Thought Leadership: Glenn Anderson Is IBM's Guide to the Customer-Facing Mainframe

"My favorite part of my job is speaking; I love to talk, and I've been talking my whole career at IBM as an instructor at various conferences. There's nothing I enjoy more than putting presentations together, getting up in front of people, sharing knowledge and helping them understand complex stuff," says Glenn Anderson, z/OS instructor and World-wide z Systems Conference content manager for IBM Lab Services and Training.

Among Anderson's primary responsibilities is developing and executing z Systems technical events that the company hosts around the world as part of its training programs. One of his more recent and well-attended presentations, titled "The Sysprog's Guide to the Customer Facing Mainframe: Cloud, Mobile, Social, Big Data," took place at SHARE's Orlando event in August. Anderson was still buzzing about it weeks later when he chatted with SHARE'd Intelligence.

"Think about the mainframe," the 41-year company veteran said. "For all these years, it's been relegated to the data center in the basement or out in the warehouse someplace. Most people don't even know that it's there or what it is doing. When you say today that a job is a customer-facing job, what does that mean? It means you're dealing directly with customers face to face. So to say that the mainframe has become the 'customer-facing mainframe' really means that it is supporting such interaction."

Anderson spoke at length about what he describes as the constantly shifting business environment. Mainframers are looking for their place in this changing climate. They have nothing to fear as long as they are willing to continue learning, Anderson said. "Any discussion today of IT infrastructure involves cloud computing and all of the new transactions being generated by mobile computing and social business," he added. Anderson explained that the volumes of unstructured data being generated — what the industry calls “big data" — represents a shift away from what IT was accustomed to for many years. “It's no longer process-centric and transactional-centric. Now, it's more people-centric and data-centric, he said. “The fact that this shift has taken place has revitalized the mainframe.”

System programmers that have been supporting a z Systems mainframe for a while are used to traditional databases to support internal business, Anderson explained. But now mainframes can function in the world of the cloud and as a server for mobile computing. “I think a lot of people are crawling out of their holes and saying, 'Gee, look at all this cool new stuff that we can do with the mainframe today!' Anderson said. “A lot of people come to my presentations because they haven't had the time to slow down and say, 'How can all of this new stuff that's available bring value to my business? I need to understand it because I have been doing the same old traditional stuff for decades.'"

For Anderson, one of the thrills of his job is seeing the proverbial light bulbs that come on over people's heads when he has given them something new to think about. "I think it's surprising to people that there are technologies and software today that you can run on the mainframe that allows it to play in these new open industry environments that weren't there just a few years ago," he said.

Still, he does have his share of pet peeves. In particular, he gets irritated by the way some generally talk about cloud computing. "They say, 'We should be doing cloud computing,' or 'This product is a cloud product,' or 'This solution is a cloud solution,'" Anderson said. “The word 'cloud' means so many different things to so many different people. I go through a discussion where I ask, 'Are you talking public cloud? Private cloud? Hybrid cloud? Are you talking about delivering service in a cloud-like manner? What are the definitions of cloud-service delivery?' You have to get specific. You just can't say 'cloud' anymore."

Anderson added that the concept applies to the mainframe, too. Many mainframers have overlooked cloud technology, so there is a lack of understanding. Mainframe programmers need to make sure that they have the understanding to apply the technology to their businesses.  “The first thing you have to do is make sure it is a specific discussion that's going on in your business. It can't be your manager running around and saying, 'Let's do cloud! Let's do cloud!' What does that mean? Cloud what?"

Anderson describes his presentations as "quick primers" that he delivers over the course of one hour. One of the things he wishes he had more time to discuss with attendees is an architectural principle that has emerged in IT over the past several years that goes along with the whole notion of the customer-facing mainframe: the difference between systems of record and systems of engagement.

"Some smart IT guy somewhere coined these phrases a couple of years ago. ‘Systems of record’ refers to what the mainframe has done forever: deal with discreet pieces of information called records that we store in databases and run transactions against,” he said. Systems of engagement, however, are different in that they engage directly with customers and employees. “It becomes the point where the services being generated by the mainframe can be used by your end users. That's a new concept to mainframe people."

One of the things that has distinguished Anderson over the course of his career at IBM has been his willingness to learn new concepts and put them into practice. He remembers back when the Internet was new and web servers and browsers were needed to access it. "In the 1990s," he recalled, "this was brand-new technology. Back then, I stepped forward and said, 'I would like to understand how this is going to run on the mainframe.'” In his early days, Anderson had mentors at IBM who would challenge him to always learn new things. He tries to do the same thing with his students. “I would get students who would come to my class to learn how to implement a web server on the mainframe. They'd tell me that their management had sent them to the class because they didn't believe you could run a web server on the mainframe. I always got a kick out of that,” he said.

Another thing Anderson gets a kick out of? The myth that the mainframe is dead or dying. He doesn’t buy it and thinks the naysayers couldn’t be further from the truth. “I think it is a very exciting technology and the place to be in IT these days."

- Information Inc.

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