks like the average price rise will be around the 10 percent level.

We probably won’t be making use of Application Performance Management Software as a Service (perhaps more easily written as APM SaaS). A survey conducted by IDG Research Services online among members of the CIO Forum on LinkedIn during August found that 61 percent of organizations have no plans to implement APM SaaS. But around a quarter (24 percent) already use APM SaaS in some capacity, with a mere 4 percent are using an APM SaaS vendor to monitor all their critical applications.

A CA Technologies survey found that 80 percent of Australian organizations are expected to face a shortage of mainframe skills in the future, with 57 percent already experiencing difficulties. The skills shortage issue is one that IBM, CA, and other companies are addressing with graduate and undergraduate programmes of study on mainframes.

The good news from the survey is that the mainframe is also playing an increasingly strategic role in managing the evolving needs of the enterprise. Again this comes as a surprise to no-one who knows about mainframes. With the growth in use of Linux on the mainframe, organizations can save lots of their budget. And the new hybrid models allow sites to get the best of all worlds.

The survey also found that 36 percent of respondents anticipate an increase in hardware spending in the next 12 to 18 months. Good news for hardware vendors. 44 percent of respondents are planning to increase their spending on mainframe-related services.

And while our focus is on mainframes, we all use laptops, tablets, and smartphones, so it’s interesting to see that Steven Sinofsky has left Microsoft. Who’s he, you say? Well, he was one of the driving forces behind Windows 8. Similarly, Scott Forstall has left Apple. Both were working to get laptops, tablets, and smartphones to use much the same interface and appear to the user to all have the same look-and-feel. Perhaps that touchscreen-style way of working will make its way to the interface to mainframe applications? Or perhaps in many ways it has in so far as remote access to mainframes can be achieved over the Internet from a browser on any platform.

I definitely predict more things will decide they are ‘cloud’ things. Mainframe users have been saying all along that they used to sit at a terminal and not worry where the application software lived, or where the data was stored – they just knew it was ‘out there’ and got on with their work. I’m sure this ‘cavalier’ attitude is one most users would like to be able to embrace. We’ve all had the problem with a file being on our office computer when we need it in the evening or weekend, or being on our home computer on Monday morning when we’re in the office. IT departments can sweat the security issues, but users will love the idea of it all (data and apps) being out there and available from anywhere.

Finally, if you’re a vendor, don’t forget to update your information in the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2013 – you can do it here. And if you’re a mainframe user, then help us by completing the user survey here.