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Continuous Change in Systems, Networks and Applications

Joseph Gulla looks back back on some of the main ideas explored in IT Trendz in 2020.

"IT Trendz" in white against a purple banner, white chat bubble in righthand corner, with dots connected by white lines against a blue background.

This week, I’ll begin a two-part series looking back on some of the main ideas explored in IT Trendz in 2020. In this article, I want to focus on a series of related posts that unfolded in February and March of this year. The concentration was change in IT, specifically systems, networks and applications. It’s a grand topic and I only touched the surface in this series of posts.

Change Is a Dominant Characteristic of IT

My motivation to write about change came from my lived experience as an IT specialist, project manager, developer, consultant and business-focused offering manager. I started in IT when systems were almost the entire focus. We developed applications but were limited by systems—availability, CPU cycles, limits on concurrent users, etc. Once an organization found balance in their systems, mainly having enough resources and flexibility to support the business, things could get done by the people making IT happen.
It’s hard to imagine but there was a time in computing when there were no networks. Sure, devices were connected even over telephone lines, but that was hardly a network and network-management was little more than an idea. Once networking took off, everything changed. And, everything is better in IT because we have functional networks except the part about hacking systems over the network. That part, we have to continue to work at and fix because it’s very unproductive and extremely harmful.
Advances in networking made new kinds of applications possible. We now live in the golden age of applications made sustainable by functional networks and stable and highly functional systems. That is the sequence many of us observed—systems, then networks and now applications. My series of posts in early 2020 started with systems, specifically IBM z15™, which is the consummate system.

The IBM z15 Represents a Huge Leap for IBM Z

This was the first post in this new series on the development and rapid change in systems, networks and applications. Mainframes were a great place to start. Since last year’s announcement of the IBM z15, I’ve been wondering how to put the z15 into its proper place in the progression of large systems. Mainframe computing has been changing and growing for over 60 years, but the z15 is more like a giant leap than a step increment in the IBM Z® architecture. When I think back to my early days with mainframes, I remember the important innovations like multiprocessing, multiprogramming, loosely and tightly coupled processors, and virtual storage. Like others, these were the big ideas that my generation sought to understand and use to its advantage. Today, the z15 is thousands of big ideas all architected into one system that have reached a level of integration that should fill all of us with astonishment. If you want to experience a sense of wonder, I suggest the latest version of z/Architecture Principles of Operations. I’ve been reading and rereading a version of this book for more than 40 years.

IBM Is Working Even Closer with Customers  

I next wrote about how, with each release of an IBM Z server comes improvements in speed, reliability and security. In addition, as IBM is working even closer with clients and new functions are being released often with a powerful amalgamation of hardware and software working in deep collaboration. These improvements aren’t easy to achieve, but we’ve come to expect them with each release. Other transformations are occurring with mainframe software, including the OS and middleware that supports mission-critical applications. It all starts with the OSes it runs. There are five mainframe OSes: IBM Z runs z/OS®, Linux® on IBM Z, z/VM®, z/VSE® and z/TPF. That’s a remarkable thing to have support of these OSes running key customer workloads.

Changes in Networking Parallel Mainframe Modernization  

I continued my series on the development and rapid change in systems, networks and applications exploring networking, which is a consummate story of growth and change. I wrote that today, application developers and application users assume the presence of a powerful network and its plentiful interfaces. By “assume,” I mean they don’t even think about it because it’s just there and when it’s not, they’re reminded of its importance. It wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t have omnipresent networks to connect systems physically and logically, as is the case today. If you worked with a mainframe in the 1970s, many devices were locally attached, and when there was an external network, it was private and used a limited set of devices that were useful and dependable even if the networks themselves were often less so. Fast-forward to today, and the networking situation is radically different.

Changes in Networking Parallel Mainframe Modernization  

Next, I continued the story with an even deeper focus on mainframe connectivity. The IBM Z platform has I/O networks to servers and storage devices that effectively deliver high-performance and secure networking connectivity. Innovation in hardware and TCP/IP networking, such as on the new IBM z15, reinforces the value of IBM Z by providing the nimbleness to easily share across partitions, the security to expand trusted connectivity and the resiliency to deliver continuous operations. The IBM Z Connectivity Handbook is a helpful tool to get the big picture about the variety and scope of the connectivity options that yield these impressive benefits.

Mainframe Storage Networks Reflect Ongoing Modernization  

After a focus on networking, I moved to discussing IBM Z storage networks and coupling connectivity. Storage networks are concentrated on connecting storage devices containing programs and data with servers that run applications. I took a look at three technologies, FICON, Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP) channels and zHyperLink technologies, to understand how these capabilities support systems and applications use of storage.

A Plan of Action for Application Development

In my next article, I moved from storage to applications by discussing application strategies and how they’re changing and growing. The study of application development, specifically changes and growth often called modernization, requires a systematic and organized approach because of the size and complexity of the challenges of developing and maintaining applications. In one way or another, organizations have been modernizing since right after the first application ever written went into production. What systematic approach fits best to understand this long pursuit? It all starts with a strategy.

How IBM Can Help: Useful Methods for Application Development

Next, I moved from strategies to methods. In this part of the series, I wrote about applications in general and modernization specifically by following this three-topic flow: strategies, methods and toolsets. All three topics not only relate to application modernization, but they match the flow of many kinds of modernization efforts. First, the general idea is to figure out what you want do (strategy), how you will go about doing it (method) and what you want to use to complete the work (toolset). There are exceptions to this simple flow. For example, toolsets can be useful during strategy and method work, as well as for development, migration and deployment activities. 

IBM Has Toolsets for Application Modernization  

In this part of the series, I wrote about applications in general and modernization specifically by following this three-topic flow: strategies, methods and toolsets. This article was about toolsets for application modernization. Toolsets in support of modernization have a surprisingly large role to play in any organization’s modernization project or program. In general, toolsets contain programs to support tasks from analysis and planning to source-code conversion. But examined more closely, many toolsets contain desk procedures, data and skilled human support to help them take on an even broader and important role. Thus toolsets are typically an important combination of software, action steps, data and technical personnel that turn the strategy and methods into revised and updated applications.

Change Is Part of the DNA of IT

This was the last post in this series on the development and rapid change in systems, networks and applications with a focus on the future. If the past is any gauge, the future will be full of multiple simultaneous streams of growth and change in each of these areas. Why multiple? IT systems, networks and applications are important and complex. Companies that supply IT focus on increasing the speed and capacity of their products and adding new features. The leading companies like IBM are also innovating in the way that they gather requirements and partner with clients to make product changes. If the functionality built into the IBM z15 is any indicator, the next releases of IBM Z will continue the trend of increasing processing speed and general system capacity while offering a wide-ranging collection of new functionality that’s both useful and aligned with the needs of clients.

Next Week

Next week, I’ll continue with the second part of a two-part series reviewing some of the impactful IT Trendz series of posts from 2020.

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