What Do You Want From Your Computers?
Imagine that you worked for a big organization that didn’t have any computers anywhere. And the boss asked you into his office for some advice. He’d always thought that computing would never catch on, but now he’d decided that he’d like some. It’s your job to tell him what he needs—and you have a clean slate. There’s no old systems tucked away in a distant office that have to connect to everything else. There’s no legacy stuff left over from the 1970s. What would you tell him he needs?
You might have played this as a game with colleagues in the bar while you were away at a conference. But it’s quite interesting to sit down and think about what you would actually want from a completely new setup—and then to think how that compares to what you are running at your site.
With your blank sheet of paper, do you want everything controlled from a centralized megacenter, so you have total control over everything from one place? Or do you want your computing to be completely decentralized, giving you the advantage of being able to failover from one site to another if one processor goes down for whatever reason? Do you want to adopt the cloud computing model, where you effectively outsource responsibility for storing data and making sure it is always available?
And do you want your number-crunching hardware to use the same technology as your handheld devices. Do you want to use a single OS on all your devices for ease of maintenance? Or do you want to use the best-of-breed OS for each device?
It becomes much more complicated than you might at first think. And having quickly thought that you will need hardware and software, but not really looked at what you would actually need, we come to the next question, which is: How do you connect it together? Are you going to use the phone network? Are you going to communicate over your own fiber networks? Are you going to use Wi-Fi at the end-user end? Do you have enough bandwidth for the expected traffic? Will you have enough IP addresses or should you decide on IPV6 from the start?
And then there’s security. How are you going to ensure that only authorized people can access your systems? How can you ensure that no one can listen in to your communications? What are you going to do about allowing members of the public to access your systems—perhaps you’re trying to sell them things, and you want them to have information about those and other products and services you offer and their availability?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. No wonder your boss has just asked you for some advice, it’s all so complicated! And then he says that someone has told him he can do everything with Windows or Linux, but someone else has said that z/VSE would do the trick. Where do you start?
In part, the answer is to find out what the company is doing now. Even without any computing, is it running a payroll system, a bill of materials system, does it sell stuff, do people buy from all over the world, just how big is this big company? The answers to these questions affect the choices that need to be made.
Not surprisingly, I would still recommend that organization runs its core business systems on a mainframe—simply because it is fast, secure and reliable. How big a processor would this company need depends very much on how many transactions they think they will be running to start with and how many they predict they will run in two years’ and five years’ time. I expect I’d be running CICS or IMS, and there would probably be DB2 in there. Both CICS and IMS are now well able to connect to any downstream device that can run a browser—which nowadays includes laptops, handhelds and TV sets!
I’ve been using a 10-inch tablet and, more recently, an 8-inch one, and I find the 8-inch tablet big enough to do stuff on, but small enough to carry around very easily. It makes sense for staff that need some kind of handheld device to use something like that. There are barcode scanner apps, for when that’s necessary, but the browser gives you an easy connection back to the mainframe (although you need to ensure this connection is secure).
So I’ve got z/OS doing most of the work, and probably Android running the handheld devices, what do I do about the middle tier? What do I do about people who use Microsoft Excel and Word all day? Or people who use Adobe Dreamweaver, InDesign and Photoshop? If it’s only Word, I can attach a keyboard to a tablet and use something like Word. If it’s Word and Excel, I could run Linux on a laptop and use Open Source equivalents. I could run the Adobe suite on Linux. And there are equivalents to Outlook for email. And, thinking about it, I could run Linux on a tablet and Linux on the System z platform (zLinux).
But what about if someone were to argue the case for SharePoint on Windows? What if they made the case for running an intranet and using its file sharing and collaborative working capabilities? Are there alternatives? The answer is yes. For example, Alfresco runs on Linux, some other offerings run in the cloud, so you don’t need to worry about the platform.
So, your blank sheet of paper has gone from some unlabelled rectangles to actually naming some of the bits of software. If you’ve played the game for your company, how far away is your ideal setup from what you actually use? And (yes, I know money is a big issue in real life) how are you going to get there from here?
Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and for many years edited Xephon’s Update publications.