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Friday, August 11, 2017

IBM + Partners breathe new life into Moore’s Law with 5NM chip technology

By Rich Ptak and Bill Moran


When IBM exited the chip foundry business several years ago most industry watchers were sad to see the company go. A key player for decades in semiconductor research, IBM would definitely be missed. We thought that the industry had suffered a real loss. We and others thought statements of IBM’s commitment to making further investments in semiconductor research were to be written off as an essentially meaningless face saving gestures.

As it turns out, we couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, IBM research continued the work on semiconductor research that it had been doing for nearly 50[1] years.  The IBM-organized consortium of IBM, Global Foundries, and Samsung based at NY State’s SUNY campus in Albany, is delivering a significant breakthrough in semiconductor technology research.  Exiting the chip foundry business was not a sufficient reason for IBM Research to cease its efforts.

Here’s some background on what IBM and its partners have accomplished. Moore’s law[2] says that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every two years. The results of that law drove the semiconductor industry for decades.
A meter being roughly a yard.  It might have been more fun if the industry has used the term “nanoyard”. However, as the topic is worldwide technology, the metric system is used, as is the practice in global technical and scientific circles.
Recently, much published commentary (ours and others) discussed how the law was reaching the end of its useful life. A major reason being the physical limits of chip geometry. Incidentally, one of the effects of law is that today’s cellphones (which fit in a pocket) have more processing power than the 1960’s computers used for the Moon visit (which occupied an entire very large room).

To understand what is going on, we need a little computer industry technology background. The industry initially measured processing speeds in seconds. Things moved faster so the term “milliseconds” (one-thousandth of a second) became standard. As the speed-up continued, the “microsecond” (one-millionth of a second) became the standard. One might imagine that things could not get much faster, wrong. Today’s process speeds are measured in “nanoseconds”, i.e. billionths of a second.   

Moving to semiconductors, chip size is measured in terms of the distance between identical features in an array.  The current unit for this distance is “nanometer”, i.e.  a billionth of a meter. The leading edge for productions semiconductor chips today is 10 nanometers.

Moore’s law depends on shrinking the size of the chips while increasing the number of transistors on the chip which increases processing power. Conventional wisdom was that it wouldn’t be possible to push the FinFET technology (which underlies chip manufacturing today) to much smaller chips without losing efficiency. Thus, the comments about the end of Moore’s Law.

However, IBM along with its partners have now developed a process around the Stacked Nanosheet Gate-All-Around Transistor.  This allows eventually building 5 nm chips with improved efficiency, which could not be achieved with FinFETs. The details of the process exceed the scope of this paper. (Those interested can start here[3].) The chart below provides a simplified view of the new IBM process compared with the existing industry standard 10 nm process.


Chart 1 This chart is an adaption of a copyrighted IBM chart.
There are several items of note. IBM's  new chips orient transistors horizontally versus today’s vertical arrangement. This allows transistors to be stacked and have more on each chip. Also, IBM chips use a new way to form the sheet material that is much more efficient in power consumption. It delivers a 75% saving in power compared to existing 10 nm chip architectures.  Finally, the new sheet formation process allows continuous fine-tuning for power and performance of specific circuits during manufacturing. Something not possible with FinFET technology

In summary, it appears to us that the IBM consortium has breathed new life into Moore’s law. With this new architecture, it looks to be applicable for the next decade or so just when many were pronouncing the law dead. However, we expect the interest and investments in such new technologies as quantum, data-centric computing and other approaches to grow.

[1] Publication in 1974 of a paper by Robert Dennard et al on MOSFET scaling rules for improving transistor density. See http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.334.2417
[2] Not actually a law, it was a prediction about how the semiconductor industry would evolve in terms of density and cost per transistor.

Ptak Associates Tech Blog: Do two positive quarters signal a major turnaround...

Ptak Associates Tech Blog: Do two positive quarters signal a major turnaround...: By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak Although we don’t usually cover IBM storage, it’s worth calling attention to what appears to be a significa...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Do two positive quarters signal a major turnaround for IBM Storage?

By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak


Although we don’t usually cover IBM storage, it’s worth calling attention to what appears to be a significant positive development.   Ed Walsh joined IBM as general manager of IBM Storage and Software Defined Infrastructure on July 11 of 2016.  He joined IBM from Catalogic Software, where he was CEO since 2014.  IBM Storage which had endured 21 consecutive quarters of declining revenue has turned a corner.  Revenue results since then appear below.

