Mainframes Under Fire

Demonstrating big business value from the big box.

As an IT professional responsible for your organization's mainframe computers, you've built an extremely reliable, high-performing, and secure computing environment. While your staff or your colleagues are wrestling with deploying ITIL processes on the distributed side of the IT infrastructure, you've already got mature, stable management processes in place on your mainframe.

Congratulations. Unfortunately, this is no longer enough.

Ultimately, business users and application owners don't care how good mainframe performance is or if you are meeting your component-level SLAs. They just want to receive the IT service levels they are paying for, which power the applications their work depends upon.

Ultimately, senior management doesn't care how efficient mainframe IT operations are. The mainframe—in fact, all of IT—is still largely perceived as a cost center where every dollar spent erodes profitability. Mainframes are perceived as expensive to buy, expensive to operate and not viable as a development platform for new applications. Although these perceptions are largely inaccurate, the result is that the biggest challenge to your mainframe in many organizations won't be automation, but attitude.

It really shouldn't be this way. The mainframe remains the workhorse for business around the globe. Mainframes are instrumental in processing most of the transactions, housing much of the data and running many of the applications that power today's companies. Mainframes are also unequaled in terms of availability, reliability and security, particularly when compared with distributed systems. And, they typically have mature management processes.

Taken together, these attributes make mainframes a formidable weapon for businesses whose IT infrastructures are a point of competitive differentiation.

To defend and retain these valuable mainframe resources, IT professionals need to continually improve—and prove—the business contribution of their mainframes. The good news is, with the right management processes and technologies, you can not only achieve this, but you can bring the mainframe back into the mainstream in almost any organization.

Agility, Continuity and Business Relevance

What you really want to accomplish boils down to three simple goals. With these, you can help ensure that your mainframe is recognized as a cost-effective, efficient platform capable of handling the demands of an increasingly complex IT environment:

  • Improve the business agility of your mainframe, by making those who support it more productive and interchangeable.
  • Improve continuity, by providing higher business and application service levels from all IT infrastructure components.
  • Improve the perceived business relevance of the mainframe, by managing it as part of a global IT infrastructure.

By doing these things, you can extend your mainframe's assets across the enterprise, to the direct benefit of customers and senior management. That's a competitive advantage. Without such a strategy, senior management and business users will likely continue to view your mainframe as a very expensive commodity.

Improving Agility

It's harder today to manage to your peaks and valleys: World events, and your customers' ability to respond to them in real time, often set the pace.

Beyond just operating efficiently and cost-effectively, mainframes now need to be agile enough to accommodate the constant and rapid change that characterizes business today. The big barrier to that agility, ironically, is people. Accommodating business change requires good automated processes within mainframe operations.

That's because mainframes require more subject-matter experts to manage them, particularly as they grow in size and complexity. These subject matter experts are expensive, hard to find and not easily re-deployable outside their domains.

Software with built-in intelligence can make these highly skilled experts more interchangeable. Some mainframe-management products today incorporate "advisor" technology, which enables the software to manage complex tasks independently and make complex decisions for the user—all but eliminating the need for specialized skills. This allows your staff to recover business applications or databases quickly without calling in an expert on the internals—enabling mainframe teams to be much more responsive and scalable.

Built-in intelligence also lets experts implement highly automated, rules-based processes for labor-intensive tasks such as backup-and-recovery and routine performance management. This frees the experts to focus on more strategic activities, such as fine-tuning resources to better meet application service levels.

Simply put, by using management software with built-in intelligence, you can do more with less. You can manage more MIPS, increase workloads, grow transaction volumes and add more applications without adding staff. When people and expertise can be automated to this level, it makes mainframe operations much more responsive to business change.

Improving Continuity

Business continuity is a priority. If IT systems aren't working properly, they can disrupt business, resulting in lost revenues, unacceptable levels of risk and brand damage. The ability to prevent IT problems from disrupting business—or to recover quickly from IT problems to minimize disruption—is one way that mainframes bring demonstrable value.

