By Reg Harbeck
“The first thing that I think makes something fun is not having to worry about whether it will work or not: That's got to be one of the premier reasons that you can look at something new and say, ‘Hey, this is really cool!’”
So says my friend Tim Gregerson about driving new business value on the mainframe: It’s fun when you can trust it to work.
Gregerson, as it turns out, is an expert at both having fun and creating business value on the mainframe. He was a founding principal in the only firm that offered “MVT,” a non-IBM operating system that ran on IBM mainframes from 1975 to 2006. He has also been involved in other mainframe business ventures, bringing new functional value to the mainframe and offering attractive alternatives to established incumbents.
I recently interviewed Gregerson about business value and what we can do to support and increase it on the mainframe. We have a shared concern that there are many people right now who are afraid of rocking the boat and have lost sight of just how solid, stable and worthy the IBM mainframe platform is for new innovation and business value.
And it’s not like the people who seem resistant to change are just sticks-in-the-mud. In many cases, these mainframe colleagues have seen staffing levels fall while their level of responsibility increases — so much that they’re struggling just to keep up with the minimum requirements of maintaining the platform. As he states, the staff levels that have been talked about being needed for z/OS since 2008 have been greatly compromised by layoffs, which has led to more people overwhelmed at the task of maintaining their OS.
None of this changes the fact that the mainframe is an ideal platform for innovation and new business value, given the opportunity. But what can be done to generate and develop such opportunities? Or, as Gregerson puts it, “Where are the companies that say, ‘We actually care about innovation and newness’?”
The secret? Begin by investing in your people. Bring in new people who can learn by working with established experts, trying things out and just playing! “Obviously, if we had a big infusion of young people like it was years ago when I was once young, they would look at this much differently.”
Where can they play? Well, hidden in many production mainframe environments is a secret garden reserved only for the most diligently playful, known as the “TEST LPAR.” As Gregerson points out, “How many people have forgotten the fact that on the other side of production is that TEST LPAR: You can't hurt anything running in your TEST LPAR. You can do whatever you want with it.”
Take that opportunity to go beyond day-to-day maintenance and try something new and learn from the experience. Gregerson suggests people get past the idea that the only reason to use your TEST LPAR is to test a new release. Instead, it can be used for new and innovative things that could help improve your environment.
In other words, “It's important to play!”
Where to start playing? Of course, you can identify obsolete configurations that can be replaced with current functionality. But you can also save your organization all kinds of money and other resources by trying out whole new products that have advanced functionality and compelling prices for free.
Who knows: You might just save enough money with new functionality and lower software prices to cover the cost of new coworkers. Coworkers who can then try other new innovations and get even more business value on the one platform that has consistently shown its worthiness to handle the most important production workloads for over half a century.
So, along with my friend Tim Gregerson, and many other active participants in the mainframe ecosystem, let me enthusiastically agree: Go out there and play, try new things, bring new people onboard, have fun and bring all kinds of new business value to your organization!
Reg Harbeck is a self-described "mainframe nerd" who has been working in IT and mainframes for more than a quarter century. During that time, he has worked with operating systems, networks, computing security, middleware, applications and platforms ranging from Apple ][+ and MS-DOS PCs to leading-edge IBM z System Mainframes. Harbeck has written, presented and consulted on mainframe-related matters around the world, visiting every continent except Antarctica (so far…) and is very involved in the mainframe culture and ecosystem, particularly with SHARE, zNextGen and SECurity projects. In 2011, Harbeck also co-founded Mainframe Analytics ltd., where he is the chief strategist.