Pat Stanard on Mainframe Optimization Versus Modernization
Pat Stanard discusses his current role at Kyndryl US, and describes the feeling of seeing 'the lights come on' when his college students learn about the mainframe.
Pat Stanard: Hey, Reg. Hey, it’s good to be here. Thanks for taking the time to chat. I’m looking forward to our discussion here and it’s funny, with me and the mainframe. I kind of fell into it, to be honest with you.
Pat: Yeah, I was taking really classes at a community college and I thought I wanted to be an accountant. And after about three classes in accounting, I realized that I really didn’t like it very much. In fact I hated it, and so I signed up to take a COBOL programming class, and what I found was that the COBOL programming was something I really enjoyed. The community college that I was attending had a small mainframe system at the time, and so I began to write code in COBOL and loved it. So that kind of began my experience really with mainframes at that point.
Reg: Well that’s so interesting. You know a lot of the conversations I’ve been having recently about the mainframe and COBOL is how their Achilles heel in many ways is the greatest strength, and that is they were not made for computer people, they were made for business people. You know that COBOL was designed for people who think like accountants—you know secretaries, administrators, accountants, that sort of thing. And so I can really see that that would be something, on the one hand I’d like to say, you know, no accounting for taste—or which you had no taste for accounting. But you had that aptitude, and so it just mapped naturally to COBOL. That’s kind of cool. So now that was that course or was that a job, or how did it become a job?
Pat: Yeah, it was a course. It was a course at the time. I finished my education there and actually went onto become a computer operator, really with Unisys mainframes at the time.
Pat: They were Unisys mainframes but Burroughs, and specifically they were the Unis 815 systems, and before that there was a Burroughs—gosh, I think it was a 3900 or something like that. And so as a computer operator—and this was for Michigan Bell Telephone at the time, a phone company—and so we had four large-scale Unisys mainframes. I later on went on to run IBM mainframes and Amdahl mainframes, but at that time I was working third shift. I was a young man with long hair and enjoying life, and so I would get my work done on third shift with all the batch processing that we were doing for the phone company, and I would have a couple of hours before the online started and the first shift came in. So I started taking more classes—you know, around programming and specifically COBOL. I started writing the programs I needed to write on the Michigan Bell telephone mainframes, which I had permission to do and actually started writing various code, applications for the phone company. So that’s kind of how I learned—I fell into COBOL was through my first experience with mainframe systems.
Reg: Very cool. So now you worked at that job as an operator, and I sort of feel some foreshadowing that you started moving into actually a paid programming position, but you were actually programming being paid for another position first. How did that all happen?
Pat: Yeah, at the time I had been hired as a computer operator and I was on third shift. That’s where they put all the new computer operators because you got a lot of experience there and it was very busy. Then from there I took a job as a support analyst for the phone company, which was providing technical support to the mainframes—not only Unisys but also IBM mainframes at the time. From there, another facet of that job was I noticed there were developers in COBOL that was there too. So from there I moved over to another role for about—oh geez, I wrote code, really most of the COBOL code I was writing was to process phone bills for the company and print arrangements where they would print everything on site at that point. So I did a lot of code around the processing of phone bills basically, and so I was hired on as a developer and I did that for I think four or five years, writing COBOL for the Unisys mainframes at the time. So that’s kind of how I got into it. I liked it really well but I got to a point I wanted to go deeper, so that’s kind of when I went back into the field of mainframe support as of that point.
Reg: Okay. So, at this point, you’re still dealing with non-IBM mainframes, which is really interesting because you know so often when I talk to people, we focus exclusively on IBM and those plug-compatible—like the Amdahl mainframes. But to have had that background, how did you end up transitioning into IBM from there?
Pat: Yeah, it’s funny, Reg. I was a 34-year employee with IBM, but I never really applied for a job there. So from the phone company they outsourced to IBM Global Services at the time, and so I became an IBM employee. They bridged all my time and from there they had actually hired me into a technical manager role to run a couple of areas as they supported the IBM contract for Michigan Bell Telephone, so along that time you know I continued to do development. I continued to do various mainframe roles, but on a Unisys mainframe. At that point I was actually headhunted by Candle Corporation out of California—and so I had a young family. It was a great opportunity, so I took the role and I went to work for Candle Corporation, and at Candle Corporation I got deep into their various solutions like OMEGAMON, for instance—
Pat: OMEGAMON, right, and it was a tremendous company to work for. And so from there, Candle you know sold back to IBM. Their owner, Aubrey Chernick, had decided to retire and sold the company and I ended up being an IBM employee again, and again they bridged my time [laughs]. I stayed there for a number of years, really in their Tivoli area because that’s kind of where they placed the IBM, or I should say the OMEGAMON solutions at that point.
