SHARE to Spearhead Mainframe’s Future

New SHARE president Martin Timmerman says he has ambitious plans for the world’s oldest mainframe user group

If the ambitious $100 million Big Iron investment IBM Corp. announced last month is going to pan out, Big Blue will need help from SHARE—the seminal mainframe users group. SHARE’s new president, Martin Timmerman, says its members are ready, willing, and able to help.

“Historically, we’ve been very active in working with [IBM] to make sure that we have training opportunities for new staff [and] make sure that we have information in our program to make people aware of the new opportunities [in the mainframe world],” Timmerman comments. “We have a continuing role in that IBM regularly comes to us for advice on their new directions and we quite often do those in a non-disclosure manner, we come up with some of IBM’s big customers who also attend SHARE, and they get involved in the discussions, too.”

Big Blue says its $100 million mainframe push will focus mostly on simplifying Big Iron administration and programmability. Much of this investment, IBM officials say, will be earmarked to improve—i.e., tweak for usability—mainframe user interfaces. In this respect, Timmerman points out, SHARE can help educate mainframe veterans about IBM’s efforts, helping them digest and get up to speed on the latest changes, even as it works to assimilate Big Iron tyros—namely, IT pros from distributed backgrounds drawn to the promise of a more user-friendly mainframe environment.

“This certainly is a growing part of our program. Look at what we’re doing in association with zNextGen, a program we’ve jointly worked at with IBM. It’s for the new staff dealing with mainframes, whether they be young just coming out of college or somebody that’s been in an IT career for a while and is [transitioning to the mainframe] for the first time,” he indicates.

This August, Timmerman succeeded outgoing SHARE chief Robert Rosen, who—like all SHARE presidents—was elected to serve a two-year term. During his tenure, Rosen instituted several important changes, including Project Spark, SHARE’s effort to emphasize and promote a more business-centric approach to mainframe computing. Timmerman, for his part, sees Project Spark as one of SHARE’s best efforts to date; he expects to expand it during his own administration. In the coming year, for example, SHARE will focus on business resilience, where the mainframe has an especially strong story to tell.

“The idea is that essentially the data center is always up, even to the extent of introducing new levels of the OS and levels of the applications—there has to be this mindset that the system is always up,” he explains. “That means over-provisioning so that you can have some resources available for the staff to make those upgrades and changes, but how do you do that in the manner that allows a production system to continue to run around the clock?”

This is an area in which System z has a best-in-class story to tell, Timmerman argues. “The mainframe for many years has had this concept of virtualization, where you buy this one big computer that performs a lot of big tasks, so it’s possible to overprovision and in all but a handful of cases ensure continuous availability,” he says. “This is an area in which [the mainframe] has a huge lead over other systems, which are just starting to address this.”

Another new initiative Timmerman is particularly excited about is SHARE’s focus on “IT 2010”—in other words, helping mainframe pros improve their skills in order to address the IT needs of their member companies circa 2010.

“This is all about what you can do to position your company to be ready in an IT sense for 2010—so, how do you modernize the platform [and] what skill sets do you need as an individual attendee to be able to provide resources to your company?” The emphasis here, Timmerman insists, isn’t so much on the cultivation of nuts-and-bolt skills as it is the development of an architecture-centric view—in other words, of an understanding in which the mainframe is one of several mission critical IT environments.

“It is what we’re thinking in terms of being able to provide things at an architectural level, a planning level, a project level—looking at a much bigger picture than just how to apply a PTF,” he observes. “The important thing is that IT is part of the business, it’s mission-critical to the business, and [the mainframe team has] to function as part of the whole. It’s not just about two geeks in a corner running the business. It’s all aspects [associated with] doing so.”

SHARE has ambitious plans, Timmerman concedes, but its membership seems more than up to the challenge. For example, SHARE attendees have clamored for additional educational tracks and for greater more input into the evolution of Big Iron features. The user group has been happy to oblige both in the form of user events, workshops, seminars, and—significantly—non-disclosure discussions with Big Blue.

The takeaway, Timmerman says, is that this is a vibrant user community—perhaps as vibrant as any similar community in existence today—that is receptive to any opportunities which can help it grow and refine its skills. “There have been a number of new developments at technology levels that our attendees are really interested in hearing about, and those tend to get very good traction, very good attention,” he says. “The attendees and our members are generally not thinking in terms of the past. They want to learn what’s new in this platform and how they can take advantage of it.”

About the Author

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