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Share Spring 2007: Reporter's notebook

Users and vendors gathered at the Share mainframe conference in Tampa last week to talk training, new products and Linux on the mainframe.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Two years ago at the Share conference in Boston, young mainframers gathered at a nearby bar and exchanged phone numbers and emails on cocktail napkins.

What started as an impromptu meeting of a few dozen people, has now blossomed into zNextGen, a 200-member subgroup within Share with the goal of welcoming people new to mainframes, whether they are right out of school or from other IT disciplines.

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Stephen Guendert, zNextGen's deputy project manager, exemplifies the diverse backgrounds of today's mainframe professionals. He's a bit older than the group's twentysomething leader, Kristine Harper, having gotten his first college degree way back in 1990, but his story is no less interesting.

After graduating college, Guendert spent his time as a naval officer, which included flying 65 combat missions over Iraq and Bosnia. He then returned to school and focused on business administration and storage technologies.

"I just got into IT seven years ago," he said. "I decided to look where the shortage of skills was, and this was it. If you can get into a field at the time there's a shortage, you've got a little head start on your career."

He said the next goals for zNextGen are to start developing sessions of their own. Currently, they pick out sessions from other tracks at Share and recommend them to people from zNextGen.

Nationwide Insurance touts Linux on mainframe

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. came to Share to tell how it used Linux on the mainframe to save more than $15 million in the span of three years.

Rick Barlow, a systems engineering consultant for the Columbus, Ohio-based firm, talked about how the company replaced thousands of x86 and Unix servers with two mainframes running Linux on top of z/VM on the mainframe.

Barlow said the hardware and software support cost reductions were one thing, but the company also cut down on floor space by about 80%.

"We wanted to reduce complexity," he said. "If you think of physical servers, let's say in a rack, the most you can get in there is 40 blade servers. Well, these z9s are about one-and-a-half racks, and we have 300 (virtual) servers."

The Nationwide story is often cited by IBM and Share as a success story for Linux on the mainframe. But it's not all fun and games. The province of Quebec, with a success story of its own about Linux on the mainframe, talked about the challenges in trying to convince officials inside and outside of IT that moving more workloads onto the mainframe is a good idea; a lot of people still consider the platform a dinosaur.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, to hear that Linux on mainframe hasn't exactly taken the world by storm. In a survey taken at the Gartner Data Center Conference late last year, 78% said they either hadn't tried Linux on the mainframe, tried it and disliked it, or implemented it but didn't put it to use.

Mainframe product roundup

CA Inc. released software tools that can run on the mainframe's z9 Integrated Information Processor, better known as the zIIP. The company said moving workloads off the mainframe's central processors to the zIIP specialty engines with these Unicenter and BrightStor tools could save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in software licensing costs.

EMC Corp. released mainframe disaster recovery software to automate failover and recovery operations for companies with mainframes in multiple locations. Its Geographically Dispersed Disaster Restart (GDDR) software will be available for businesses with three mainframe sites by the end of March.

Meanwhile, IBM didn't release any new products per se, but repackaged a bunch of already announced software at the conference under its five-year $100 million investment in the mainframe. The software included DB2 9 for z/OS, Tivoli, z/VM 5.3, WebSphere Developer for System z 7, WebSphere Service Registry and Repository for z/OS 6, and Consul zSecure Suite.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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