Archive for October, 2008


A funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

Ahh yes, Nathan Lane and Frankie Howerd, they represent the differences between the UK and US, in many ways so different, but in many ways, so the same. I’ve been bemoaning the fact that I can’t blog about what I’ve been doing mostly for the last 5-years as it’s all design and development work, all considered by IBM to be confidential, and since none of it is open source, it’s hard to point to projects and give hints.

And so it is with the project I’m currently working on. Only this time, not only is it IBM Confidential, but it is being worked with a partner and based on a lot of their intellectual property, so even less chance to discuss in public. I’ve been doing some customer validation sessions over the last 3-months and got concrete feedback on key data center directions around data center fabric, 10gb ethernet, converged enhanced ethernet (CEE) and more. There are certainly big gains to be made in reducing capital expenditure and operational expenditure in this space,  but thats really only the start. The real benefit comes from having an enabled fabric that rather than forcing centralization around a server, which is much of what we’ve been doing for the last 20-years, or forcing centralization around an ever more complex switch, which is where Cisco have been headed, the fabric is in and of itself the hub and the switches just provide any to any connectivity, low latency and enable both existing and new applications, both virtualized and enabled, to exploit the fabric.

So following one of my customer validation sessions in the UK, I was searching around on the Internet for a link. And I came across this one. It discusses a strategic partnership between IBM and Juniper for custom ASICS for a new class of Intenet backbone devices, only it is from 1997, who’da guessed. A funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

Virtualization, The Recession and The Mainframe

Robin Bloor has posted an interesting entry on his “Have mac will blog” blog on the above subject. He got a few small things wrong, well mostly, he got all the facts wrong but, right from a populist historical rewrite perspective. Of course I posted a comment, but as always made a few typos that I now cannot correct, so here is the corrected version(feel free to delete the original comments Robin… or just make fun of me for the mistakes, but know I was typing outdoors at the South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery, with open toe sandles on and it’s cold tonight in Austin, geeky I know!)

What do they say about a person who is always looking back to their successes? Well, in my case, it’s only becuase I can’t post on my future successes, they are considered too confidential for me to even leave slides with customers when I visit… 

VM revisited, enjoy:


Mark Cathcart (Should have) said,
on October 23rd, 2008 at 8:16 pm

Actually Robin, while it’s true that the S/360 operating systems were written in Assembler, and much of the 370 operating systems, PL/S was already in use for some of the large and complex components.

It is also widely known that virtualization, as you know it on the mainframe today, was first introduced on the S/360 model-67. This was a “bastard child” of the S/360 processors that had virtual memory extensions. At that point, the precursor to VM/370 used on the S/360-67 was CP-67.

I think you’ll also find that IBM never demonstrated 40,000 Linux virtual machines on a single VM system, it was David Boyes of Sine Nomine, who also recently ported Open Solaris to VM.

Also, there’s no such thing as pSeries Unix in the marketing nomenclature any more, it’s now Power Systems, whose virtualization now supports AIX aka IBM “Unix”, System i or IBM i to use the the modern vernacular and Linux on Power.

Wikipedia is a pretty decent source for information on mainframe virtualization, right up until VM/XA where there are some things that need correcting, I just have not had the time yet.

Oh yeah, by the way. While 2TB of memory on a mainframe gives pretty impressive virtualization capabilities, my favorite anecdote, and it’s true because I did it, was back in 1983. At Chemical Bank in New York. We virtualized a complete, production, high availability, online credit card authorization system, by adding just 4Mb of memory boosting the total system memory to a whopping 12Mb of memory! Try running any Intel hypervisor or operating system on just 12Mb of memory these days, a great example of how efficient the mainframe virtualization is!


Back in the day – way back

I suggested to @adamclyde we take a twitter conversation about the gray area between personal and corporate blogging offline, into email. In my response to him, like some “grumpy old man“, I started by recalling the good old days when my URL’s were then and later

Later I went looking and found some of my webpages from 2000 on the Internet Archive. I was even more delighted find they had some of my old presentations. I didn’t check through all of them, but my V2 Corner is here. I’ve taken one of my better presentations from the Internet archive and posted it on slideshare.

Enterprise Workstation Management - From Chaos to Order

Enterprise Workstation Management - From Chaos to Order

The PDF version doesn’t have all the overlay colors right, and some of the embedded graphics are missing, but it’s still worth looking through for both content and style.


If Google can celebrate it’s 10th anniversary by reporting it’s 2001 index, well how about letting me get away with reposting a presentation from 1996 that originated in 1989! The presentation has it’s origins in 1989 as a Lotus Freelance presentation printed on real overheads via a plotter. It covers the management of workstations and PC’s in corporate environments.

This version is dated from June 1996 and was recovered from the Internet Archive. Some of the colored overlays are the wrong colors and some of the graphics missing. I still think its worth taking a look through for both style and content. I got the summary slide wrong, but not by much as we move to what some are calling Cloud Clients

Summers over, time for a t-shirt!

