| Craig S. Mullins
Database Performance Management
a Crazy World
The world of
Information Technology (IT) never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes the IT
world is so crazy that it boggles the mind. Don’t believe me? Here
are a few things to think about.
Why is it always all
or nothing in this business?
The prevailing wisdom
these days is that PCs and the new economy are dead, but portals and
ASPs (Application Service Providers) are the only place to be. This is
hogwash. First of all, PCs are far from dead. Almost everyone who
accesses the web does so from a PC. But the web is what many pundits
claim is killing the PC. I don’t know about you, but I want to be
able to download and store information from the web. I want to be able
to run applications like word processors and spreadsheets. I want to
be able to do my taxes on my computer. And today the PC is the best
platform for doing this. There may come a day when these applications
are accessible and usable over the web, this is the promise of ASPs;
but not today.
broadband capabilities most users do not have the speed for the ASP
model to prevail. And there are other problems with ASPs. For example,
do you really want someone else (the ASP) to control your data?
What about the new
economy? It isn’t dead, it is recovering. But the new economy is not
being driven by brand new companies conducting old business models
over a new delivery mechanism (the web). And the original assumption
that these companies didn’t need to make money to survive is
obviously completely false. In reality, the new economy is being
driven by traditional businesses morphing into e-businesses as they
add the web to their business model. Flashy new economy companies like
eToys, Mothernature.com, and pets.com went belly up because they had
to compete with entrenched old economy companies that were moving to
the web. Companies like Toys R Us, Walgreens, and PetSmart. Companies
that make money. The brand new companies that are thriving are those
with unique web-based business propositions. Companies like Yahoo and
And what is with the
current love affair with portals? Portals are valid applications with
undeniable value, but everything need not be a portal to be useful.
The world of IT is too influenced by hype. The PC is alive and the new
economy isn’t what you think it is. ASPs have a future but they are
not the only future. And portals are great, but not the only
application you need. “All or nothing” is a completely wrong way
to view any industry. But then again, maybe that last statement was
too “all or nothing” itself to be accurate?
Do you want some more
proof of the craziness of the IT world? Think about this: when did mainframe
become a dirty word?
IBM describes their
new eServer zSeries machines as e-business enterprise servers designed
for the high-performance data and transaction needs. Sound
suspiciously like a mainframe? That’s cause it is a mainframe. But
somewhere along the line, oh, probably in the late 1980s, mainframe
became a dirty word. So IBM changed the words they used. No longer
does IBM produce mainframes, they now call them Enterprise Servers –
yuk. To be fair, IBM has adapted their hardware to be better suited to
today’s modern IT shop. IBM’s current mainframes (yes, they are
mainframes, I refuse to use the generic term “Enterprise Server”)
are highly available, CMOS equipped, 64 bit, Linux-compatible machines
running Java applications. And it is not just mainframe hardware that
delivers benefit in terms of RAS (reliability, availability,
scalability). The operating systems and system software of
non-mainframe servers are years behind the RAS that can be delivered
by OS/390 or z/OS combined with DB2, CICS, and other system software.
Face it, you never get Windows “the blue screen of death” on a
IBM should embrace
the term mainframe and work to define it appropriately, instead of
giving in and refusing to use the word. Hey, let’s face it, IBM’s
biggest hardware competitor is Sun, and they understand the warm and
fuzzy feeling that the term mainframe evokes to long-suffering IT
professionals. To many IT folks, mainframes bring to mind images of
high-powered performance, five nines of availability, unparalleled
manageability, robust security, and ever-expanding scalability.
Let’s take a quick
look at IBM’s competitors and how they embrace the term mainframe
better than IBM. Sun describes its Ultra Enterprise 10000 Server as a
“mainframe-class server.” That is much easier to understand than
an eServer zSeries Enterprise Server (or an Ultra Enterprise 10000
Server, for that matter). Sun also sponsors their Mainframe Affinity
Program to promote how Sun is guided by mainframe disciplines and
attitudes. And it is not just Sun. A recent Unisys ad touts its e-@ction
Enterprise Server ES7000 as an “e-Business server that acts like a
mainframe.” Clearly, mainframe is not a dirty word to everyone.
Mainframes are even getting some good press with regard to the California electric power crisis. A recent article in Computer Reseller News suggests that mainframes could be used in place of Unix servers to reduce California’s electric consumption. The article quotes David Boyes, CTO of Sine Nomine as saying “a single z900 mainframe costs about $32 per day in electricity, while power for an equitable configuration of 750 Unix servers would cost about $624 per day.” This will not cause most of us to rethink our hardware platform choice, but it is definitely something to think about for power-strapped California.
In many cases,
mainframes are not just reliable, but cost-effective as well. In
short, the word “mainframe” need not mean unfriendly green
screens, complex JCL, and ancient COBOL programmers any more.
Speaking of COBOL,
it ain’t dead yet. Ever since I joined the world of IT, pundits have
been declaring COBOL dead. But there are millions upon millions of
lines of COBOL code running applications for the biggest businesses in
the world. These applications are not going to be wholesale replaced
any time soon. If they were all going to disappear why did we spend so
much time, effort, and money to make them all year 2000 compliant? It
may be true that new applications are increasingly being written in
more modern languages like C, C++, and Java. But the core systems that
power business are written in COBOL. And they will continue to be for
quite some time.
Which brings me to my
book recommendation for March:
Structured COBOL (ISBN 1-890774-05-7) published by Mike Murach
& Associates. This comprehensive book is a great learning and
reference tool for the professional mainframe COBOL developer. The
book is easy to read and provides numerous code samples and examples
to highlight the accompanying text. A companion CD-ROM provides many
good soft copy program samples. This book, as well as many other great
technical references for the mainframe professional, can be ordered
online at murach.com.
Before signing off
for this month, I’d like to mention one other symptom of craziness
exhibited by IT professionals. Many IT folks seem to believe they can automate
everyone else’s job but not their own. As the experts on technology
you’d think we’d be able to see the fallacy of this belief. By
developing computerized applications to support business processes, we
automate just about every job in our organizations. But try to tell
some application programmers to automate their testing procedures or
to use a code generator and you’d think you insulted their mother.
We resist automation for fear of losing control or perhaps, losing our
job. These are fears are understandable, but not really justifiable.
There is an IT skills shortage and companies want to hire more IT
professionals than are available. And we are over-worked –who among
us really wants to work these 12-hour days all the time?
The truth is, most IT
tasks and procedures can be streamlined and made more efficient using
automation: automated systems management, database administration and
tuning, and yes, even application development. Automation will not be
able to completely replace IT professionals any time soon, but it is
important as organizations struggle to cope with a shortage of skilled
IT professionals. By turning some of the work over to the computer, IT
can become more efficient, more effective, and provide a higher ROI to
And isn’t that the point?