Monday, July 30, 2007

Good news for AIX users?

IBM has announced that it is making available an open beta of AIX Version 6.1 – an upgrade to the currently available version of AIX. Now, the questions that immediately spring to mind are: is this a good thing? and why is IBM doing it?

Before I try to answer my own questions – or at least share my thoughts about those questions – let’s have a look at what AIX 6.1 has to offer. The big news is virtualization enhancements, with improved security also included. The IBM Web site tells us that workload partitions (WPARs) offer software-based virtualization that is designed to reduce the number of operating system images needing to be managed when consolidating workloads. The live application mobility feature allows users to move a workload partition from one server to another while the workload is running, which provides mainframe-like continuous availability. For security there is now role-based access control, which give administrators greater flexibility when granting user authorization and access control by role. There is also a new tool called the system director console, which provides access to the system management interface via a browser. The bad news for venturous adopters is that IBM is not providing any support – there’s just a Web forum for other users to share problems and possible solutions.

So, is it a good thing? The answer is (of course) a definite maybe! If lots of people pick up on the beta, and do thoroughly test it for IBM, then the final product, when it is released, will be very stable and not have any irritating teething problems. There could be thousands of beta testers rather than the usual small group of dedicated testers. Plus it could be tested on a whole range of hardware with almost every conceivable peripheral attached and third-party product run on it. And beta testers will get the benefit of the new virtualization features and security features.

Why is IBM doing it? Apart from getting their software beta tested for free, they also make it look like their version of Unix is part of the open source world. The reason I say that is because it is called an “open beta” – hence the verbal link with open source, which is perceived as being a good thing – rather than being called a public beta. To be clear, while some components of AIX are open source, the actual operating system isn’t open source.

AIX Version 6 is a completely new version – the current one is 5.3. The final version will probably be out in November. Announcing an open beta programme means that IBM can steal some limelight back from Unix rivals HP and Sun. All in all, it is good news for AIX users.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A year in blogs

Without wishing to get all mushy about it, this is my blog’s birthday! It’s one-year old today. This is blog 52 and blog 1 was published on the 19th July 2006.

I’ve tried to comment on mainframe-related events that have caught my eye, and at times I have blogged about other computer-related things. I discussed stand-alone IP phones, problems with my new Vista laptop, wireless networks. I also talked about “green” data centre strategies and virtualization, although a lot of the time I was focused on CICS and z/OS and DB2.

Perhaps one measure of how successful a blog has become is by seeing whether anyone else on the Internet mentions it. Here are some of the places that have picked up on this blog.

The blog was referred to by Craig Mullins in his excellent blog at It was also talked about at the Mainframe Watch Belgium blog At least one blog has been republished at Blue Mainframe (

James Governor mentioned Mainframe Weekly in his Mainframe blog at

The blog about William Data Systems’ use of AJAX in its Ferret product is also linked to from Williams Data Web site at There’s a reference to the “When is a mainframe not a mainframe?” blog at the Hercules-390 site at

My first blog on virtualization ("Virtualization – it's really clever") was also published on the DABCC Web site at The second one ("On Demand versus virtualization") can also be found on the DABCC Web site at

There is a reference to the same blog on the V-Magazine site at and this links to Virtualization Technology news and information's VM blog page at, where the full blog is republished.

That particular blog is also republished in full on the Virtual Strategy Magazine site at There's also a pointer to it at the IT BusinessEdge site at Arthur Cole refers to this blog in his blog at It was also quoted from at the PC Blade Daily site at

It’s good to know that people are reading the blog and referring to it in their own blogs and on their Web sites. Looking to the future, in the next year, I plan to continue highlighting trends and interesting new products in the mainframe environment, while occasionally discussing other computing developments that catch my attention.

And finally, a big thank you to everyone who has read my blog during the past year.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The times they are a-changin’

Today (Monday 16 July 2007) is my youngest daughter’s 21st birthday – so happy birthday to Jennifer. I started to think how things were different 21 years ago from how they are today – and hence I stole the title from Bob Dylan’s third album (released 1964) for the title of this blog.

21 years ago I’d just started working for Xephon (which I still do). I had a small laptop at home that I used for all my computing – although it was a Sinclair Spectrum and needed to be plugged in to a TV to see anything! IBM was the top mainframe computer company and you could use VM, VSE, or MVS as your operating systems. CICS and IMS were very popular transaction processing systems. But no-one had heard of OS/390 or z/OS. SNA was still king of communication with TCP/IP hardly being mentioned.

At work we shared Apple II computers – a luggable Mac each was still in the future. And we had so many pieces of paper!! We needed manuals and cuttings from the papers – you forget how the arrival of the Internet has made research so much easier. So, that’s another thing that’s changed – the Internet has revolutionized our lives. I can remember giving a course at that time where I would explain to people how many ways they interacted with a computer without them realising it. It sounds laughable today – you’d never do anything else on the course if you stuck to listing each person’s computer interactions!