Here again, the key is having the right software to help the mainframe and the IT staff conduct business. The right software will enable IT to proactively and holistically manage the mainframe—to prevent business-crippling problems, proactively manage incidents and keep critical resources available by optimizing batch workloads and backing up data without taking it offline.

Most importantly, it will enable IT to cut through system complexity and manage what really matters to the business—transactions, applications and processes that make money. The biggest opportunity for demonstrably improving business continuity lies in managing business transactions. The software you choose should let IT staff quickly and easily get to the root cause of problems in transactions—even if those problems originate deep inside the mainframe.

Some solutions on the market today can route complex transactions through the mainframe sysplex and display information in a format that system managers can easily understand, in near real time, showing the flow of transactions and the places where delays have occurred. Because of this, you can reduce the need for prolonged bridge calls involving multiple specialists, as well as counterproductive finger-pointing.

When mainframe management can be automated at this level, it can significantly improve business continuity.

Improving Business Relevance

To deliver even more strategic value from the mainframe, you need to improve its relevance to the business. This requires both a new style of management and a new way of thinking that transcends the mainframe silo.

Business service management (BSM) is a strategic approach to IT management that lets you increase the value that the mainframe and IT infrastructure deliver to the business. BSM lets you manage IT from the perspective of the business and continually align the two. It lets you evaluate IT incidents in terms of the real-world effects they have, helping re-establish the business value of IT to both application owners and consumers of IT services.

BSM includes best-practice IT processes (based on ITIL), automated technology management and a common view of how IT supports business priorities that transcend IT management silos. BSM doesn't require "rip and replace." Instead, it builds on the automated management processes and practices you already have. It is a methodical process to help IT perform more like a business.

Major research firms estimate that companies implementing BSM can potentially save 25 percent of their overall IT budget—funds that can be applied to IT innovation instead of IT operations, creating real strategic value.

The "hub" of BSM is the configuration management database (CMDB), a master system of record and central repository for IT assets and configuration items, including their relationships and dependencies. The CMDB works in conjunction with service models that link IT events with business goals, enabling you to manage IT based on its effect on the business.

By capturing mainframe resources and events in the CMDB, you can begin to manage the mainframe using BSM principles. You can manage service delivery based on business parameters (such as transaction completion time) versus component-level SLAs, which mean nothing to application owners or service consumers.

BSM brings business relevance to all aspects of the IT infrastructure, including often-overlooked batch processing. With BSM, you can clearly see the effect that delay or failure of a single batch job has on both the entire batch stream and the business service the batch stream supports.

Solutions to power a BSM initiative should include the capability to dynamically discover mainframe components, populate them in your CMDB (where service models reside) and intelligently link mainframe events with the service models. Now you can complement your in-depth views of the mainframe with views of how the mainframe relates to the rest of the enterprise—so you can prioritize activities to get the biggest bang for the buck. Most importantly, you can get actionable information and views that can make you a partner to the business, not just a service provider.

When you can automate mainframe management at the BSM level, you can visibly increase the business relevance of your mainframe and take a leadership role in improving the image of the entire IT organization. That is to say, when you manage in this way, you can clearly demonstrate the superiority of your mainframe.

Ralph Crosby is the chief technology officer for the Mainframe Service Management Business Unit at BMC Software, responsible for setting the strategic direction for the entire portfolio of IBM Mainframe products. Prior to assuming the CTO role, Crosby was DB2 architect responsible for technology directions across the full line of DB2 products. He has authored several products in the DB2 product line and also worked as an architect in the storage management area. Prior to joining BMC Software, he worked as a database administrator, applications architect and systems programmer in a variety of environments centered on the IBM mainframe, but including Windows and UNIX platforms. Crosby holds a BS in computer science from the California Polytechnic State University and an MBA degree from Fordham University.

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