Reg: I always get such a kick out of Tivoli. I worked for a competitor of IBM at the time when Tivoli was really making it big time. I remember we had a conference and they were driving around with like cabs that had Tivoli on top of them to you know, just kind of be in your face. But for me, I love the implicit subtle marketing of Tivoli, because if you say it backwards it’s I lov(e) it. You know that IBM may have chosen to stick with that particular brand because it had that really interesting resonance to it and put so many of their other products under that brand, but I mean OMEGAMON is such an important part of the history of the mainframe. And of course its competitors, you know all the performance management products are just such deep parts of the texture. You know they’re all such amazing products but that said, I sense that you, not with just OMEGAMON but a wide range of Candle products, so when they came on board with IBM, I’m going to guess you had a new role that sort of took that into account.
Pat: Yeah it really did because IBM at that point bought OMEGAMON because they needed a bullet-proof monitor to replace some of their tools, and what went on to really be the IBM OMEGAMON offering, it really was a bullet-proof offering. Just at that time about 90% of the world’s mainframes had some Candle product on it and typically it was OMEGAMON, so OMEGAMON was used to do a lot of the systems monitoring at various levels. You know I mean there’s different flavors of OMEGAMON that’s out there depending on what you’re trying to monitor, so it became a key piece for IBM. Even today, it’s the same thing.
Reg: Cool. Now so your journey continued at IBM. Now did you leave IBM again or did you pretty much stay with IBM until they split off Kyndryl?
Pat: Yeah, no I stayed at IBM and from there, I really ended up—at one point I managed an architect team, a z client architect team for a period of time. There was a period of time where I decided—I had some changes in my life and I decided to take a role—it really was a global role. I was managing the IBM technical exploration centers. IBM at the time, I don’t know, they had something like 90 technical exploration centers, virtually and brick and mortar sites around the world, so I began to manage those. The IBM technical exploration centers really were an area where the IBM employees, the sale staff especially, would bring customers in for demonstrations on software—they could even do some things around hardware too—but it was an interesting job. One year I was asked to complete a presentation on a specific topic around the technical exploration centers and some of the technology on IBM mainframes. I wrote the presentation with the full idea of I was going to actually send it to the marketing team and they were going to take it and run with it. Well suddenly I got a phone call. They said hey Pat, the guy that’s going to do this presentation that you wrote is sick and I need you to come to Boca Raton, Florida, and actually go ahead and present it there. I said yeah, sure. So I went down there to Florida, did the presentation to about 200 people. It went really well. I flew back home and next thing you know I got a phone call saying hey Pat, the presentation was good. We’d like you to go to Melbourne, Australia, and present there, so I did.
Reg: Oh wow.
Pat: I spent about ten days out there at the technical exploration center. From there I got back and they said hey Pat, we need you to go to Buenos Aires. Okay.
Reg: Oh my.
Pat: So I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Anyway, long story short I ended up also in the UK and Paris, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Canada, all in one year, and so it was an interesting experience because I got a chance to really talk to people about the technical exploration centers and why they’re important and how they can be used. And so that was kind of an exciting year for me because I did a lot of traveling, you know at that point.
Reg: Well you probably got some pretty serious status with your favorite airline there.
Pat: I did [laughs]. I did that year. I did so much travel. Oh my gosh it seems like I was always getting bumped into first class and all that kind of stuff.
Reg: Oh, that’s a nice upgrade.
Pat: So anyway after that I came back, and that was about a 2 1/2-year assignment. I came back and they wanted me to run an architect team, the mainframe architect team and it was on the IBM software side at the time. So I took over a team of what they call z client architects that provided technical support for the salespeople trying to sell IBM software solutions. And so again back on heavy on IBM mainframes, and so you know I continued to do that for another—I guess it was another six years roughly, I think I did that. Yeah so from there I saw that there was a lot of changes coming and there was an architect role available in IBM GTS at the time to support mainframes, and so I took actually a role as an individual contributor and took the role as an IBM mainframe architect, IBM GTS mainframe architect, got myself certified at Level III thought leader with IBM and also a distinguished engineer with The Open Group and began to support customers. And so I supported customers from an architectural perspective, building mainframes, building virtual tape subsystems, building DASD, Ficon directors, whatever we needed to have done for the customer. So from there, it’s kind of rolled into what I’m doing now again with the chief architect role for Kyndryl US.
