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Is nothing sacred anymore - a GUI on a mainframe?


When you think about working on a mainframe, the last thing you think about is pointing and clicking with a mouse. As a matter of fact, I remember when I first sat in front of a mainframe in college, the professor told us how lucky we were because we got to use COLOR terminals. There was no fancy interface like Windows, GNOME, KDE, or Aqua. A cursor and a keyboard was all you needed.

Fast forward 20 years and we discover that IBM is planning to spend about $100 million dollars in the next five years in an effort to deliver Mainframe Simplification. As a part of this effort, it's developing a new GUI interface to help what it calls the "new generation of IT workers" to do such things as manage, configure, and create applications for mainframe systems. 

The related image on IBM's Web site that discusses the investment looks a lot like Windows XP, so it might not be the actual GUI in production. But even so, it gives a hint about what managing a mainframe in a GUI environment might look like.

 

"Courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation. Unauthorized use not permitted." 

 

Entire cottage industries have popped up around the idea of creating graphical front ends for PCs to run mainframe applications. In those cases, the applications still runs on the mainframe itself but the presentation layer is all driven by the PC's horsepower. Consuming mainframe CPU cycles by actually pushing pixels around the screen seems like a rather surprising move. 

When I worked on mainframes in college and at the Police Department, I had lots of discussions with the mainframe people about all of the benefits of smaller systems as opposed to the mainframe environment. Usability was always one of the issues.  Running a GUI on something like a mainframe would have been completely anathema to their thought processes.

Now IBM comes along and brings the mainframe into the 1990s by creating a GUI for it. It very well may be one of the things that IBM has to do as the mainframe generation heads rapidly to the retirement home. IBM has already started investing in colleges to try and produce college graduates who are mainframe capable. Perhaps sinking $100 million dollars over the course of 5 years to bring 'modern' technology to the mainframe is a small price to pay.

 

 

17 comments
TechExec2
TechExec2

. There have been client-side GUIs for managing zSeries mainframes for many years from ISVs. What's new here is that IBM customers are now getting some of them directly from IBM at no additional charge. This is a direct descendant from Candle's OMEGAMON (IBM acquired Candle in 2005). The z/OS mainframe remains the same under the hood (batch, JCL, TSO, CICS, DB2, subsystems, etc. etc.). The new system management GUIs are just an addition. [b][i]"...Consuming mainframe CPU cycles by actually pushing pixels around the screen seems like a rather surprising move..."[/i][/b] The mainframe is not going to be pushing pixels around the screen like a PC does. The predominant way this will be done is via a client-side Java GUI application (running on Windows or Linux) that communicates via an API over TCP/IP with a server-side (mainframe) process. Note: From what I read, there [u]is[/u] an X server [u]option[/u] that can run on Linux in one of the many VMs running on the big iron. You can then connect to it from an X client workstation. [b][i]"...The related image on IBM's Web site that discusses the investment looks a lot like Windows XP, so it might not be the actual GUI in production..."[/i][/b] I don't think this is a mock-up at all. This is just a client-side GUI application running on Windows XP. From what I read, this software is written in Java at both ends of the TCP/IP wire. It's a client-server app.

DanLM
DanLM

But don't know how. Bet you the walker(gui) will be a hell of alot more stable then any window's gui with no blue screen of death. And if a blue screen of death appears, it won't drop the machine like windows does. Chuckle, can you tell I cut my teeth on main frames? lol Dan

realist
realist

Candle Corporation, which is now part of IBM, was creating the building blocks for this technology (GUI on mainframe), back in the 1980's. It was built by a small group in ISD - jokingly referred to as the "Infinite Secrets Division".

daveo2000
daveo2000

Maybe my mainframe days are too distant but the way that I rememeber it is that mainframes work on time slicing (rolling complete jobs in and out) instead of the interrupt driven lives of PCs. On the mainframe, you would have a local terminal that could handle the screen navigation and when you hit the submit key, the fields would be flushed to the system. With PCs, every mouse move would send an interupt to the processor and some level of process swapping (or at least some control switching) would happen. How would this work in the mainframe world?

kwandtke
kwandtke

Why would this be real different than say a terminal running X-Windows? That used to be a big deal at one time right? Hey I cut my teeth on terminals ... green ones, hell the first had paper .. a teletype device.. But GUI is not bad..

minhajlk
minhajlk

as long as IBM retains the Command Line for the Pro's and the GUI's for the dumb... Like Linux where you have the option either to use the system with the keyboard or the pointer... not a bad idea at all...

