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As Cool as z

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:38 PM


Ever since the advent of consumer electronics computing devices, we’ve been repeatedly tempted to mistake the latest sizzle for indicating something genuinely cool, only to get distracted by the next passing e-fad before we could realize that, once the sizzle ceased and the smoke dissipated, the tepid remains were just enough to leave us fed up and never satisfied.

The resulting culture, if you can call it that, has discouraged the formation and retention of the kind of savvy that links common sense and wisdom in favor of a permanent distractedness.

There’s been an abiding computing culture that has been even cooler than savvy, and is now being rediscovered by a new generation of pioneers of deep cool. The kind of cool you find at the top of a mountain, at the poles of a planet or in the air-conditioned and water-cooled mainframes that run the world economy.

If truth is found in what works, and savvy is how to effectively engage with it, then wisdom is knowing why and how it works, why it matters and why it’s cool. The new pioneers of cool are finding this wisdom to be the foundation of the mainframe context, ecosystem, hardware, software and culture.

The IBM z Systems mainframe is the only widely used computing platform that grew out of a culture, rather than having one accrue around it after the fact. That culture is the wisdom of the ages, applied as the lessons learned about how to measure twice; cut once; and operate with reliability, availability and security. It was built to manifest the aspirations; visions; requirements; insights; and experiences of business, government and academia to achieve historical quality and functionality that landed us on the moon and gives us peace of mind about banking.

Full of Wisdom

Where do we find these new pioneers of cool? At zNextGen at SHARE, of course. But they’re also coming at the mainframe from various sources, whether as students of mainframe professors such as Cameron Seay, or as solo explorers like Connor Krukosky, a 19-year-old college student with an IBM mainframe in his basement who presented at the San Antonio SHARE about how he acquired and installed it.

And what wisdom are they discovering that eluded the world of consumer computing devices? First, as that great Calvin and Hobbes cartoon reminded us, “Look down the road.” After all, even U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who felt that, in the heat of battle, plans are useless, still insisted that planning is indispensable. The mainframe has, since its inception, had a culture of planning before executing: Capacity planning, change control, preallocation, proactive.

Then there’s tracking and validation—logical corollaries of the importance of planning. Know what happened, real-time and historically, and use the past to support testing and modeling the future. I’m not just talking console logging and application testing here. I’m talking SMF.

Oh yeah, SMF. Cheryl Watson’s poetry. Fred Brooks’ endless legacy. Pathologically extreme and comprehensive data about everything that happens on the mainframe, in a vast array of varying records to overabundantly supply chargeback, capacity planning and security whodunit professionals full-time and beyond.

Coolest Platform

Did I mention security? Barry Schrager’s axe ground to a surgically thin blade. Embodied in the SHARE Security project and the external security managers of z/OS: CA ACF2, IBM RACF and CA Top Secret. Policy-based, granular, comprehensive and current, no other computing platform comes close to this kind of protection.

All the names we can drop on the mainframe, except that these aren’t mere celebrities: they are our colleagues, present to support the ongoing culture of responsible, large-enterprise computing, mentoring and sharing with the rest of us since SHARE was founded in 1955, contributing heavily to IBM’s announcement of the original System/360 mainframe nine years later in 1964. (Quite the gestation!)

Because, after all, it’s the people and the history that remain the essential ingredients that tie all of this together and continue to make the mainframe the coolest computing platform in history.

Reg Harbeck has been working in IT and mainframes for more than 25 years, and is very involved in the mainframe culture and ecosystem, particularly with the SHARE Board and zNextGen and Security projects. He may be reached at
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