Archive for the 'ibm' Category



VM Master Class

As is the way, the older you get the more entangled your life becomes. My ex-Wife, Wendy Cathcart, nee Foster, died of cancer recently, such a waste, a fantastic, vibrant woman and great Mother to our children. After the funeral the kids were saying how they’d hardly got any video of her. I had on my shelf, unwatched for probably 10-years or more a stack of VCR tapes. I’d meant to do something with them, but never got around to it.

I put the tapes into Expressions in video here in Austin, they were ever so helpful and were able to go from UK PAL format VCR tapes to DVD, to MPEG-4. Two of the tapes contained the summary videos from the 1992 and 1993, IBM VM Master Class conferences. And, here’s were the entanglement comes in. Wendy never much got involved in my work, we went on many business trips together, one of the most memorable was driving from North London to Cannes in the South of France. I had a number of presentations to give, and the first one was after lunch on Monday, the first day. I went to do registration and other related stuff Monday morning. I came back to the room to get the car keys and go and collect my overhead transparencies and handout copies from the car. Unfortunately for me, Wendy had set off in the car with a number of the other wives to go visit Nice, France and my slides and handouts were in the trunk/boot. D’oh.

Unlike this week where my twitter stream has been tweet bombed by #VMWorld, back in the 1980’s there were almost no VM conferences. IBM had held a couple of internal conferences, and the SHARE User group in the USA had a very active virtual machine group, there really wasn’t anything in Europe except 1-day user group meetings. My UK VM User Group, had been inspirational for me and I wanted to give something back and give other virtual machine systems programmers and administrators and chance to get together over an extended period, talk with each other, learn about the latest technologies and hear from some of the masters in the field.

And so it was that I worked through 1990 and 1991 with Paul Maceke to plan, and deliver the first ever VM Master Class. We held it at an IBM Education facility, La Hulpe, which was in a forest outside of Brussels, Belgium. As I recall, we had people met at the airport and bused them in in Sunday and the conference ran through Friday lunchtime, when we bused them back to the airport. Everything was done on site, meals, classes and hotel rooms. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s in was required for computer systems to be represented by something iconic, for VM it was the bear. You can read why and almost everything else about the history of VM here on Melinda Varians web page, heck you can even get kindle format version of the history.

So, when it came to the Master Class we needed a bear related logo. Thats where Wendy came in. She drew the “graduate bear”, for which Paul got not only included in the folders, but also metal pins, what a star. Come the 1993 VM Master Class, Wendy did the artwork for the VM Bear and it’s Client/Server Cousin sitting on top of the world and as I remember, this time Paul actually got real soft toy bears. Thanks for all the great memories Wendy, the videos on youtube also remind me of many great people from the community, who came you name? Please feel free to add with comments here to avoid the Youtube comment minefield.

I’ll start with Dick Newson, and John Hartman, couldn’t be two different people, both totally innovative, great software developers and designers.

Simplicity versus, well non-simplicity

I’ve had an interesting week, last Friday my corporate Blackberry Torch that was only 2-months old, was put in a ziploc bag with my name on it, and I was given a Dell Venue Pro phone with Windows Phone 7 in it’s place. I’ve written a detailed breakdown of what I liked and didn’t like. The phone itself is pretty rock solid, well designed, nice size, weight etc. and a great screen. Here is a video review which captures my views on the phone itself, a great piece of work from Dell.

What is interesting though is the Windows Phone software. Microsoft have obviously put a lot of time and effort into the User Interface and design experience. Although it features the usual finger touch actions we’ve come to expect, the UI itself, and the features it exposes have been carefully designed to make it simple to do simple things. There really are very few things you can change, alter, almost no settings, only very minimal menu choices etc.

What makes this interesting for me is this is exactly the approach we’ve taken with our UI. When trying to take 79-steps, involving 7x different products and simplify and automate it, it would be easy to make every step really complicated, and just reduce the number of steps. However, all that does is mean that there would be more chance of getting something wrong with each step; my experience with this type of design is that not only is the human operator more likely to make a mistake, but the number of options, configurations and choices drive up the complexity and testing costs become prohibitive, and eventually mistakes are made. Combinations not expected are not tested, tests are run in orthogonal configurations.

