CA Mainframe Manager Gets Usability, Feature Boost

Mainframe management has come a long way, as the latest fruits of CA's Mainframe 2.0 initiative demonstrate

Mainframe management has come a long way, as the latest fruits of CA Inc.'s Mainframe 2.0 initiative demonstrate (see CA has unveiled several new or updated product offerings, starting with its GUI-based Mainframe Software Manager, the first deliverable in a planned retrofit of its entire mainframe software line.

Boasting a Web UI based on the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) from Google Inc., CA officials describe Mainframe Software Manager as a Big Iron analog to both Windows Update and the Windows-based InstallShield technology.

Like Windows Update, Mainframe Software Manager is also a free deliverable.

It presently supports about 40 products in CA's large Big Iron software stack; over time, CA plans to extend support to its entire portfolio, allowing customers to manage all of their CA mainframe software (as well as download updates or new product releases as they're released).

"It's conceptually similar to Windows Update and InstallShield combined," says Mark Combs, senior vice-president of CA's mainframe business division "It lets the customer very easily, with a familiar interface, acquire products, download the products, install the products, or remove the products. It doesn't take any capabilities away from the customer, it's just designed to make managing [CA and other] mainframe software very simple."

CA developed Mainframe Software Manager using the software deployment descriptor (SDD) standard from OASIS, Combs says. With this in mind, he says, it plans to open up that product to other vendors. "SDD provides a common way to describe software objects and a common way to manage the way that you install and maintain them. Our idea here is not to keep this proprietary to CA but also to make it available to the community at large, so that vendors that want to package their software this way can use it," he comments.

More to the point, Combs continues, Mainframe Software Manager and its GWT-based GUI are suggestive of the kind of usability retrofit that CA wants to give all of its Big Iron products. "This is absolutely what the world is going to look like for managing the environment as well," he says.

Health Check and ESD Support, Too

CA also announced new support for IBM's Health Check technology (which lets it compare the software installed on a system with a reference list to determine what, if anything, needs to be updated) as well as improved Electronic Software Distribution (ESD) capabilities.

"[At this point,] 24 of our most critical products have health checks. That in itself is a big step forward -- [it's] analogous to having decent indicators on your dashboard instead of [having to] pop the hood to check the components, check the oil yourself. Health check provides the basis for [providing] early warning [indicators] and even for automating these feedback loops," Combs indicates.

On the ESD front, CA touts better compression as a key improvement, in order to "significantly" reduce the sizes of electronic software deliverables. .

The new Mainframe Software Manager is technically a second milestone in CA's Mainframe 2.0 effort; earlier this year, CA announced new versions of its NetMaster and SysView tools, claiming that both updates delivered on the core promises of Mainframe 2.0, namely, simplified manageability and cross-platform commonality (see Combs, for his part, points to the GUI-based Mainframe Software Manager (which was built using Web 2.0 technology, in the form of GWT) as an prime example of what CA is aiming for.

Moreover, he says, "substantial" portions of Mainframe Software Manager were designed by non-traditional mainframe programmers -- principally new recruits that CA hired straight out of college. People have been talking up the imminent phenomenon of "mainframe brain drain" for a decade or more now, Combs concedes, but -- notwithstanding its alarmist history -- the problem is fast approaching urgency: most mainframe hands are in their mid- to late-50's, he observes, and -- thanks to generous retirement policies or not-so-generous early-retirement packages -- there are shops where as many as 90 percent of mainframe hands have reached an age where retirement is now possible.

Combs cites Big Blue's own zNextGen initiative as a case in point, adding that Mainframe 2.0 is of a piece with that effort, inasmuch as it's an effort to both simplify mainframe management and cultivate a new crop of Big Iron experts.

The idea is to make the mainframe intelligible -- if not explicitly "safe" -- for new Big Iron staff. Familiarity comes first (followed by intimacy) as new recruits get trained on the mainframe. "Parts of administration that can be automated and made simpler so that … an already lean staff of qualified and competent people … isn't just doing the repetitive tasks of installation and maintenance. [Mainframe Software Manager] also gives [Big Iron shops] the opportunity to introduce new people into that [mainframe] workforce and get them trained [on Big Iron] without it being a daunting task," he explains. "It provides a very simple dashboard that the customer can use to manage their mainframe software [resources]. They still have access to all of the individual elements they had before, it's just now they can acquire them in an automated fashion using the Web interface."

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