The Coronavirus pandemic has led many people to work from home recently, but for mainframers, it’s not that new a thing. Most mainframers have probably used a terminal emulator on their laptop before now, so working from home is just like working on a remote server – only without the commute to work. And for most mainframers, there’s no real need to go into work unless a physical button actually needs to be pressed (which doesn’t happen very often anyway).
The idea of working from home has been around for quite a while. Back in 1979, IBM’s Santa Teresa Laboratory installed terminals in the homes of five of its employees – so that they could work from home. By 1983, IBM had 2000 people working remotely. And, by 2009, IBM claimed that 40 percent of its staff worked from home permanently.
In 1983, IBM’s 3270 PC came with a graphics adapter, 3270 emulation software, and coax interface card. Just for non-mainframers reading this, a 3270 Emulator provides a way to duplicate the functions of an IBM 3270 mainframe computer terminal on a PC. And, again for completeness, an IBM 3270 is a class of block-oriented display devices or terminals. Nowadays, there are a number of HTML terminal emulators available – which means you can access the mainframe from your phone. And, a quick check, showed there are lots of TN3270 apps available to download.
And talking of apps, there are lots of mainframe-related apps that people can use when they are working from home.
IBM HMC Mobile for Z and LinuxONE allows users to securely monitor or manage systems from anywhere, even if they are spread across multiple Hardware Management Consoles. user can view system details, including status, hardware messages, memory, processors, and more.
IBM Doc Buddy is really useful for looking up mainframe error messages and seeing what they mean. The app says that with the IBM Doc Buddy mobile app, you can search messages and codes issued from IBM Z products online and offline. In addition, the app aggregates mainframe content including blogs, videos, IBM Knowledge Center topics, and Thought Leader opinions. So, it’s a handy resource to carry round in your pocket.
The IBM Redbooks app lets users access Redbooks publications. Redbooks offer excellent information on various mainframe topics such as new solution guides, product guides, point-of-view publications, blogs, etc.
IBM zServiceAdvisor helps IBM Z admins keep an eye on systems. It can reduce the amount of time needed to optimize Db2 and CICS.
IBM Digital Assistant allows users to interact and engage with IBM experts anytime, anywhere. You need an IBM ID to use the app.
IBM Systems Magazine for mainframes lets people read the magazine on their phone or tablet.
Mainframe tutorial and refresher apps available include:
- Mainframe tutorials, which covers CICS, COBOL, IMS, Db2, JCL, and VSAM
- Mainframe IBM Interview QA from Programmerworld, which gives 600+ interview questions.
- Mainframe Tips from Bhooshan Sureshrao Mane, which provides mainframe tips for COBOL,JCL, Db2, VSAM, and CICS.
- Mainframe Short Cuts from Nagendra Rao L, which offers shortcuts for CA7, Tips, SDF_II
And there are lots more like that. I’ve no idea how useful they are, but there must be a need for them or people wouldn’t keep releasing them. There are others for COBOL, JCL, VSAM, Db2, CICS, etc.
Going back to Web-based 3270 emulators, the big advantage is that no special software needs to be installed, so it can be run from a personal or a corporate laptop. While this is good news for the user, it does introduce a massive security question mark into your mainframe IT set up. When the mainframe can only be accessed by people inside the building, then the usual security checks will have been carried out – name badges can be checked and an internal private network will be used. When mainframers are working from home from their home computer, how do you stay secure? A virtual private network (VPN) might be a start, but how can you tell who is actually using that laptop at home. That means multi-factor authentication (MFA) is very necessary to keep everything secure. MFA uses at least two from the list of something the user knows, something they have, and something the user is. And any data exchanged between the mainframe and the end user, and in the reverse direction, needs to be encrypted.
And people working from home are either more productive or spending all day in their pyjamas eating cake and waiting for beer o’clock – it depends who you talk to. Salesforce has been surveying people every other week and their research says that:
- 61% of the workforce is working from home, 53% of whom started doing so since the onset of Covid-19
- 44% of remote workers are using more video conferencing
- 27% of remote workers have been provided with new or improved work technology since the onset of Covid-19
- 86% of remote workers rate their productivity as good or excellent.
- 81% of remote workers rate their communication with colleagues as good or excellent.
Those last two figures depend on how well you trust people to be honest in their responses. My experience when talking to friends (and, again there is an issue with self-reporting) is that they do work hard from home, but, with the caveat, when there is work to be done. So, it might be that if everything has been finished by 3 in the afternoon, then no more work will be done that day. I wonder what your experience is?
Lastly, when looking at the success of working from home, someone recently told me about the Allen Curve. Thomas Allen was an MIT Professor in the 1970s who investigated why some teams were more successful than others. He found that the most successful teams were not more intelligent or more responsible, but were better communicators. Allen plotted the level of communications against distance between team members and this became the Allen Curve. This shows that communication decreases as the distance between team members increases. So, you’re most likely to communicate with someone sitting near to you. Does the Allen Curve still apply in a world of smart phones, Teams, and Zoom? It will be interesting to see at the end of the pandemic.
Certainly, mainframers are well able to work from home and show every likelihood of actually working during the day. I just wonder whether there is less communication, or only less trivial communication!