Many, if not most, or all, mainframers are steadfastly "old school" about acquiring skills. That is, rather than learning, using, referencing, and servicing systems the way youngsters do with new smartphones – by experimentation – we read documentation. Bookshelves of manuals used to be mainframers' cherished possession (making shuffling offices or changing jobs a daunting physical challenge). While softcopy information has certain charms – portability and searchability are great – it lacks the impressiveness of a well-stocked library, hinders opening multiple manuals for simultaneous reference, and loses the traditional badge of office for system programmers or developers.
Anyone who's lived with mainframes knows that documentation comes in many flavors; from thin introductions to massive tomes (Principles of Operation breaks the thousand-page barrier!). Some are well indexed, simplifying finding what's needed. And many are written during system development, reflecting design-intent (hopes? wishes?) rather than operational reality.
To at least somewhat remedy this latter design/reality disconnect, IBM provides documentation written by experienced practitioners, based on customer/IBM team research, blending theory with a healthy dose of how things really work. IBM’s Tara Woodman notes that these publications are called Redbooks because… their original covers were red, for reasons lost to the ages. This is their colorful story.
IBM's International Technical Support Organization (ITSO) develops and publishes Redbook and related publications, working with IBM Divisions and Business Partners. These address product, platform, and solution perspectives by exploring integration, implementation, and operation of realistic scenarios including PeopleSoft, Linux, Windows, SAP, Oracle, IBM products, and others.
As the ITSO's core product, Redbooks typically provide positioning and value guidance, installation and implementation experiences, solution scenarios, and step-by-step "How-to" guides. They often include sample code and other support materials also available as downloads.
What about other formats?
Redpapers are shorter, technical papers available digitally on specific topics.
Redguides solve business issues by applying existing technologies or exploring roadmaps for emerging technologies.
- Web Docs
Web Docs are technical tips addressing specific features or problems with IBM products. They may be excerpts from existing Redbooks or Redpapers or be contributed from other sources.
Redbook publications are sponsored by IBM brands (product/service-owning organizations) to provide technical enablement materials for customers, business partners, and IBMers. Additionally, certain Business Partners can create Redguides, receiving IBM templates, writing guidance, and help with publication.
These publications represent a point-in-time snapshot accurate when created but not necessarily updated or tracking product or technology developments.
There's a useful distinction between product publications and "Red" material. Product publications are specific to product details, while IBM Redbooks facilitate making best use of products in realistic settings. ITSO teams have both subject matter expertise and client insights. Being experience based, what exactly do Redbooks represent? Among the most popular Redbooks is "Introduction to the New Mainframe: z/OS Basics" rated five stars across 15 reviews.