OS/390 Users Respond to IBM Announcements

Many shops in the midst of z/OS migrations.

A large number of OS/390 customers stand to be affected by IBM Corp.’s announcement last week to end new sales of its OS/390 mainframe operating environment on Dec. 17, 2002.

Other OS/390 shops could be forced to revisit long-term planning issues as a result of Big Blue’s move to discontinue break-fix support for the aging OS at the end of Sept. 2004.

With the clock running down on their support options, these customers must decide whether to stay on OS/390 or upgrade to z/OS.

Paradoxically, however, many administrators and system programmers in OS/390 shops seem unfazed by IBM’s announcement. Most say that Big Blue has made a reasonable effort to support OS/390 through its life cycle. Others express satisfaction with the support options that Big Blue has made available to help them migrate their G5, G6 or zSeries mainframes to z/OS.

Many assert that IBM’s disclosure won’t seriously inconvenience them because they’ve planned to go to z/OS all along. That Big Blue has relaxed z/OS licensing restrictions to facilitate bi-modal operation can only help get them from OS/390 to z/OS more smoothly, they say.

"I think it’s a reasonable decision … I wasn’t at all surprised given the availability of the migration feature," comments Jim Sumrall, a systems programmer with a financial services and insurance company based in the Midwest. "We run OS/390 2.10 in a production LPAR and z/OS 1.3 in a test LPAR. We plan to migrate to z/OS 1.3 in [the fourth quarter of 2002]. We currently use a [G5 mainframe], so the announced [31-bit] ‘migration’ feature will be a large benefit to us."

A senior member of technical services with a financial institution based in the Southeast agrees. "I was not surprised by the decision and think it’s very reasonable, especially in light of the six-month bi-modal support," he says.

This mainframe administrator acknowledges that his organization is already well positioned to upgrade to z/OS—it currently runs OS/390 v2.10 on z900 hardware—but says that Big Blue’s bi-modal migration accommodation provides even more peace of mind. "The bi-modal support is designed to accommodate existing OS/390 shops that have been reluctant to transition to z/OS."

Most Users Still Run OS/390
According to Phil Payne, a principal director with Isham Research, a consultancy catering to mainframe customers, the vast majority of mainframe customers are still running on platforms other than z/OS.

"Adoption of z/OS over OS/390 has so far been quite slow—about a fifth have made the move," he comments.

John Phelps, vice president and research director of servers and storage with consultancy Gartner Inc. estimates that of the more than 10,000 customers who still run OS/390 on an assortment of mainframe systems, as many as 80 percent are running v2.10. This means that they’ve got a one-step upgrade to z/OS version 1.4—provided they’re first running on G5, G6 or zSeries hardware.

At the same time, Phelps adds, it’s difficult to say just how many customers are running hardware capable of supporting z/OS. For shops with older S/390 or other mainframe hardware, he concedes, migration simply isn’t an option.

One such customer is Daniel McLaughlin, a mainframe administrator with a regional insurance company based in the American Southeast.

"I see this as forcing some sites to decide earlier to stay current by upgrading technologies, and others to 'black box' their existing systems as they seek to move to other platforms," McLaughlin observes. For his part, McLaughlin concedes that even though he has an upgrade path to OS/390 v2.10, his older G3-based 9672-R44 series mainframe can’t run z/OS. As a result, he can’t say for certain when—if ever—his company will transition to z/OS. "Transitioning to z/OS will happen further down the road. Unknown date at this time."

Even among users who aren’t affected by IBM’s OS/390 plans, there’s speculation that Big Blue’s move could cause hardship for a lot of OS/390 customers —especially in smaller shops that can’t afford to migrate to z/OS or upgrade to newer zSeries hardware.

"[It] should not affect us as we plan to be on z/OS 1.4.0 by mid-2003," comments Iain Mcarthur, a UK-based MVS systems programmer. "[I’m] slightly surprised, as I thought OS/390 2.10.0 would have a longer lifespan. [I] think it’s a bit hard on smaller shops in particular."

MVS programmer Edward Gould agrees. "This is the first time in my memory that IBM is forcing the issue of upgrading an OS," he says, noting that his company is in the process of transitioning to z/OS. "I don't think it will be a well received ‘force.’ There is no inherent ‘goodness’ in going to z/OS like [with] the other MVS releases."

Decision Understandable
Some users appear sympathetic to IBM’s difficulties in simultaneously supporting distinct 31-bit and 64-bit mainframe operating environments.

"[It] can’t afford to keep so many levels of the operating system supported. In these days of severe cost cutting, IBM has to keep up or die," according to systems programmer Sumrall.

In the final analysis, suggests Claude Richbourg, an S/390 system programmer with East Carolina University, IBM’s move to discontinue sales and support for OS/390 is understandable. "They cannot continue to support as many versions of the OS as they do. It would be spreading [itself] way too thin in supporting roles."

At the same time, Richbourg points out, shops that haven’t planned for OS/390’s eventual phasing-out have some tough choices to make.

"IBM's announcement is great if you have properly positioned yourself OS-wise. But if you haven’t, some important decisions will have to be made," he argues, speculating that OS/390 shops must determine whether they’re able to expend the time and resources necessary to get to z/OS or transition away from the mainframe to another environment altogether. "I’m afraid this announcement will force most shops to make quick and tough decisions."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.