Reg: Now geography has clearly been a really big part of your journey, and I’m kind of curious: Have you continued to live in the Eastern time zone the whole time, or have you sort of moved house a bit?
Pat: Yeah, I continue to live in the Eastern time zone. I used to be a complete road warrior where I was all over the map. There were times when I didn’t know what time it was it seems like. I was landing some place, and some weeks I was traveling I might have three flights in one week. I was leaving on Sunday, coming back on late Friday night usually, and so that was a road warrior time for me which was important to get out to see customers, important to get out to see my staff and different people, but I’m kind of glad I’m done with that to be honest with you Reg, because that was tough.
Reg: Oh yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I had a few years when I flew over 100,000 miles and you know no matter what you do to stay in touch with your family—of course these days Zoom makes it a bit easier—but, in those days, it was like I even had my own 1-800 number just to make it easier to call home and bill it all—so I get what you’re talking about. There is no place like home.
Pat: That’s right.
Reg: Where is home for you, if I may ask?
Pat: Well it’s an interesting question because home is really in Charlotte, North Carolina. We have a townhouse down there and we also just bought a small condo up in Columbus, Ohio. The reason we did that is because we have two wonderful grandchildren. We have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old with my daughter and her family down in Charlotte, and then in Columbus, Ohio, my son is here with his family and he has two daughters here, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old daughter.
Pat: So we realized that my daughter wasn’t moving to Columbus and my son wasn’t moving to Charlotte, so we figured the next best thing to do would be to get a small place. So we have two homes now, which we love. It’s really a lot of fun.
Reg: And you probably don’t have to pay for a hotel at SHARE if you don’t want to.
Pat: That’s right. I’m staying right here. That’s right.
Reg: Well that’s cool. You remind me a bit of when I chatted with Len recently—Len Santalucia, who basically had the two houses in Endicott and in Manhattan, and now he’s sort of moving to another one. But you know being in Charlotte, I’m going to guess you know a lot of my favorite people. For example, I bet you know Rosalind.
Pat: Yes I do.
Reg: Radcliffe. I knew you wouldn’t even need the last name.
Pat: Yup, yup, yup.
Reg: That is so cool. Now I mean one of the neat things about IBM, it’s clearly a definitive part of human history and so when you’re at IBM, you’re actually part of human history. You must have some anecdotal stories in your own journey that really made you really appreciate how working for IBM is literally is being part of human history. Any particular experience that kind of comes to mind?
Pat: Well you know I was with IBM for a number of years. It was interesting just seeing the advances in mainframe technology—you know from some of the some of the earliest ones, IBM 360/40s up through the various zSeries boxes up to the current z16. Quite a change, you know.
Reg: Oh yeah.
Pat: They always say that one of the things we do is you know, we say—and I hate the word mainframe modernization, hate that topic, oh my gosh.
Reg: I hear you.
Pat: It’s mainframe optimization and it’s application modernization.
Reg: Right, right.
Pat: Because when someone tells me, oh the mainframe’s dead. The mainframe is not going anywhere, you know. Those are people that don’t know the mainframe and don’t fully understand and appreciate the optimization that has been put into the technology over the years. So just seeing the history of the actual mainframe boxes grow over the years has been pretty incredible. I can tell you one little anecdote. I remember there were some IBM DASD—in fact they would call them disk packs at that point, and they were removable and so vs. where you literally had to go and unscrew a drive and lift the media up and take it over and put it in another drive at one point when I was you know in the—early on in the computer room. So you know we’ve come a long way to the current flash drives and things like that that we have available now for mainframe storage for instance—and the cloud, not to mention the cloud as well. It’s a huge part of that, too. So I guess that’s where I would go with that question.
Reg: Well of course you’ve also been part of another really historic thing IBM has done, in that they have divested that giant part of who they were, Kyndryl, and you know in some ways, it’s not really becoming non-IBM. You guys have this incredible IBM depth of history, and so part of your identity. And yet you now have a new identity you’re able to fashion, and you personally have been given an opportunity to be part of building that identity. How has that transition been for you?