Storage Revenue by Quarter

1Q15 
2Q15 
3Q15
4Q15
1Q16
2Q16
3Q16
4Q16
1Q17
2Q17
-4%        
-14%
-7%
-7%
-6%
-13%
-9%
-10%
+7%
+8%
The change represents a dramatic 17-point swing from -10% in 4Q16 to a positive 7% growth in 1Q17. Growth that continued with another 2Q17 revenue increase of 8%.

With corporate IBM posting 20 or so quarters of declining revenues, IBM Storage reversing the trend by increasing revenue is great news. Storage requires proper investments to maintain such growth. Recent indicators, e.g. announcement of a successful collaboration with Sony using sputtered[1] magnetic tape to advance toward a dramatic increase in tape storage capacities (to 330 TB), suggests they will get what’s needed. And, IBM corporate will shift focus to other problem areas.

We expect IBM storage customers to feel reassured about existing IBM storage investments and benefits. They will view continued investment in and growth with IBM storage as good business sense. 

We fully understand that the storage marketplace remains intensely competitive. We recognize two-quarters of growth doesn’t guarantee success. Any benefits IBM enjoyed from the confusion resulting from the EMC/Dell merger, will disappear. The IBM Storage team will need to remain very motivated and highly competitive.

We are comfortable ending on a positive note. Clearly, IBM management were hoping for exactly what Ed Walsh and his team are delivering. In July alone, they made significant storage announcements, one was a new all flash solution for Exabyte Data analysis for Hortonworks[2]. The other was about a family of new flash arrays[3]. One model, when attached to the new z14 mainframe, delivers less than 20 microsecond response times. With more new offerings coming in 2H17, we look forward to 3Q17 revenue numbers to see if the trend continues. We’re inclined to think it will.




[1] The word “sputtered” is not a misprint. The new tape format is exactly that. It is a major breakthrough in tape technology. Google it for more information.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

IBM z14 Mainframe = Trust and Security Benchmark

By Rich Ptak

         Figure 1 z14 Design Goals        (Image courtesy of IBM, Inc.)
IBM's introduction of the z14, the next generation mainframe raises the bar not only for enterprise security, scalability and performance, but also addresses the pricing issues. The first three with pervasive encryption and technological innovation. The latter with highly flexible container-based pricing models. 

In their announcement details, IBM focused on enterprise and business relevance of the z14.
There are too many new features, capabilities, and innovative aspects to cover in one article.
We will highlight the design goals and provide a quick overview of the perennially interesting new pricing models. Then, look at the Open Enterprise Cloud aspects in a little more detail.

It's the z14 For Trusted Computing - Overview

The amount of business-critical data collected for rapid analysis and feedback continues to explode. Digital transformation is well-on its way to reality for enterprises of all sizes. Data sharing includes an increasing number of partners and customers. The issues around data security, data integrity, data authentication, and the risk of compromise become of increasing concern. At the same time, an operating model built on the hybrid cloud (with collocation, shared infrastructure, multi-tenancy, etc.) is clearly establishing itself as the preferred enterprise computing infrastructure model for the foreseeable future. This results in enormous pressures on existing security and data handling approaches to adapt and change to be more innovative and reliable.

In the increasingly interconnected, interactive world, trust, security, risk reduction and management to serve are critically important. It is such an operating environment that IBM aims to serve as it introduces the z14, the latest generation of mainframe computing.

So, IBM operated with three basic design goals and one major pricing innovation for the z14.
The design goals (see Figure 1) first:
  1. A new security model - pervasive encryption as the new standard for data protection and processing with no changes to apps or impact on SLA's - the security perimeter extends from the center to the edge - designed-for security, processing speed and power; the most efficiently secure mainframe ever. 
  2. Fully leverage continuous, in-built intelligence - complement and extend human-machine interaction with direct application of analytics and machine learning capabilities to data where it resides - leverage continuous intelligence across all enterprise operations.
  3. Provide the most open enterprise operating environment - new hardware, open standard firmware, operating system, middleware and tooling that simplifies systems management for admins with minimal IBM z knowledge - more Open Source software supports agile computing, e.g. leverage and extend existing API's as service offerings; easier scaling of cloud services.

