IT Management

z/Vendor Watch: Simplifying the Mainframe

In May, CA celebrated a month of mainframe madness surrounding its Mainframe 2.0 product announcements, the culmination of a far-reaching overhaul of the company’s z/OS-based management products. Central to this initiative is an upgrade to 143 of CA’s 166 distinct offerings for large systems, designed to help customers position themselves for renewed mainframe growth while the population of mainframe technical specialists is steadily diminishing.

Opinions are divided as to whether we’re really heading for a skills shortage on the System z, but one thing is for sure. If you’re running a mainframe, you have three choices: hold onto your highly skilled staff and invest in training their replacements; make sure your tools are simple enough for less skilled individuals to manage; or just accept that someone else will soon be managing the mainframe environment for you. The first and third options are largely left up to the user, but the second relies on the commitment of the Independent Software Vendors to invest in ease-of-use, and that’s one of the key messages behind Mainframe 2.0.

CA’s announcements include the Mainframe Software Manager (MSM), a means of simplifying the acquisition and implementation of CA software on the System z. With an appealing Web-based user interface based on the Google Web Toolkit, MSM incorporates a Product Acquisition Service that gives users simple access to electronically deliverable packages and PTFs. Also included is a wizard-driven Software Installation Service that draws on the OASIS SDD metadata standard to aid resource allocation and function selection during product installation. CA promises greater synchronization between the planning and implementation cycles of its key products and widespread deployment of health checks that integrate with IBM’s Health Checker for z/OS.

COBOL at 50

We sometimes get a little blasé about anniversaries in the mainframe world, but the 50th anniversary of COBOL is certainly one to note.

COBOL’s success is legendary, and the fact it’s virtually irreplaceable in many organizations is a tribute to its simple focus on back-end performance and business support. As JD Williams & Company Ltd.’s Mike Madden said in a recent interview in the U.K. newspaper, The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), “We haven’t found anything faster than COBOL for batch processing. We use other languages, such as Java, for customer-facing Websites, but COBOL is for order processing. The code matches business logic, unlike other languages.”

In IT, we’ve been attempting for years to improve the alignment of IT with the business, but the veteran COBOL arguably supports this alignment more effectively than any other development environment. Despite the “legacy” epithet, it has demonstrated the resilience and flexibility to handle constant business evolution, and this ability is at the heart of its longevity. Here’s to the next 50 years!

Micro Focus Spreads Its Wings

The continuing success of COBOL will no doubt be a source of joy to one of its strongest supporters, Micro Focus, a company that has extended the reach of the language onto a broad range of platforms. Interestingly, Micro Focus has recently been on the acquisition trail, announcing plans to ramp up its efforts in the application testing and automated software quality area. To this end, it has agreed to acquire Borland Software for $75 million and Compuware’s testing and ASQ product suite for $80 million. This will allow Micro Focus to build on the success of Data Express, while Compuware concentrates on other lines of business such as application performance and IT portfolio management.

Tomorrow’s CICS

We live in a very “cloudy” world today, and CICS shows no sign of being excluded from the service-oriented environment. CICS Transaction Server for z/OS 4.1, now available in beta, is designed with improved governance in mind. The product offers non-invasive detection and emission of business events from CICS applications, to assist with more accurate monitoring, as well as Atom feeds and RESTful interfaces that enable existing CICS programs and resources to participate in mashups and Web 2.0 applications.

Much of the emphasis is on integrating new and old applications non-invasively so existing resources can be reused and managed at a relatively low cost and with minimal technical expertise. CICS TS has been a credible Web services player for a couple of years now, and the latest beta, which requires z/OS 1.9, shows there’s a clear future growth path for IBM’s core transaction software.