Pat: Yeah, great question and I’ll tell you I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do when they made the announcement about Newco, before we really even had the name Kyndryl.
Pat: I wasn’t sure, but after talking to a number of people, I decided this could be a fun ride you know, to actually help them build this company out, build Kyndryl out to the company we want it to be. And I’ll tell you, Reg: The one thing I really like about Kyndryl is that they really care about their people and they really want you to excel and do well. And so from Day 1 we’ve really seen that. Now Kyndryl is still building out. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re making some really, really good progress. And so one of the things we’ve done with my organization, I was asked to do by our then-CTO Emi Olsson was to develop a mainframe strategy for Kyndryl US. And so I grabbed two of my peers—John Shuman, who is now a new DE of mainframe for Kyndryl, as well as Jim Zell, who is a principle architect of complex accounts—and we teamed up and we created this strategy that really of how we want to take the mainframe forward. And really we wanted to make it simple because it doesn’t have to be extremely complicated, and so we developed ten specific mainframe capabilities. We have those driven by something called—what we kind of trademarked—Kyndryl Mainframe Insight Assessments, and each assessment is a 2-4 week engagement, short-term consulting engagement with our customers, and they cover key areas. Things like the enterprise, cybersecurity, performance, storage and it goes on and on. There’s like ten of them and what we find is that by having the freedom with Kyndryl to actually, you know, be ourselves—
Pat: And make things understandable and take it forward and try to eliminate the bureaucracy, we’re getting great traction with this right now, because customers want to talk to us, they want to hear about this. So I would say that the next exciting thing about Kyndryl is the fact that we have the freedom, you know. They want us to succeed. They care about their people and we’ve got a ways to go, but we’re in the right direction as I see it right now.
Reg: Well certainly one of the ways that IBM has given you freedom is that you don’t sort of feel beholden to IBM products, and so although you have a great appreciation for their quality, you’re able to interact with the whole ecosystem, including the wonderful competitors. You know each of these areas where IBM has a strong mainframe product quite often there’s a really strong one or more competitors as well, and so you have that flexibility of choosing what fits in any given context. That must be a really freeing experience as well.
Pat: Yes that’s absolutely right, Reg, and what I find is that we are IBM’s largest business partner right now, and you know vice versa, so it’s a relationship that’s good. We have a lot of resources and things we can reach out to and work with IBM with, and conversely IBM can reach out to us as they need services for their customers as well too. So yeah, it’s a business partnership relationship that continues to evolve and we’re in the right direction I think there as well too. So it makes it exciting, and also we have—really our whole mantra is with the idea that we want to do what’s right for the customer you know, and so that does involve our business partners. We have a business partner network that’s being built out that’s getting stronger all the time, but #1 the beautiful thing about the Kyndryl role here in the organization I’m in is that as we’re talking to our customers, if the customer tells us they want to stay on the mainframe and that’s all they want, that’s fine and we can help you there. Maybe they want a hybrid arrangement with the mainframe and hybrid cloud, hyperscalers. Hey, we can help you there. Maybe you want to get off the mainframe. We can help you there. So it’s whatever the customer wants, whatever direction they want to go, we’re okay with and we want to do the right thing for the customer so that they can optimize their investment in the mainframe.
Reg: Cool. You know one of the senses I get from talking with you is you have very deliberately engaged yourself with the mainframe context in a sense of building it, and so as you take a look to the future of the mainframe, the mainframe ecosystem, and just the large enterprise computing ecosystem, what are some of your thoughts about where it can and should go and how you’d like to contribute to that in any case?