The other thing that was missing 21 years ago that is such a necessary part of our lives is the mobile (cell) phone. You could be out of contact for a whole day and this was considered normal. Nowadays people expect an immediate answer. If you’re not getting calls on the phone then it’s text messages. There’s never been a generation of humans with such strong thumb muscles before! Teenagers can’t spell, but they can text amazingly fast.

21 years ago computer games were very simple. There was just no thought that a game would be able to respond to movements of your body like the Wii does. But, perhaps, back in those halcyon days, we went outside and played tennis or went swimming – sport that didn’t involve a TV screen.

Was it really a better simpler time? Were politicians less corrupt and the world a safer place? This is probably the wrong blog to answer those kinds of question. Would a CICS user from 1986 recognize a CICS screen from 2007? The answer is probably no. Gone are those green screen to be replaced by browsers. They wouldn’t recognize SOA, Web services, and all the other current buzzwords.

And yet despite all these changes listed above (and many others), a typical CICS or IMS user would still understand the concept of entering data and getting a suitable response.

So perhaps when you look at things from a personal perspective, although Dylan was right the times they are a-changin’ (laptops, phones, Internet, etc), the man-in-the-street still goes to work, it’s just what happens behind the scenes that has changed. For him, the French expression plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose – the more things change, the more they stay the same – might have been a more accurate title for this review of 21 years. What do you think?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Where can you go for help?

You’re an IBM mainframe user, where can you go for help with your mainframe problems? (If you were thinking of more personal problems, you’re reading the wrong blog!!) Well, my obvious answer would be Xephon’s Update publications (see or, perhaps, a search on Google (, but IBM has recently introduced Destination z (

IBM’s new Web-based portal is designed to allow its customers, system integrators, and software developers to talk about mainframe usage, share ideas, and ask for technical help from other users. And just in case you might find you need to buy something, Destination z has links to IBM sales. To be fair, though, it is meant to contain technical resources such as case histories and mainframe migration tools. Part of the thinking behind this development is to provide the expertise to help potential customers migrate workloads from other platforms to mainframes.

In marketing speak, the IBM announcement said that it will also provide space for business partners to drive business developments and provide a broad spectrum of technical resources.

Going back to Xephon, for a moment, the June issue of TCP/SNA Update shared some interesting ideas from mainframe networking specialists. There were two articles that included code, which could be used in order to monitor and measure exactly what was going on with VTAM. The first looked at VTAM storage utilization and the second looked at VTAM subpool storage utilization. A third article looked at the need to apply an important PTF if you utilize the VTAM Configuration Services Exit. There are also two interesting “discussion” articles. The first talks about SNA modernization, and the second discusses Enterprise Extenders.

If you have some mainframe networking information you would like to share you can send your article to me at

Monday, July 02, 2007

Let’s hear it for Power6

A while ago I mentioned in this blog about IBM’s ECLipz project – their unannounced and mainly rumoured plan to create a single chip for System i, System p, and System z (hence the last three letters of the acronym). The big leap forward in this plan (according to rumour mills on the Web and elsewhere) was the much-touted Power6 chip, which IBM finally unveiled at the end of May.

Before we look at whether it fulfils any of the ECLipz hype, let’s see what was actually in the announcement. Running at a top speed of 4.7GHz, the microprocessor offers double the speed of a Power5 chip, yet still uses about the same amount of electricity to run and cool it (all part of the “green machine room”). This means customers can either double their performance or cut their power consumption in half by running at half the clock speed.

And while we’re talking “green”, the processor includes techniques to conserve power and reduce heat. In fact, the processor can be dynamically turned off when there is no useful work to be done and turned back on when there are instructions to be executed. Also, if extreme temperatures are detected, the Power6 chip can reduce its rate of execution to remain within an acceptable, user-defined, temperature range.

In terms of that other hot topic, virtualization, Power6 supports up to 1024 LPARs (Logical PARtitions). It also offers “live partition mobility”, which allows the resources in a specified LPAR to be increased or decreased, but, more interestingly, the applications in a virtual machine can be quiesced, the virtual machine can be moved from one physical server to another, and then everything restarts as though nothing had happened.

The new Systems Director Virtualization Manager eases virtualization management by including a Web-based interface and provides a single set of interfaces for managing all Power-based hardware and virtual partitions; and for discovering virtualized resources of the Virtual I/O server. Virtualization Manager 1.2 supports Power6 chips. It also supports Xen hypervisors included in Red Hat and Novell Linux distributions, as well as VMware, XenSource, and Microsoft Virtual Server.

As far as Project ECLipz goes, the Power6 chip does have redundancy features and support for mainframe instructions (including 50 new floating-point instructions designed to handle decimal maths and binary and decimal conversions). It’s the first Unix processor able to calculate decimal floating point arithmetic in hardware – previously calculations involving decimal numbers with floating decimal points were done using software. There’s also an AltiVec unit (a floating-point and integer processing engine), compliance with IBM’s Power ISA V2.03 specification, and support for Virtual Vector Architecture-2 (ViVA-2), allowing a combination of Power6 nodes to function as a single Vector processor.

And in case you were wondering, IBM listed benchmark tests showing the Power6 chip was faster than Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 car, and perhaps hinted that H-P’s Itanium-based machines may as well just give up now!