Mainframe 2.0 Turns Two

Two years on, CA's Mainframe 2.0 is bearing fruit, with provocative new product offerings and a host of new mainframe-oriented services.

With the obvious exception of events sponsored by Apple Corp. or Google Inc., user conferences are rarely sexy. In recent years, however, CA World has had a certain undeniable cachet. That's been the case since two years ago, at least, when CA announced Mainframe 2.0, an effort to simplify ongoing management and administration in mainframe environments.

In place of a quiver of dissimilar mainframe management tools -- many of which were first brought into the CA fold by means of acquisition -- Mainframe 2.0 prescribed a new one-stop interface for Big Iron management: Mainframe Software Manager (MSM).

That was exciting, particularly in a mainframe market segment in which the word "GUI" still has a slightly unpleasant connotation. In this respect, Mainframe 2.0 was of a piece with contemporaneous mainframe simplification efforts launched by rivals IBM Corp., BMC Software Corp., and Compuware Corp.

Even in the context of industry-wide mainframe simplification, MSM is an ambitious effort. CA markets a sometimes-confusing array of mainframe software offerings, including at least two legacy database offerings (IDMS and Datacom), a bevy of management and/or monitoring tools (e.g., NetMaster, SysView), and an assortment of other Big Iron-oriented amenities.

The prospect of bringing all of these products (with their disparate and unrelated lineages) into an MSM context would be a multi-year project. As of the most recent CA World conference, Mainframe 2.0 (and MSM) officially entered Year Two. Since then, CA has made a good bit of progress, argues Mark Combs, distinguished senior vice president for CA's Mainframe Business Unit: more than 160 of its products have since been brought into the MSM fold.

"We now have over 300 customers using [MSM] since its introduction," Combs confirms, noting that CA delivered MSM 2.0 (its first version) in May of 2009.

MSM 2.0 "automated the acquisition and maintenance of CA software over the Internet with a modernized UI," he continues, suggesting that -- in this respect --it's "conceptually like InstallShield or Windows Update for the mainframe. You don't have to go through the error-filed process of ordering up tapes."

CA delivered version 3.0 of MSM in May. "This [MSM 3.0] allowed deployments, which was important for some of our customers. [Such customers] had as many as 75 or 100 different z/OS images, or instances, that they had to install the product to. The ability to deploy [from within MSM 3.0] was important to them," Combs explains. "In addition, we extended [support for MSM] across a broader span of our [product] portfolio."

CA is moving closer to that Shangri La of GUI-fied mainframe software management: centralized, point-and-click configuration. "That's the third stage, which is deliverable [in 2011]," Combs confirms, adding that MSM 4.0 will initially support configuration "in certain environments."

Meanwhile, he says, CA is still working on its overarching Mainframe 2.0 effort.

In June, for example, CA announced the Mainframe "Chorus" Workspace, which it bills as a "next-generation" Big Iron management environment.

Where MSM addresses the acquisition, installation, and deployment of CA Software -- with (Combs stresses) configuration to follow -- Chorus will deliver new role-based workspaces tailored for specific job roles, starting with DB2 Management. Like MSM, Mainframe Chorus promises to expose features or functionality from multiple tools or products in a single management environment.

Unlike MSM, Chorus provides both context-sensitive help and context-sensitive tools, such as options, buttons, or other interactive features. Chorus likewise promises to promote collaboration and knowledge sharing between and among IT professionals (in Big Iron and non-Big Iron environments), making it -- according to CA -- a good environment in which to "train-up" inexperienced staff.

Quite aside from its innovation with MSM and Chorus, Combs asserts, CA's efforts to date have consisted of a variety of unsexy but withal important activities, such as standardizing documentation, developing software health checks, and -- a quid pro quo -- introducing a Mainframe Value Program.

"This [Mainframe Value Program] basically helps customers evaluate the use of our products so that they can get more use out of them. If you think about it, the mainframe environment has been around for a long time, and because it is efficient, well-run, and stable, many organizations kind of think of it just as this dependable black box [which] they don't have to pay much attention to," Combs explains.

"The result is [that] if they don't take the time to understand what [kinds of] innovations have come into [the mainframe] world, then they might be missing out on some things that could improve their value or efficiency."

There's a lot to be said for "if it ain't broken, don't fix it," Combs concedes. At the same time, technology inevitably entails change, and technological change -- regardless of how some cynics might view it -- inevitably involves progress.

"Most of the time, people only scratch where it itches. With our Mainframe Value Program, we offer to come in with our product experts, compare their practices with what we know to be best of breed, and point out some areas where they could possibly do more, either with innovations in a product that they aren't using, or with new products. It's not unusual to find that we've introduced a new function in a product that allows them to replace a product from a competitor."

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