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Expert Interview (Part 1): Trevor Eddolls of iTech-Ed on Mainframe’s Role in Today’s IT

A popular mainframe industry speaker and blogger, Trevor Eddolls (@t_eddolls) is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd. He also currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. Eddolls was recognized as an IBM Champion seven years in a row between 2009 and 2016 for his leadership and contributions to the Information Management community. He’s written numerous technical articles and published three mainframe-related books. And beyond the mainframe, he’s an accomplished Web designer and a recognized social media expert.

In Part 1 of our two-part interview, Eddolls shares background on how he became a mainframe expert, discusses major mainframe trends, and the role mainframes can play in today’s IT infrastructures, including Cloud.

Can you tell us about your background in tech? How did you become an expert on mainframes?

I was a teacher and introducing computing into the curriculum – that shows you how long ago it was! I was offered the opportunity to spend three weeks at a large IT bureau, which then offered me a job. While I was there, they started to migrate from Univac to IBM mainframes, and I wrote the training program for them – and most of the everyday JCL jobs that were used.

I learned huge amounts about mainframes, so that I could train the other staff. Then I joined a training company and learned a lot about how other organizations were using their mainframes. After that, I joined Xephon, where I chaired seminars and conferences, and edited a number of mainframe-related publications, including MVS Update, CICS Update, DB2 Update, RACF Update, and MQ Update. That greatly increased my technical knowledge.

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In 2004 I set up my own company, iTech-Ed Ltd, and continued to expand my knowledge by writing technical documentation for several consultants and mainframe suppliers. I’ve produced the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook since 2007, and chaired the Virtual IMS user group and the Virtual CICS user group.

Again, these help to keep me up to date and expand my technical knowledge. I also attend the Guide Share Europe event each year and meet software suppliers for updates, which often find their way into my weekly blog.

What are some of the major trends you’re following in the world of mainframe computing today? Why do they interest you?

As chair of the Virtual IMS and CICS user groups, I like to stay up to date with the latest trends and developments in CICS and IMS.

I also like to keep an eye on new developments that are just beginning to move from PowerPoint presentations into the sandbox at some sites – things like blockchain, edge computing, Docker and digital transformation.

For organizations to stay in business, it’s important for IT to provide the best value for money, to be flexible to business needs, and to ensure data integrity in terms of security, particularly with viruses and ransomware attacks. I find these areas fascinating, and I like to keep abreast of trends with these.

Related: 5 of the Hottest IT Trends (and How Mainframes Play a Role)

For most sites not at the bleeding edge, the issues facing them include how to implement Cloud – whether off-premises or some hybrid of off- and on-premises. They are looking at how to integrate IoT (Internet of Things) with CICS, IMS, or even DB2. And how to make mainframe applications available using RESTful APIs to mobile devices. They’re looking at introducing more DevOps and Agile ways of working so that new applications, and new versions of applications, can be better suited to end users and can be introduced in a more timely manner than has, perhaps, been the way in the past.

Sites are beginning to explore the API (Application Programming Interfaces) economy – re-using existing portions of code that work well in other applications. That way, new applications are cheaper and quicker to create and put into production.

The word “mainframe” doesn’t spark the same enthusiasm and interest these days as terms like “cloud computing,” “Big Data” and “SaaS.” What would you tell IT staffs and the businesses they work for about investing in their mainframes? Why are mainframes still a critical IT function?

Don’t be misled, mainframes can do more work in a more secure way than any other computing platform. The trouble is, they have been around for a long time and therefore don’t seem exciting or modern. The reason that they have been around for so long is because they are so reliable and because they have adapted to the changing needs of changing times.

The other thing making them unfashionable is that traditionally they have used old-fashioned interfaces. And that’s because, when you know how to use the interfaces, they are quicker and give you more information. People brought up in the age of graphical displays don’t immediately grasp the advantages of the old interfaces. The good news is that most software now comes with modern graphical interfaces.

And what can you do with your mainframe? You can make it the center of your Cloud computing environment. Most your end users won’t even know there’s a mainframe inside the Cloud.

Expert Trevor Eddolls suggests making your mainframe the center of your cloud computing

Expert Trevor Eddolls suggests making your mainframe the center of your cloud computing environment.

Similarly, Big Data runs mainly on Linux hosts. Doesn’t it make sense to run Big Data in a Linux partition on a mainframe? Think how much computing power that gives you (plus reliability and security).

Not only is Software as a Service available from mainframes (through the cloud), you can now get Application Performance Management (APM) in the form of the SaaS version of IBM APM with the z Systems extension pack. This gives sites much greater insight into what’s going on than is available on other platforms.

The reason mainframes are still critical is because not only do they provide Cloud, Big Data and SaaS, they provide it in a way that is better for business for any organization that decides to use them.

Where are you observing the biggest knowledge gaps for mainframe management? What are the short- and long-term risks of these gaps?

With mainframe teams coming under general IT management, there is a huge knowledge gap amongst managers who may understand Windows and Android devices but don’t have any concept of how a mainframe works.

They see the balance sheets and the total cost of running data centers, but don’t “get” how much work is being done by the mainframe. It’s then easy to be seduced by salesmen using words like “dinosaur,” “modernization” and “migration.” Similarly, they also might not respect the technical expertise of older mainframe staff, who are keeping everything running so well that no-one notices.

The risks are that mainframe upgrades won’t take place when required. More senior (yes, I do really mean older!) mainframe staff will be allowed to leave without their expertise being passed on to replacement staff. And the biggest risk is that the business will migrate to other platforms – only to find they are entering a world of pain.

Another risk is that mainframes won’t be allowed to integrate with newer IT platforms and the benefits of “whole IT requirements” won’t be envisaged with the mainframe playing an important part in that thinking. This will result in the mainframe becoming a separate silo and eventually being allowed to wither and die.

Of course, integration can have its own troubles. Check out this white paper: Bloor Spotlight: Big Data and The Mainframe, Issues and Opportunities to discover the six common issues involved in Big Data deployments – and how to resolve them.

Hear more from Trevor Eddols: In Part 2, he gives mainframe tips and advice on what organizations need to do to address the mainframe skills gap, to ensure their mainframes continue to serve their business needs, and what to target for the biggest opportunities for growth or improvement within organizations for managing mainframes.

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