My Power 7 and VM/ESA t-shirts

My Power 7 and VM/ESA t-shirts

Over on the mainframe blog, James Governor is talking about start-ups and t-shirt driven development in his latest Redmonk TV. We’ve done the subversive t-shirt thing for years at IBM, both in conjunction with and separately from the SHARE User Group.

When I moved from the UK to the USA, I cleaned out my huge stockpile of t-shirts, both triathlon, running and tech t-shirts and tennis shirts. I kept a few, including the one in the bag on the picture. In the old days getting t-shirts printed couldn’t be done at home and was expensive, so it was common place to keep things obscure, that kept the cost down and the security people away.

The white t-shirt has the IBM 8-bar logo on the left chest, and the numbers 5654-030. Wikipedia currently says that VM/ESA dates from 1988, while that might be true in an intellectual perspective since much of the control program(hypervisor code) came from VM/XA, available in 1988, VM/ESA wasn’t announced until 1990 and the first release 1.0 available in December that year. We wore these VM/ESA t-shirts at that years SHARE meetings, especially at SCIDS.

The other t-shirt in the picture? Well its similarly forward looking, designed and distributed by Richard Talbot around the time Richard and the team got the follow-on processor to P6 through concept. I have a few other t-shirts, maybe we should start a flickr group and post pictures 😉

Graduation, end of an era, legends?

Babe Ruth and Willie Mays of IBM?

Babe Ruth and Willie Mays of IBM?

I was in New York last week as one of the organisers, and a speaker for the IBM Academy of Technology conference on Virtualization. A great coincidence then, that when the invitation came to attend IBM Senior Vice President, Nick Donoforio’s “Graduation” party, I was able to accept as it was the same week.

I took a slow drive over from Hawthorne Research, across the Tapan Zee bridge and down to IBM Palisades. I’d been there many times before, to attend class and also to present to customers. However, this was possibly the most significant. I knew it wouldn’t bet the last time I’d see Nick. I for one wouldn’t be on him NOT showing up at the IBM Academy of Technology meeting next month. A fact which was later confirmed by current Academy president, Joanne Martin.

No, it was significant because it was the last time I’d get to talk to Nick while we were both employees of IBM. While I owe much of my IBM career to IBM UK employees, most especially Adrian Walmsley and Mike Cowlishaw, also one Larry Hirst, who went out on a limb and hired me in the dark days of 1987. I owe my continued employment, my elevated status, and to some degree my current position to Nick Donofrio.

I first met Nick, as far as I can recall, back in 1990. I still have the video upstairs, but it’s in UK PAL VHS format, and I don’t any of those technologies anymore. Nick was head of I think DSD, or the mainframe division. We had the chance to put him on the spot about the unholy mess that had been the release schedules for VM/XA and VM/ESA. Nick was as good as his word, things got substantially better for the next few years, some of it no doubt at his making, and some not. However, he was the most straight talking Senior IBM Executive I’d dealt with, and left with the words that later came to characterize Nick, “I’m here to help if you need me”. Which later became, “be careful what you ask for”.

A few years later I was working in the Fishkill office on a project for Linda Sanford, to try to give some meaning and structure to the mainframe divisions Client/Server strategy, on my way into the office one morning, when a helicopter landed across the parking lot in front of me. I asked when I got to the building, “oh that was Nick Donofrio”. So it should have come as no surprise then, when I arrived at IBM Palisades, started a slow walk to the building, paused to wait for Linda Sanford and Charles Lickel who came in behind me, when the air was filled with the sound of a helicopter, it was Nick.

I can’t recall what I asked him when I spoke to him at the graduation, I can recall he called me “big fella” as usual when asking how I was, harking back to my size of the late 1990’s. Later Nick revealed he too was once >200lbs, we briefly discussed his time in Burlington. What was clear though was that the legend of Helicopter Nick would always be with me. Back in early 2002, Nick and I spoke about my future career direction. A month or so later I ended up working for George Walsh, my second line manager was Irving, and I wrote an initial analysis of a little known company called ThinkDynamics and the topic of provisioning. I do know that I asked for that job, and so, as Nick would say, “be careful what you ask for”, I couldn’t and haven’t complained. It has though, been a tough six years.

Nick and Irving opened up the Academy of Technology so that non-development type engineers could flourish and be elected as full members, I was one of the early ones in 1999. Nick was also behind the whole Distinguished Engineer recognition and appointment program, and the drive to get the technical community at IBM the recognition it so much needs, all 195,000 of us.

So, farewell Nick, enjoy the family, enjoy the retirement. Is Nick the best technician ever at IBM? I doubt it. There is no doubt in my mind though that Nick is one, if not the most, enthusiastic, inspirational leaders ever in the tech industry, that most people will have never heard of.

About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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