Next, pricing innovation:

After some extensive research with customers, IBM is introducing three new pricing models.
The goal is to provide increased operational flexibility with prices that are significantly more
competitive and attractive for modern digital workloads. Container Pricing for IBM z is designed
to provide "simplified software pricing for qualified solutions, combining flexible deployment
options with competitive economics that are directly relevant to those solutions." We provide
some details later. First, a look at the Open and Connected aspect of the z14.

Open and Connected

Today's market demands open, agile operating environments, and services with new or
extended capabilities being introduced rapidly and seamlessly. All to be delivered through an
agile, open enterprise cloud. The z14 software environment is designed to those expectations.
Advanced DevOps tools that leverage new and existing APIs can cut service build times by
90%. To speed innovation, IBM's extensive ecosystem of partners are developing and
delivering thousands of enterprise-focused, open source software packages to support the
mainframe in accelerating the "delivery of new digital services through the cloud." Let's look at
this a little more closely.

The new z14 is about leveraging APIs to speed development and ease access to mainframe
capabilities. The goal is to make the efforts of developers and users to exploit the powers of
the mainframe to be easier to access, simpler to use and more quickly deliverable to the
market. This is to be achieved with new hardware, firmware, operating system, middleware
and tooling that simplifies systems management tasks. These also make the process easier for
system administrators with minimal IBM z System experience and knowledge.

The procedure breaks down into four tasks:

  1. Discover - leverage existing investments by helping developers to quickly, automatically discover existing applications and services that can then be converted to API services. 
  2. Understand -  prior to going into production or implementing application changes, identify the dependencies and interactions between the applications and API's to identify how they are affected by any changes. Know where and what an API touches to avoid down time and re-working of changes. It also minimizes the risk of removing protection of critical data by exposing an API. 
  3. Connect - provide easy, automated creation of RESTful services based on industry standard tooling to rapidly create new business value, e.g. link a vacation search to destination appropriate clothing, hotels, interesting sites, etc. Or, associate an order for heavy equipment to a link that suggests purchasing insurance, maintenance, installation or operating services. 
  4. Analyze - use operational analytics and data collection to create an enterprise view of the mainframe and the surrounding operational environment. Integrate the z System data with data from over 140 different data sources in any format. Search, analyze and create a visual representation of service activities and interactions using SIEM tools, such as Splunk or open source Elasticsearch. This helps in early identification of potential problem areas such as performance bottlenecks or operational conflicts.

New capabilities dramatically increase the performance and scalability to already impressive
mainframe abilities. These include such new capabilities as zHyperLink a new direct connect,
short-distance link. It is designed for low latency connectivity between the z14 and FICON
storage systems. It can lower latency by up to 10x which can reduce response time up to 50%
in I/O sensitive workloads, without any code changes. The z14 has available, as a purchasable
option, Automatic Binary Optimizer for z/OS(r), which will automatically optimize binary code for
COBOL applications which can reduce their CPU usage by 80% without a recompilation. One
z14 can scale out to support an impressive 2 million Docker containers. Now, let's look at
pricing.

Container Pricing for IBM z

Any mainframe discussion is bound to include a discussion of pricing policies, management,
and control. Customers want predictability - to know what the bill will be. They want
transparency - knowing how billing is calculated. They want visibility - to understand the
impact of changing or moving workloads. They want managerial flexibility - ability to adjust
workload processing and scheduling to balance their needs with computing costs.

IBM's solution is the concept of Container Pricing for IBM z, which provides line-of-sight pricing
to make the true cost highly visible. It applies to a collection of software collocated in a single
container. It determines a fixed price which applies to that single container[1] of software with no impact to the pricing of anything external to the container.



[1] A container is a collection of software treated for pricing purposes as a single item. The collection is priced separately and independently of any other software on the system.

A container pricing solution can be within a single logical partition or a collection of partitions.
Multiple, collocated and/or stacked containers are permitted. Separate containers with different
pricing models and metrics can reside in the same logical partition. Container deployment is
flexible to allow the best technical fit, independent of the costs. Three types of Container
Pricing solutions are offered now:
  1. Application Development and Test solution (DevTest) - provides DevTest capacity that can be increased (up to 3x) at no additional MLC cost. Clients choose the desired multiplier and set the reference point for MLC and OTC software. Additional DevOps tooling with unique, discounted prices are available. 
  2. New Application solutions - special, competitive pricing for those adding a new z/OS workload to existing environments. There is no impact on existing workload prices. The container size determines the billing for capacity-priced IBM software.Payments 
  3. Pricing solution - offers on-premise, Payments-as-a-Service on z/OS based on IBM Financial Transaction Manager. It applies to software or software plus hardware combinations. 
This is a simplified review of the new model. Contact IBM for more detailed information. IBM
will be refining and adding models to meet customer needs. Moving on to the other design goals.

