Today’s post is an update on a post I first wrote 10 years ago on my DB2portal blog. The general idea is that everybody in IT would be well-served by learning about mainframes and their robust management environment.
Mainframe developers are well aware of the security, scalability, and reliability of mainframe computer systems and applications. Unfortunately, though, the bulk of new programmers and IT personnel are not mainframe-literate. This should change. But maybe not for the reasons you are thinking.
Yes, I am a mainframe bigot. I readily admit that. In my humble opinion there is no finer platform for mission critical software development than the good ol’ mainframe. And that is why every new programmer should have to work a tour of duty on mainframe systems and applications as soon as they graduate from college.
You may note that I use the word mainframe, instead of the z Systems or z Server terms that IBM is using these days. Nothing wrong with the z thing, but I think there is nothing wrong with the term mainframe!
Why would I recommend a mainframe tour of duty for everybody?
Well, due to the robust system management processes and procedures which are in place and working at every mainframe shop in the world. This is simply not the case for Windows, Unix, and other platforms. Of course, I don’t want to overly disparage non-mainframe systems. Indeed, much of the credit for the mainframe’s superior management lies in its long legacy. Decades of experience helped mainframers build up the systems management capabilities of the mainframe.
But by working on mainframe systems, newbies will finally begin to learn the correct IT discipline for managing mission critical software. The freedom that is allowed on non-mainframe systems helps folks to learn – but it is not conducive to the creation of hardened, manageable systems.
No longer is it okay to
just insert a CD download something from the web and install new software willy-nilly onto a production machine. Mainframe systems have well-documented and enforced change management procedures that need to be followed before any software is installed into a production environment.
No longer is it okay to just flip the switch and reboot the server. Mainframe systems have safeguards against such practices. Months, sometimes years, can go by without having to power down and re-IPL the mainframe.
And don’t even think about trying to get around security protocols. In mainframe shops there is an entire group of people in the operations department responsible for protecting and securing mainframe systems, applications, and data.
Ever wonder why there are no mainframe viruses? A properly secured operating system and environment make such a scenario extremely unlikely.
Project planning, configuration management, capacity planning, job scheduling and automation, storage management, database administration, operations management, and so on – all are managed and required in every mainframe site I’ve ever been involved with. When no mainframe is involved many of these things are afterthoughts, if they’re even thought of at all. Sure, things are getting better in the distributed world – at least better than they were 10 years ago – but it is still far from perfect!
Growing up in a PC world is a big part of the problem. Although there may be many things to snark about with regard to personal computers, one of the biggest is that they were never designed to be used the way that mainframes are used. Yet we call a sufficiently “pumped-up” PC a server – and then try to treat it like we treat mainframes. Oh, we may turn it on its side and tape a piece of paper on it bearing a phrase like “Do Not Shut Off – This is the Production Server”… but that is a far cry from the glass house that we’ve built to nourish and feed the mainframe environment.
And it is probably unfair to criticize PCs for not being mainframes because the PC was not designed to be a mainframe… but over the years people have tried to use them for enterprise production workloads… sometimes successfully. Sometimes not.
The bottom line is that today’s systems do not deliver the stability, availability, security, or performance of mainframe systems. A forced tour of duty supporting or developing applications for a mainframe would do every IT professional a whole world of good!