Back when the autonomic computing initiative was launched some 10-years ago at IBM, there seemed to be these two diametrically opposed desires. One desire was to simplify technology, the other was to make systems self managing. The problem with self managing is that it introduces an additional layer, in many cases, to automate and manage the existing complexity. To make this automation more flexible and to make it more adaptable, the automation was made more sophisticated and thus, more complex. The IBM Autonomic Computing website still exists and while I’m sure the research has moved on, as have the products, the mission and objectives are the same.

Our Virtual Integrated System work isn’t anywhere near as grandiose. Yet, in a small way it attempts to address whats at the core of IBMs’ Autonomic Computing, how to change the way we do things, how to be more efficient and effective with what we have. And that takes me back to Windows Phone 7. It’s great at what it does, but as a power user, it doesn’t do enough for me. I guess what I’m hoping at this point is that we’ll create a new category of system, it is neither simple, nor complex, it does what you want, the way you want it, but with flexibility. We’ll see.

Hot News: Paint drys

I’m guessing I’m not so different from most people, the first time someone explains groundhog day, you laugh, but don’t believe what you are seeing. It’s kinda “n’ah, your kidding right!” but some take it seriously.

The same for the pronouncement that IBM makes regularly about server migrations to the Power Systems platforms and mainframes, you take a step back and say seriously, you are kidding, you are taking this seriously?

And that was my reaction when I saw this weeks piece from Timothy Prickett Morgan at The Register aka Vulcher central under the tagline “IBM gloats over HP, Oracle takeouts” – really, seriously, you are kidding right? Prickett Morgan covers IBM’s most recent claims that they migrated “286 customers, 182 were using Oracle (formerly Sun Microsystems) servers and 95 were using machines from Hewlett-Packard” Unix to IBMs AIX.

What surprises me is not that IBM made the claims, hey paint drys, but Prickette Morgan felt it worth writing up(The Register, tag line “Biting the Hand that feeds IT”), really, seriously?

AIX and Power Systems are great, it’s just not newsworthy at those minuscule rates compared to the inexorable rise of the x86 architecture in both private and cloud data centers, it really won’t be long before IBM can no longer afford to design and manufacture those systems. And there’s the clue to the migrations.

You stick your neck and go with Sun, now Oracle, or HP Unix systems, it’s a battle but either genuinely believe you were right, or you were just hoodwinked or cajoled into doing it for one reason or another. So, now they are both in terminal declines, whats a Data Center manager to do? Yep, the easiest thing is to claim you were right with the platform, and by doing so were part of a movement that forced IBM to lower it’s prices, and now the right thing to do is migrate to IBM as they have the best Unix solution. Phew thats alright, no one noticed and everyone goes on collecting their paychecks.

Prickett Morgan ends by wondering “why Oracle, HP, and Fujitsu don’t hit back every time IBM opens its mouth with takeout figures of their own to show they are getting traction against Big Blue with their iron.” – because frankly, no one cares except IBM. Everyone else is too busy building resilient, innovative, and cost effective solutions based on x86 Linux, either in their own data center, or in the “cloud”.

An old man and money

I was just sent a link to this ConnectedPlanet article by Susana Schwartz, and given my background in mainframes and x86 asked what I thought of the central premise. The analogy that came to mind almost immediately was too good not share.

The question the article was addressing was “will the IBM zEnterprise make mainframes sexy again?” My analogy, Hugh Hefner! Do you think Hugh Hefner is sexy? He has all the money, is a great revenue generator has some good products, but mostly while they do the same stuff they’ve always done, are looking a bit long in the tooth. What’s interesting is what surrounds Hugh. Same with zEnterprise, only there are much better ways to get that smart technology.

After a few miss-starts with a google search for “old man and young girls” – that will have set off some alarm bells in Dell IT, I set Google safesearch to strict and search for “old man with young women” and here we have it, my analogy for the IBM zEnterprise.

Image courtesy and copyright of the sun.co.uk

Image courtesy and copyright of the sun.co.uk

Do you want Hugh Hefner in the middle? He’s worth loads of money…

Any similarity between Hugh Hefner and an IBM mainframe is entirely coincidental, after all we all know mainframes are older and come from New York. Hugh is from Chicago.

Feel free to use the analogy to argue either way… just be careful to keep the discussion work safe. I’ve still got that J3000 spoof press release somewhere as well.

70% of something is better than..

70% of nothing at all. [With apologies to Double Exposure]

As I’ve said before, I’m an avid reader of Robin Bloors Have Mac Will Blog, blog. I also follow him on twitter where he is @robinbloor. Sadly his blog doesn’t accept trackbacks, but I’ll leave a short comment so he gets to see this.