Why Me Worry?
Why Me Worry?

You'll see people from all walks of life, like butchers and truck drivers, all jumping on the mainframe certification band wagon in a pathetic attempt to cash in on this new "technology". We'll see a repeat of the dot com fiasco where you had paper NT4 MSCE's running around who didn't know how to setup a server if their lives depended on it, but this time, it will be paper mainframe certs who know how to point and click and nothing about the underlying CLI that drives the mainframe itself. Any dumbass can learn to use a GUI, but it's the real pro who can do everything from a command line.

Why Me Worry?
Why Me Worry?

because running ConsoleOne on the server was a major resource hog and Novell, or should I call them "NoSell", got their asses kicked for it. In a pathetic attempt to make Netware look more like Windows, the genuises and pathetic excuses for a marketing team in Provo, Utah decided that having a GUI will entice hard core Windows users to convert their systems to Netware (yeah right). All this did was to piss off many Netware admins, such as myself at the time, and gave me more reasons to continue using the command line at the server console, or scrap "Nosell" products for Microsoft products, which many of the companies I deal with are now doing.

TechExec2
TechExec2

. This is client GUI software application that interacts with a server (mainframe) process via an API over a TCP/IP network. The interaction with the mouse, keyboard, and display is all handled on the local workstation. The exception I found was an X server option. With that, there is an X server running on a Linux system image running in one of the VMs on the mainframe itself. This Linux system provdes a "gateway" to the mainframe if you will. Then, a thin client X workstation could connect to the X server. But this is only an option that enables you to run a thin client. The typical usage would be with a thick client running Windows or Linux. Regardless, when viewed from the mainframe being managed, the client is always thick. There is no direct management of the screen, keyboard, or mouse.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Why does the use of a GUI qualify the user as dumb? Why does the use of a CLI qualify the user as a pro? I'd think the pro would use whichever is the appropriate tool for the task.

ididrtmhonest
ididrtmhonest

The gui will let the in-house admin do most of the day to day stuff and if they screw it up, you can come undo everything at the command line. lol Frankly, tho, I never completely understood how my grandfather had to walk uphill to school, - both ways!

daveo2000
daveo2000

It looks like the goal here is to revive the mainframe with the cold realization that people don't actually want to learn as much as they used to about how things work. In the effort to drive down the cost of developers, much of the old school knowledge about resource management and efficient coding has gone the way of shade-tree mechanic. There are far fewer jobs out there that seem to want, let alone need, real computer science knowledge. Worse, I took a one week course on SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and found out that they are using the same diagrams and concepts that I learned in Pascal 30 years ago. It is just that the terms we used now mean something else and the terms they use to describe the same things are completely different! Ack!

TechExec2
TechExec2

. I only know what I have read about this new initiative from IBM. But, it appears to be a genuine improvement in the way mainframe systems are monitored and managed. They are investing $100M. That's a pretty serious commitment and should produce observable results. And, since the software will be available at no additional charge, every mainframe system operator will get it and be able to use it. It sounds like a good commitment and good effort to me. We'll just have to wait and see how well they implement it.

daveo2000
daveo2000

So is this really that different from the PC packages that others have mentioned in this thread? Is there anything special about this new drive from IBM?

minhajlk
minhajlk

calling the GUI users dumb. I do use the GUI's a lot these days with MS, so that's including me. What I meant was; a pro knows exactly what command and the appropriate switch to use with the problem in hand. On the other hand a GUI is limited, so you look dumb in way. Sorry for the delay in replying as we live on the opposite sides of the globe. Minhaj.

daveo2000
daveo2000

It is an interesting concept but seems a bit odd. One normally thinks of mainframes as a world of time slicing but not of context swaps at the rate of "smaller" servers. When I think of a GUI, I think of system level interupts for every mouse move and key press. One beauty of the timeshare environment is that you do what you need on the screen and then press the SUBMIT button to send the batch all at once. I suppose that it could make sense if what they are doing is, maybe, putting a processor in between the user and the number cruncher. Actually, it goes back to what other folks said in this thread about having a GUI on a PC and using that as the front end to the mainframe. Now, just move the GUI machine (motherboard, etc) into the mainframe cabinet and call it the I/O board.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I suspect, he didn't think to take the reverse route and walk downhill both ways. I sure did when I learned to stand on a skateboard but I'm still telling my daughter I went the other way and pludded up hill like Granpa.