Trust + Security thru Pervasive Encryption

Data and application security in enterprise IT have taken a beating in the last few years. Traditional security techniques and barriers have fallen victim to numerous attacks as well as rapidly evolving threats and scams. Successful attacks and breaches came from sophisticated external criminals as well as maliciously or accidentally by insiders. Victims include large, sophisticated financial institutions to national governments and ministries. Even blockchain ledgers have proven vulnerable to weak implementations and clever hackers.

With data widely recognized as an asset of escalating value, the risks and costs of such breaches increases. Traditional security methods focused on trying to prevent successful intrusions or minimizing damage with selective encryption, rapid detection, and blocking. Selective data encryption proved too expensive, resource intensive and inconsistent in application. And, significant risks remain when leaving some data un- or weakly protected as hackers and intruders became more sophisticated. Also, new policies or evolving compliance requirements can make critical once non-critical data, further weakening selective methods.

IBM's solution was to design the z14 with hardware technology and software protections that make pervasive encryption from the edge to the center including the network affordable, efficient and rapid. All data is encrypted all the time without requiring any changes to applications and without impacting Service Level Agreements (SLA's).

Application of Machine Learning

Successfully leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) in the enterprises had been an elusive goal
for decades. Early attempts were frustrated by limitations in expertise, processing power, high
costs and the sheer amount of effort required to build and test models.

Today, the maturation and automation of modeling techniques along with improvements in
infrastructure and technology have allowed AI, more accurately described as machine learning,
to come into its own in the enterprise. Examples in the z14 include optimized instructions,
faster processing of Java code, and improved math libraries that speed and improve analytics.
The 32TB of memory means the z14 can process more information and analyze larger
workloads and in-memory databases in real-time. The results come in the form of prompt
availability of actionable business insights that result in better customer services. The
announcement contains much more about machine learning applications as well Blockchain
capabilities. Topics for future coverage.

The Final Word

The new z14 is an impressive and worthy addition to the IBM mainframe family. It promises
"Trusted" computing on the platform that has been the benchmark for processor security. That
is a much-desired deliverable in a highly integrated, totally connected, rapidly evolving world of
digital enterprise. There are many more attractive features to the new z14. These include
unique to IBM Blockchain services which provide significant protection against fraud. There's
the ability to rapidly build microservices choosing from over 20 different languages and
databases to use. There's the free access to the mainframe for those interested in testing the
ease of use features or expanding their mainframe skillset. (See https://ibm.biz/ibmztrial).

By delivering efficient, affordable, speedy 100% end-to-end encryption of all application and
data base data it pushes infrastructure boundaries to achieve a uniquely secure environment;
without requiring any changes to applications, services or data. IBM has also implemented
unique encryption key protection that removes any risk of it being exposed. To do so without
changing or impacting the ability SLA's is remarkable. IBM estimated encryption overhead at
"low-to-mid" single digits.

IBM's focus on automating and facilitating the utilization and optimization of API services is a
very smart move on their part. An on-going 'critique' of the mainframe has been that it is
inaccessible, living and operating in its own isolation. True in the past, the last few years have
seen a dramatic alteration with the emergence of the "Open, Connected and Innovative"
mainframe. The change has been rapid and significant.

The significant impact of the introduction of Linux on Z and the proliferation of numerous Open
Standard solutions, APIs, tools and interfaces cannot be ignored. The introduction and
movement of numerous Open Stack products to the mainframe along with the addition of agile,
Open Source DevOps tools and APIs have made the mainframe's extensive capabilities easier
to access and faster to exploit by a much wider audience. This is reflected in the growth of the
highly diverse ecosystem of mainframe partners, ISVs and developers working with IBM. The
z14 looks to accelerate that process.

The mainframe, IBM's longest running product, has seen its ups and downs over the last 50+
years. Anticipation and predictions of its death have filled column space of way too much IT
commentary, stories and speculation. The z14 fills a well-defined, valuable place in the IT
infrastructure.

Friday, July 14, 2017

IBM and Nutanix deliver no-compromise, on-premise Cloud computing with IBM Hyperconverged Systems powered by Nutanix

By Rich Ptak

Figure 1 IBM CS822  (Photo courtesy of IBM, Inc.)

