CA Positions Chorus as Boon to Mainframe Knowledge Transfer

CA Technologies positions Chorus as a good environment in which to "train-up" novice staff; the trick will be to get older professionals to adopt it.

For about half a decade now, IBM Corp., BMC Software Corp., and CA Technologies have focused on making mainframe systems easier to use, manage, and to develop and integrate applications.

They've talked a lot. As recent developments in the Big Iron space indicate, however, they've also made progress.

Consider CA's new Mainframe "Chorus" Workspace next generation management system. It's the fruit of a still-unfolding Mainframe 2.0 initiative that CA Technologies kicked off nearly two years ago.

The company positions Mainframe 2.0 as an effort to simplify ongoing management and administration in mainframe environments. In this respect it's similar to IBM's own mainframe simplification initiative, unveiled two years ago, when Big Blue trumpeted a plan to invest more than $100 million across its mainframe practice to make Big Iron systems easier to use and manage.

CA Mainframe Chorus is consistent with other offerings delivered under CA's Mainframe 2.0 strategy, including CA Mainframe Software Manager (MSM). At the same time, however, it's clearly different. Earlier changes to the existing CA Mainframe portfolio -- such as CA NetMaster offerings -- seemed to offer subtle (if compelling) refinements of existing tools.

A spokesman for the company told Enterprise Strategies that "MSM is very similar to Chorus in changing management from using complex green screens and coding to a much simpler, GUI-driven, process. Where they are different is that MSM currently addresses the acquisition, installation, and deployment of CA Software (later [we] will add configuration), while Chorus creates new role-based workspaces by job function, starting with DB2 Management, then Security, and so on."

CA Mainframe Chorus is a distinct departure. It promises to expose features or functionality from multiple tools or products in a single management environment. In addition, it exposes what CA Technologies -- in a nod to Web 2.0 -- dubs a "rich" interactive visual environment that also helps foster collaboration and knowledge sharing using features such as activity capture. Best of all, the company promises, it's a good environment in which to "train-up" novice or inexperienced staff. Its role-based premise is based on an object-oriented workspace and provides context-sensitive help as well as context-sensitive tools -- such as options, buttons, or other features that are available only in specific contexts.

Today, CA Mainframe Chorus is still mostly promise. CA announced a beta release of Chorus and its first Chorus-branded offering -- Chorus for DB2 Database Management -- at CA World. The seven underlying products that support CA Mainframe Chorus for Database Management include CA Detector for DB2 for z/OS; CA Insight Performance Monitor for DB2 for z/OS, and CA Subsystem Analyzer for DB2 for z/OS. CA plans to add additional roles such as security, storage, and workload automation in the future.

The important idea here, officials maintain, is that -- to the extent that Mainframe Chorus is able to fuse Web 2.0 concepts and methods with a meaningful and intuitive mainframe management experience -- it has the potential to clear away the obstacles (chiefly, an unfamiliar and -- from the perspective of younger professionals -- counter-intuitive interactive user experience) that block entry to the mainframe castle.

CA Technologies is making nuts-and-bolts tools such as Detector for DB2 for z/OS -- even its RC-series tools (RC/Migrator for DB2, RC/Query for DB2, and so on -- available in this next generation workspace; that ups the ante, they claim. A spokesman told us that the company is "creating a workspace for DB2 management that has been designed based on the feedback of our immersion customers." The products are used in the background by Chorus to support its functionality; the tools are not directly "exposed" to the customer.

"With CA Mainframe Chorus, we are offering our customers a way to increase the leverage of their existing IT staffs, so their entire team can effectively assume mainframe responsibilities," said Dayton Semerjian, corporate senior vice president and general manager for the Mainframe business unit at CA Technologies, in a release.

CA Mainframe Chorus and the DB2 Database Management role are in beta; the security role is in development. So far, industry watchers like what they see. Take industry veteran Joe Clabby, a principal with consultancy Clabby Analytics. Clabby isn't shy about his fondness for the mainframe; at this point, he's likewise effusive about his fondness for Mainframe Chorus.

"The design and orientation of this product offering is truly unique in the mainframe world -- and, from my perspective, it is exactly the type of product that is needed to help bridge the gap between the command line interface mainframe management world of the past and the graphically driven/process optimized mainframe management world of the future," Clabby writes in a recent research brief. Clabby sees Mainframe Chorus as a deliberately designed interactive metaphor -- not (conversely) as a hastily or opportunistically-conceived (and Web 2.0-ified) GUI front-end.

"CA … hired a well-known industrial design firm -- known for helping Apple with their workflows -- to analyze mainframe management workflows. Based upon what this firm learned, CA designed a graphically driven management environment that features a 'ticker tape-like' scrolling display of mainframe data," he writes. "A mainframe manager can then see problems -- displayed in yellow or red highlighting -- and can drill down into that data simply by clicking an icon."

Clabby, who attended CA World, says the new offering looks to be a hit with CA's customers -- although he concedes that older mainframe hands might not be especially enthused about it. "Immediately after the Chorus announcement, I was able to talk to several CA customers [and] some of the older mainframers said '[It's] nice, but, at this juncture in life, I'm not likely to change the way I've been managing my mainframe for the past 30 years.' But a few other interviewees recognized that the knowledge transfer would be invaluable to sustaining their mainframe environments," he writes. "In other words, they clearly got the message and were excited about going back to tell their management."

Based on what he's seen, Clabby believes that Chorus could be a boon to knowledge transfer. The trick, he concedes, is to get older mainframe professional to play ball. "[W]ith Chorus as the technology starting point, enterprises can now begin a dialog on how to transfer knowledge and skill sets. CA then stated that once the tool is in place, enterprises would be able to build mentoring programs, using CA Mainframe Chorus as a means to facilitate knowledge transfer," he points out.

"As for getting older IT managers to use the tool, CA believes that many will see the benefit to their enterprise and help transfer knowledge willingly. But, in some cases, CA indicated that elder mainframe managers may need to be incented."