Mainframes, Mainframes, Mainframes

Readers comment on past issues.

Mainframe = Unix?
I liked Clara Parkes' article ("Business Snapshot: Mainframes," May 2002). I work for the U.S. R&D organization of Software AG (a German company). We began as a mainframe company and then branched out to Unix and other operating systems.

Regarding Clara's article, there are now several contexts around the word "mainframe," depending on which camp you talk to. In the past, the word "mainframe" meant hardware to some; for others, it meant not only hardware, but the OS (non-Unix) that ran on the mainframe. Today, the word means different things to different people. Some even say that the mainframe is back (and they're really angry)! But what does that phrase really mean? 1) The mainframe is back as a viable hardware platform? 2) The mainframe is back running zOS, a.k.a. OS/390? 3) The mainframe is back running Linux, a.k.a. Unix? 4) The mainframe is back with Internet application capability?

I really liked the article, but there are multiple interpretations of it, depending on whether you're a traditional hard-core IBMer of times past or a Unix dweeb who can jump on a mainframe running Linux and be right at home. The reality is, the "mainframe" environment has been forced to adopt many items from the Unix-related world, such as Telnet, FTP, Linux, etc.

One might wonder … does the word "mainframe" now [apply to] a Unix environment in which one could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for hardware in order to run an effective $30 operating system (Linux)? Is the "mainframe" really back or is Unix taking over and soon the word "mainframe" will mean Unix? Only time will tell …

—Steve Shandro

Mainframe Errors?
Pardon me? How sure are you of your facts [in "Business Snapshot: Mainframes," May 2002]? Most of them are in fact wrong, especially the ones from the so-called consulting firms.

The article made a number of assertions that did not ring true. It seems as if the author was basing her facts on misleading information from other equally wrong magazine articles. Did the author actually request information from credible sources within IBM, or was it coming straight from marketing? There has been plenty [of misinformation on this topic] since IBM made the announcements regarding its new machines.

I'm no expert in this department either. But I would like to see others actually understand the subject.

—Gregg C. Levine
Astoria, N.Y.


All my articles are based on timely information obtained directly from vendors or from industry analysts that we consider reputable. When requesting information from vendors, the standard protocol is to start by contacting the marketing department. I find this practice more helpful than not, and I regard IBM's marketing team as extremely credible.

—Clara Parkes

Good, informative, high-level report ["Business Snapshot: Mainframes"] for senior executives who usually are not experienced in this field (from a mainframe "dinosaur").

—Sam Arias
Operations Analyst
Dallas, Texas

Mainframe Evolution
It's good to see this information. I've known many in the mainframe environment who had decided they'd be able to hold a job until the mainframe died. Some haven't attempt- ed to grow with the changes that have been taking place in the mainframe environment and to mainframe tools. To me, that was and is frustrating. When some suggested in the 80s that the mainframe would be a thing of the past, I was pretty much alone among my colleagues in thinking that wouldn't happen. I intend to share [your article] with a number of my colleagues and follow up personally to encourage continued emphasis on broadening the view of the capabilities of the environment.

—Bill Laudon
Milwaukee, Wisc.
Compuware Corporation

NXD Products?
I read Laura Wonnacott's May 2002 column ("XML Goes Native") and wondered: Was there any particular reason Software AG's Tamino native XML database (NXD) was not discussed? I was just curious.

—Name Withheld by Request

Thanks for the comment. As I recall, I didn't mention any particular NXD product or vendor, although I did mention what the heavy relational folks were up to. I wanted to talk more about the technology than a particular vendor. A fairly complete list of products can be found at xml/XMLDatabaseProds.htm.

—Laura Wonnacott

Sun's Hit on Mainframes
[Re: May 21 news item in Enterprise Strategies newsletter: "Sun Targets Mainframes with Blue Away Initiative."] Of course Sun is going to "claim" a shortage of mainframe skills is making mainframes more expensive—they're selling a competing (and inferior) platform—what else would they say? There's no bigger shortage of mainframe skills than any other area.

Neither do they mention that a single z/OS mainframe (running thousands of Linux partitions) can replace multiple Sun machines achieving a cost reduction of at least 60 percent for hardware alone—tens of millions of dollars can be saved here.

Neither do you/they say that mainframe sales actually went up last year, not down.

Also, they don't mention the underlying problems inherent with all Unix variations—difficult to support, difficult to administer, not truly "open," more expensive to maintain and—finally—an equal shortage of skills driving up the price of ownership!

—John Wynton
Westfield, N.J.

E-learning Initiative
[Re: Laura Wonnacott's "The Business of Technology" column (February 2002).] With difficult economic times and post-Sept. 11 travel issues, mainframe IT management is now mixing a sizeable amount of inexpensive, at-your-fingertips e-learning in with its traditional classroom-type training.

With traditional training methods, the industry has neither the time nor the money to train a workforce capable of replacing the current one before it retires! Luckily, e-learning has matured at just the right time. Without it, the industry could be in real trouble!

Yet still, managers think that training should be the first budget they cut! It's so incredibly myopic! I truly hope that Laura's "Innovate or Evaporate" message gets through.

As Laura mentioned, there are many e-learning companies in the market. There is, however, only one remaining e-learning company that has a mainframe focus. In the 90s, when everyone was saying "the mainframe is dead, the mainframe is dead," the major e-learning content providers invested their courseware development dollars into client server training and their mainframe curricula became so far out of date that they were dropped. Interskill had to stick with its core business, but with the resurgence of legacy systems, has found itself in an enviable position.

Thanks again for the article. Let's hope that the IT industry develops an overpowering fear of evaporation!

—Daren Surch
Interskill Interactive Inc.
Alpharetta, Ga.