Pat: Yeah. Again, that’s an exciting question and I’ll back it up a step and tell you there are two other things I do that I really enjoy, and it supports your question. I’m a published technical author. I have written a lot of articles with TechChannel, with Destination Z, with IBM Systems group. I’ve written 21 articles and these articles—I partner occasionally with people as well too, and they support things like our strategy and in the direction we want to go. So I use that as a specific way to generate conversation. So as far as where the mainframe is going, you know these articles touch on disruptive topics, a lot of them which I really enjoy writing about such as like quantum computing. I’ve done a couple of articles on quantum computing, which is a fascinating topic. So you can see in the future, IBM has released a quantum system and I was talking to a gentleman, he was a PhD at a medical university/hospital in Cleveland, and they were going to be taking basically the first delivery of an IBM quantum system, which is going to definitely be in the future. We look at things like quantum-safe algorithms for instance that needed to be put into place to protect our mainframe systems against quantum computing. The quantum computer really for this particular customer is going to be doing things like trying to predict better outcomes from diagnoses for various diseases and things like that, so that’s an area where we’re going. The mainframe is going to continue to shrink in footprint. It’s going to continue to get stronger and faster and even more resilient. I know you’re talking basically—you know, the seven 9s of uptime, of three seconds of downtime a year—you know that the systems are so powerful and so resilient. So I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of that in the future, and it’s going to evolve I think more towards hybrid-type computing as well too.
Reg: Well, you know it’s cool. You mentioned the mainframe shrinking in footprint and I get such a kick out—I think it was the z15 had that what I call the Cinderella footprint, where it fit onto a single tile. You know, what a brilliant customer-focused innovation—but to think about that as the amount of mainframe computing power in the world continues to grow that you get a nearly division by zero thing happening, because not only did the mainframe become smaller but it becomes negligible in terms of the space it takes up in many customer’s sites because it becomes virtualized, so because it’s the perfect platform for cloud computing. And so to be part of that where the mainframe sort of goes entirely into hyperspace, as Isaac Asimov might say [laughs].
Pat: Yeah, yeah, for sure. What a great thing.
Reg: So that’s something. Oh yeah. Any closing thoughts that you have, any thoughts you want people to sort of keep in their minds?
Pat: Yeah, the only thing I would say is the other love of mine really is teaching and I’m an affiliate professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology out of Boston, where I’ve authored mainframe classes. I have one I call Enterprise Computing that’s basically System Z 101, and it’s been overbooked for five years now. And then I’ve also just completed a draft of a master’s certificate around mainframe studies that would include things like intro to COBOL as well as mainframe architecture. So I would just like to say that the education of mainframe with our young people in college is so important and must be really supported and we need to continue to do that. I can see that. I’ve taught over 700 students now and they really enjoy it. You can just see the lights come on, and as part of this too the other thing we’ve recently done is Kyndryl really this year has an internship program where we’ve had something like, I don’t know, 85 interns. Out of that I’ve had five mainframe interns that are just completing a 12-week course study that we’ve developed for them, and it’s just exciting, Reg, seeing these kids just light up as they learn more and more about mainframes.
Reg: Oh yeah.
Pat: So that’s our future. We need to continue to push our education and make sure people understand really you know, what a mainframe is all about and why it’s important to the world economy, really.
Reg: Well I’m going to blow my own horn just a second here. Have you found any good mainframe textbooks that you found really helpful as part of teaching your course?
Pat: [Laughs] There you go. Yes, I see. I see. Absolutely. Yup, yup, yup, I know that one.
Reg: Oh good. Yeah. For those who don’t have—like we’re not recording a video, of course, but that Dr. Cameron Seay, David Boyes, Karl-Erik Stenfors and I, who have very close connection to IBM. You probably know some if not all of them.
Pat: I do. I do.
Reg: We wrote a mainframe textbook called "An Introduction to Enterprise Systems," which is available virtually or as a publication—and some people come into my session at SHARE to get it autographed. But I just want to make sure that people who are doing education on the mainframe are aware that there are some great resources and Pat, I’m going to guess you probably have a whole set of really excellent resources for people to really educate well on the mainframe.
Pat: Yeah, well I do know your book and I know Dr. Cameron Seay was also one of the authors in that and yeah, that’s something I need to really probably begin to incorporate that into my enterprise computing class. I guess maybe we’ll be talking further, Reg.
Reg: Well, I’ll definitely be chatting with you at SHARE. Pat, this has been excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time. I’ve really enjoyed this and look forward to chatting further. So that said, I’ll be back with another podcast next month. But in the meantime, check out the other content on TechChannel. You can also subscribe to their weekly newsletters, webinars, e-books, Solutions Directory and more on the subscription page. I’m Reg Harbeck.
About the author
Reg Harbeck is a mainframe enthusiast who has worked IT and mainframes for over three decades. He's the chief strategist at Mainframe Analytics ltd.
See more by Reg Harbeck