Congratulations to IBM[1] and Nutanix[2] on their July 11th announcement of the industry’sfirst hyperconverged system that combines Nutanix software with POWER8-based systems (IBM CS821, IBM CS822). They are delivering two significant innovations:
  1. Immediate access to a fully-configured, full stack workload-optimized system with servers designed for data and high-performance workloads, e.g. high-volume transaction and cognitive analytics. This includes scale-out Linux workloads like IBM WebSphere® Application Server, NGINIX, IBM Big Insights/Hadoop, etc.
  2. Vastly simplified, automated implementation of on-premise cloud-like operation. Nutanix’s world-class Enterprise Cloud Platform[3] makes cloud creation transparent as it simplifies operations and management with one-click access, operation, and management in an on-premise cloud-like environment.

Configuring the optimal combination of compute infrastructure elements (processor, storage, network, operating software, etc.) for a workload has been a challenge forever. The perennial trade-off has been between the heavy burden and expertise required to design a system for optimal workload performance; and the alternative of adapting the workload to an off-the-shelf system. Custom configurations involve a resource intensive, manual process requiring significant expertise with the significant downsides of cost, time and the need for specialized support. The standard alternative sacrifices performance, capacity, scalability or other features, for a lower cost, immediate availability and standard support. In today’s rapidly evolving, highly competitive market, such compromising may yield short-term advantage, but will more likely result in long-term problems.

A cloud-based solution would be an alternative, for those with the necessary expertise in cloud infrastructure design, configuration, management, etc. Or, a willingness to depend upon cloud provider expertise. Not to worry. Just last May, IBM and Nutanix announced plans to attack the problem head-on with a multi-year initiative to provide an integrated solution that combines Nutanix’s Enterprise Cloud Platform software with IBM’s Hyperconverged Systems optimized for specific enterprise workloads.

The first results are seen in these turn-key hyperconverged fully-scalable, on-premise cloud systems. They are impressive. There’s a lot more to the announcement. So, talk to IBM to get the full details. We expect customers will agree.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Compuware Further Boosts Mainframe Agility with Topaz for Total Test Enhancements and Integrations with Leading DevOps Tools

By Rich Ptak



Figure 1 Topaz for Total Test Speeds and Simplifies COBOL Unit Testing
Image courtesy of Compuware


 It's a new quarter and time for a Compuware mainframe product announcement. This time the focus is on enhancements to Topaz for Total Test. As you may recall, we last commented on Topaz for Total Test's powerful automation capabilities for application test creation, implementation, execution, and cleanup at ist's introduction last January[1].See Figure 1 above.

 Earlier announcements have addressed such topics as Source Code Management[2], Release Automation and Application Deployment and Application Audit, which increases overall cybersecurity and compliance with automated auditing of user behavior with applications. Integration with SIEM tools such as Splunk[3] allows the user to get a cross-enterprise view that speeds identification and detection of non-compliant and security threatening behavior by users. 

Topaz for Total Test, the subject of this commentary, addresses problems of COBOL code change management with groundbreaking automation and innovations in COBOL code testing. Given the abject failure of re-platforming initiatives, large enterprises hoping to avoid digital irrelevance must aggressively modernize their mainframe DevOps practices. Key to the modernization and ‘de-legacing’ of mainframe application is the adoption of unit testing for COBOL code that is equivalent to and well-integrated with unit testing as practiced across the rest of the enterprise codebase. That is exactly the challenge Compuware addresses with Topaz for Total Test.

Compuware has committed to build on its solution base using agile, continuous, modern processes to deliver significant enhancements and extensions. In fulfillment of that commitment, they are developing new DevOps Toolchain integrations and extended support for DB2 SQL. Here is what they are bringing to market.

What’s new?


Compuware made an impressive start in January with the initial release of Topaz for Total Test, which enables developers at all skill levels to perform unit testing of COBOL code similar to how it is done for other programming languages (Java, PHP, etc.). Program Stubs were also a significant and highly popular innovation. Stubs allow sub-program calls to be disconnected from the main program. Therefore, the subprograms can be tested independently of the main program. Data Stubs eliminate the need to access data files or DB2 Tables. Testing becomes much easier, less complicated, less risky and complete considerably faster. Testing can be repeated without disrupting the production environment, thereby significantly increasing operational flexibility. It was no surprise that customers responded enthusiastically by using stubs extensively and quickly identifying specific extensions to make the product even more attractive.