His latest blog entry, CA:Dancing with dinosaurs comes across as a bit of a puff piece in support of Computer Associates.

On the CA involvement with mainframes, Bloor seems to have overlooked the fact that CA has John Swainson as CEO, and Don Ferguson as Chief Architect. John was previously an IBM VP, Don an IBM Fellow and both Don and John were variously in charge of significant IBM Software Group projects/products.

Personally I’d like to see someone from IBM find/quote a source for that 70% data number. It’s been used for years and years with little or no foundation. Jim Porell quoted this number in some of his excellent and more recent System Z strategy presentations, It’s dated from, I think, 1995.

Secondly, I’d guess it depends what you can business critical data these days. If Google collapsed or had their data centers in Silicon Valley interrupted with the loss of Google docs, YouTube, Google search, Maps and similarly Microsoft and/or Yahoo went offline… I’d suspect the whole notion that 70% of business critical data resides of mainframes would be laughable. Yes, a large percentage of purely text based transactional data is on mainframes and yes the value of those transactions exceeds any other platform, but that is far from 70% of anything much these days… Increasingly these days startups, SME’s and Web 2.0 business don’t use mainframes for even their text based transactional data.

Finally on the Bloor/CA assertion that installing mainframe software is arcane. That maybe, but here I’m still in full agreement of the mainframe folks, especially if you are talking about real mainframe software as IBM would have it, installed by SMP/E. One of my few claims to fame was reverse engineering key parts of the IBM Mainframe VM service process nearly 20-years now. It was then, and SMP/E is now, still is years ahead of anything in the Windows and UNIX space for pre-req, co-req, if-req processing; the ability to build and maintain multiple non-trivial systems from a single data store using binary only program objects. CA are not the first to spot the need to provide an interface other than ISPF and JCL to build these jobs streams.

But really, continuing to label mainframes as dinosaurs is so 1990’s, it’s like describing Lance Armstrong as a push bike rider.

Simon Perry, Principal Associate Analyst – Sustainability, Quocirca, has written a similar piece with a little more detail entitled Mainframe management gets its swagger.

Visible personal branding and the big company

I’m keeping busy at Dell, currently working on designs for both our 12g and 13g servers. My current motto is less is more, I’m trying to see what I can cut out to simplify things, as well as what can be automated. In my blog catch-up this morning I came across this excellent post, The psychology of social media: Can a visible brand ruin your life?

No, it is not another warning about posting compromising pictures on facebook, or blogging about doing outside work while telling your boss you are off sick. It talks about some of the issues and values of creating your own “brand” through social media tools. Now, back when Nigel Dessau and I worked together at IBM UK in the mid-1990’s, Nigel was quick off the mark creating content for, and getting involved with IBM UK and IBM Europes first web sites. I had the chance to work with him on some of the content and low and behold, the first Cathcarts Corner was published almost 13-years ago. Over the years, it moved, grew and contracted, and now is just this blog.

One thing I learned though was indeed the value of the perosnal brand. When reading Jennifer Leggios’ blog posting a few things rang true. One, it is worth thinking through before you launch into “just blogging”. It’s not sufficient to work out what you want to talk about and how you say it, but who your audience are, how you will reach them, your style and much more. Secondly, at many IBM Acadamey of Technology annual meetings, and often at other events, we were told by the business executives how IBM wanted the company to be more recognised for its innovation, for its technical leadership, and yes, they promised action. However despite the multi-million dollar marketing campaigns, there are and have never been almost any household names of technical leaders at IBM, or for that matter any major publically qouted company like Oracle, HP in the tech business, but also in other traditional NYSE style big companies GE, General Motors etc. Have there ?

In the second section of her blog post, entitled Workplace Impact, Jennifer talks how the corporation handles the rising, and visible brand that is a key spokesperson. I also worked with one of the tech industries most visible brands, Simon Phipps of Sun, now Oracle. It will be interesting to see where his “brand” goes once things get sorted out at Oracle. While Simon and I worked together at IBM, I was the Linux/Open Source guy, Simon was the Java guy, but he has done a much better job of communicating, and putting the case for open source than I ever could, and in the process created a brand through his blog, twitter and other contributions. I can’t see he’d have had the same success at IBM.