 
Compuware quickly moved to explore the possibilities for further automation of the unit test process. Developers, like all skilled craftsmen, have favored tools. For developers, these include Jenkins (toolchain management), SonarQube (quality control) and Compuware’s own ISPW (source code management and deployment).

Compuware recognized the opportunity to completely automate the DevOps processes of Build – Test – Deploy. They also noted that the ability to test independently of the main program and without impacting operations was highly valuable as it simplified a frustrating, time-consuming task. Further, data stubbing could be used in other areas to eliminate or reduce dependencies to further strengthen, simplify and speed testing. This release responds to those requests. The results are the enhancements included in the announcement. They are:
  • Topaz for Total Test integration with Jenkins which enables COBOL unit testing to be automatically triggered as part of a DevOps toolchain and/or continuous delivery process. The result is a significant increase in efficiency.  
  • Topaz for Total Test integration with SonarSource’s SonarQube ensures quality trends are visible throughout the development process by displaying pass/fail testing results along with all cross-platform DevOps activities. 
  • Topaz for Total Test integration with Compuware ISPW tightly couples test cases with source code to enable the sharing of test assets, enhanced workflow and the enforcement of testing policies as part of the DevOps toolchain.
  • New “stubbing” for DB2 databases allows developers to run unit tests without requiring an active connection to a live DB2 database. This is huge. Testing can be done against real data without impacting or risking corruption of the production data base. With stubbing, Topaz for Total Test can test code processing most types of mainframe data. The unique capability for stubbing of DB2, VSAM, and QSAM data types means that creating repeatable tests is much easier. Data stubs can be created automatically with no re-compilation needed. 

There’s still more in the announcement. The DB2 data used to make SQL statement stubs can be collected automatically, in real-time from on-line test databases. These data stubs can be saved and used to create and run new scenarios for use by other testers. Data stubs can be reused or overwritten by multiple testing programs. Decoupling code into subprograms allows Unit testing to be done in smaller increments, speeding results, simplifying testing and allowing for more granular analysis and better testing. All this means testing can be done without requiring a large system for testing. Testing can be done on-line with no risk to the production database. Job Control Language (JCL) can be created and reused from Profiles, eliminating the need to recreate them every time. 

The Final Word
Compuware is aggressively pursuing a strategy directed at “Mainstreaming the Mainframe.” Their strategy recognizes and is dedicated to overcoming structural and operational issues that make mainframe utilization and COBOL code maintenance a complex, slow and intimidating task, especially for those new to the mainframe.

They do so by delivering “big step” IT tools that introduce the latest new-to-the-mainframe capabilities, such as automated unit testing. But, they also extend and enhance existing solutions by automating functions or processes, providing interesting product integrations and extending APIs to simplify or ease time-consuming mainframe tasks that annoy admin and operations staffs. To accomplish this, Compuware has employed and made contributions in visualization, code analysis, behavior auditing, automated unit testing, operations management, etc.  

Topaz for Total Test provides positive proof of Compuware’s success as it benefits both IT and production staffs. IT staff benefit from access to familiar, modern tools and more efficient processes. IT productivity and performance benefit from increased automation. Faster collection of test data by exploiting Compuware’s Xpediter is one example. The extensive use of automation in test creation (such as collecting test data) and execution improves the quality and depth of testing. Integrations with Jenkins, SonarQube, and ISPW further empower less experienced mainframe developers to work on multi-tier apps. The overall result is that program updates, changes and improvements move more quickly through the DevOps process to get higher quality code into the production environment.

Operations benefits as both customers and users see improvements. Users benefit from better quality code with few problems and faster introduction of changes to meet business and operational needs. Customer satisfaction improves when they get the benefits of updated and modified code with fewer problems.

This is the 11th consecutive quarter that Compuware has delivered on its “Mainstreaming the Mainframe” commitment to improve and make more attractive the Mainframe ecosystem. Figure 2 at right summarizes their path to this point.



Figure 2 Compuware Delivery Record to Date
Image courtesy of Compuware

Their performance to-date has been impressive by any measure. And, from what we’ve been told and heard from them, they fully expect to continue to deliver at an equivalent pace and scale for the foreseeable future.

We congratulate Compuware on their success so far, as well as their commitment to the future. Compuware’s efforts have positively impacted the mainframe market, to the benefit of everyone involved in that market whether partner, customer, service provider or vendor. Look at what they’ve done; see if you don’t agree.




[2] For more details on these and other topics see: http://www.ptakassociates.com/content/
[3] Read about the full range of Splunk products here: https://www.splunk.com/

Get Acquainted with James

By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak


Image courtesy of dinCloud 

James is a robot. Actually, he is a virtual robot that provides 24x7 monitoring and alerting services. James is the creation of dinCloud. Why should you be interested in James?  Because James can solve many problems that companies face. For instance, early detection and warning of anomalies and failures that disrupt operations.

What is driving this need? Competition is the norm today. Customer service is critical to success, and as a result, numerous companies are transforming themselves into digital enterprises. Practically, this means business-customer interactions occur 24x7 thru mobile and computing devices. Even companies not undertaking a business transformation are subject to intense competitive pressures to provide on-line access. The result is that IT services end up with a direct link to revenue generation.

What does this mean to IT staff, and how does a robot come into play? With a significant amount of company revenue flowing from online sources, a slowdown or interference with that flow directly impacts the bottom line. Any application glitch is taken very seriously by management. Therefore, IT closely monitors applications to quickly detect problems so they can take corrective action as soon as possible.

However, most companies use third party software in their critical applications. Often, these are not integrated into a single monitoring/management system. A problem cannot be fixed if it isn’t known. Without monitoring, significant time may elapse before IT staff are aware that a problem exists. This time lag can increase both the problem’s severity and revenue loss. It is critical that the process of problem identification, analysis and resolution, or workaround be started as early as possible. Further, disruptions that upset customers, operations staff, and IT can escalate to involve senior company management. An unwelcome situation that robotic monitoring helps to avoid.

Finally, increasingly critical applications are operating online across time zones 24x7. A problem can occur at any hour[1]. If it occurs in the middle of the night, it may not be discovered until hours later.  Again, James makes a real contribution. As a robot, he is continually on watch. He never sleeps. He does not get distracted or take coffee breaks. Thus, when James monitors an application, IT will be notified of any failure as quickly as it appears.

In this note, we provided an overview of James’ activities. His basic abilities include monitoring, alerting, and reporting on the status of any app that the customer desires. Find out more about James by going to this website.[2] There is one important additional design feature. James executes in a virtual machine residing in the cloud. We will discuss the importance of this feature a little later.

Evaluation

The design and operation of James impressed us. However, we have not had direct hands-on experience with James; our actual experience is limited. Keep that in mind as you read further.

We believe that dinCloud has identified a real market requirement. They provide a very innovative way to address it. The technology appears solid. One note, dinCloud identifies a number of companies using the robot today. However, none will speak publicly, so there are no customer references. We believe they are aggressively seeking such references.

Suggested Actions

Enterprises should carefully review any applications/services that might benefit from James’ services. Ask yourself the following: Are there any apps that went down, or where customer service degraded during the recent past? How quickly did you find out about it? Did a delay in awareness increase the problem severity or impact? Are there any apps that will upset C-level executives when a problem occurs? How important is it that IT be aware of a problem coincident or before the customer is aware of it? Your answers can help identify the potential of James’ benefit to you.

You can also decide to look at James again when there are customer references. Cautious customers will choose to wait. However, the downside is the risk of enduring, for 6 months or a year, some of the situations that James could alleviate.  We believe that the risk of installing James now is very small.

One reason we think this is because dinCloud will do the work of tailoring James for your installation. This minimizes the risk of installation difficulties[3]. Another risk that James’ design minimizes is when the robot runs in a virtual machine and the cloud. With this design, a flaw in James that crashes the virtual machine leaves the rest of the system operational. Thus, the risk of the robot causing system problems appears very small.

Finally, there may well be other benefits of being an early user because you should get some special attention from dinCloud. We will not attempt to describe what this might mean since we are not in a position to make commitments for dinCloud, but savvy users will understand what we are saying.

In summary, if your company has experienced the type of problems where James is able to assist, we think that you should investigate this situation carefully and discuss your situation with dinCloud. By the way, we do not benefit financially in any way if you decide to do business with dinCloud. We would be interested in hearing about your experiences. You can reach us at: associates@ptakassociates.com.




[1] For instance, many sales-oriented, SAP and Salesforce installations operate continuously.
[3] dinCloud estimates it will take on the order of 6 weeks total time to prepare James for a production environment. That includes the tailoring, as well as learning time.