The point that Jennifer makes is it’s how the company reacts that makes the difference. My IBM UK managers where always very supportive of my personal brand, they definately empowered me. However, at a corporate level, unlike Simons’ experience at Sun, it’s my view that most companies practise what Jennifer describes as “talking out both sides of their mouth”. That is they realise that an engineer or technician that creates a personal brand is both getting distracted from their “day” job through their activities, and secondly, is a risk to the company if their exposure gets them unwanted attraction from competitors, start-ups and analyst companies who might offer them a better deal in order to capture the value from their brand.

I’d never thought about it that way, but it certainly puts into perspective the legions of corporate Vice Presidents who march through the PR sausage machine and come out the other other side talking tech, only to disappear 18-months later when they move on to their next assignment and are replaced by the next [insert name here] VP. The only really famous technical person I can recall from IBM, from a public perspective is Gene Amdahl, and thats more legend than fact. Sure, I’ve known many others, but none outside their narrow specialist area and through personal contact rather than through their notoriety, promotion or brand. Can you name anyone ?

Jennifers article is a long, but worthwhile read on the subject of personal brands, and certianly made me reconsider some of my long held views.

IBM Big Box quandary

In another follow-up from EMC World, the last session I went to was “EMC System z, z/OS, z/Linux and z/VM”. I thought it might be useful to hear what people were doing in the mainframe space, although largely unrelated to my current job. It was almost 10-years to the day that I was at IBM, were writing the z/Linux strategy, hearing about early successes etc. and strangely, current EMC CTO Jeff Nick and I were engaged in vigourous debate about implementation details of z/Linux the night before we went and told SAP about IBM’s plans.

The EMC World session demonstrated, that as much as things change, the they stay the same. It also reminded me, how borked the IT industry is, that we mostly force customers to choose by pricing rather than function. 10-12 years ago z/Linux on the mainframe was all about giving customers new function, a new way to exploit the technology that they’d already invested in. It was of course also to further establish the mainframes role as a server consolidation platform through virtualization and high levels of utilization.(1)

What I heard were two conflicting and confusing stories, at least they should be for IBM. The first was a customer who was moving all his Oracle workloads from a large IBM Power Systems server to z/Linux on the mainframe. Why? Becuase the licensing on the IBM Power server was too expensive. Using z/Linux, and the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) allows organizations to do a cost avoidance exercise. Processor capacity on the IFL doesn’t count towards the total installed, general processor capacity and hence doesn’t bump up the overall software licensing costs for all the other users. It’s a complex discussion and that wasn’t the purpose of this post, so I’ll leave it at that.

This might be considered a win for IBM, but actually it was a loss. It’s also a loss for the customer. IBM lost because the processing was being moved from it’s growth platform, IBM Power Systems, to the legacy System z. It’s good for z since it consolidates it’s hold in that organization, or probably does. Once the customer has done the migration and conversion, it will be interesting to see how they feel the performance compares. IBM often refers to IFL and it’s close relatives the ziip and zaap as speciality engines. Giving the impression that they perform faster than the normal System z processors. It’s largely an urban myth though, since these “specialty” engines really only deliver the same performance, they are just measured, monitored and priced differently.

The customer lost becuase they’ve spent time and effort to move from one architecture to another, really only to avoid software and server pricing issues. While the System z folks will argue the benefits of their platform, and I’m not about to “dis” them, actually the IBM Power server can pretty mouch deliver a good enough implementation as to make the difference, largely irrelavant.

The second confliction I heard about was from EMC themselves. The second main topic of the session was a discussion about moving some of the EMC Symmetrix products off the mainframe, as customers have reported that they are using too much mainframe capacity to run. The guys from EMC were thinking of moving the function of the products to commodity x86 processors and then linking those via high speed networking into the mainframe. This would move the function out of band and save mainframe processor cycles, which in turn would avoid an upgrade, which in turn would avoid bumping the software costs up for all users.

I was surprised how quickly I interjected and started talking about WLM SRM Enclaves and moving the EMC apps to run on z/Linux etc. This surely makes much more sense.

I was left with though a definate impression that there are still hard times ahead for IBM in large non-X86 virtualized servers. Not that they are not great pieces of engineering, they are. But getting to grips with software pricing once and for all should really be their prime focus, not a secondary or tertiary one. We were working towards pay per use once before, time to revist me thinks.

(1) Sport the irony of this statement given the preceeding “Nano, Nano” post!


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'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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