In-Depth

Mainframes

A rejuvenated System/390 operation has turned to the software development unit for help in convincing large-scale users to build new applications for mainframes. "We have to get the word out to our mainframe sites about what's different in application development environments today," said David Carlucci, general manager of the IBM System/390 Division. "The mainframe environment is still very good for deployment [of applications]. The development platform is up to them."

Said Forté's Horst: "IBM is doing an effective job marketing these things as superservers." Executives from both groups -- including Carlucci, Mills and Swainson -- recently outlined to analysts the IBM plan to push NT-based platforms and, to a lesser extent, Unix-based systems for building mainframe applications. "In general, NT is the development platform of choice among our customers for building new applications," Swainson said. "NT has a better user interface than Unix. Unix is the second choice -- it's particularly good for the Web. But even a lot of Unix applications are written on NT." Officials said the cooperation between the mainframe and software groups has been far better than in past years. "We've been on this path for a few years," Swainson said. "But now the cooperation has improved." Added Carlucci: "We're getting a tremendous amount of support from Steve [Mills] on this."

"The real push here is to get people to run applications on the mainframe again," Swainson said. "We talk mostly to traditional mainframe sites -- the Fortune 1000. They tend to be users of the technology. Some of these companies had started down the client/server path. They were believing the stories that the mainframe was dead. Now they are finding again that the mainframe is great for running applications. We have to get them to separate the development decision from the deployment decision. There is a historical mindset that has to be changed."

Given its mainframe foundation, it is likely more year 2000 problems would be found among IBM customers far more often than those of any other vendor. The IBM mainframe, in its various forms, still runs most major U.S. corporations. And Cobol is still the primary language of the IBM (and any other) mainframe. Losing at Y2K would be losing at mainframes.

As IBM's customer base scrambles to fix the problems before the unusually real deadline, so too does IBM scramble to come up with tools to automate the process. "Our program is run along the lines of getting as much technology as possible," said Yvonne Perkins, director of application development technologies and an overseer of the year 2000 operation. With so little time left, "we need to get quantity and quality tools" to the large sites, she added.

To get tools quickly, IBM has licensed or acquired tools built by customers like Allstate Insurance Co., Bellcore and NatWest Group. The Year 2000 group, part of Software Solutions, also sells some of the myriad tools built by IBM's burgeoning Global Services operation. IBM services revenue has mushroomed in recent years, from $12.7 billion in 1995 to more than $19.3 billion last year. Observers say year 2000 work has made significant contributions to the top line.
Perkins said testing technologies obtained from Global Services will likely propel Software Solutions into the testing tool business once the Y2K crisis subsides. These technologies, dubbed the Application Testing Collection, have already been used to enhance the VisualAge toolset with testing capabilities for Cobol, PL/1 and Assembler applications.

IBM will also have post-year 2000 rights to the tools licensed from its customers as well, Perkins said. The Allstate technology, called the Millennium Data Compression Tool, was used to renovate 7 million lines of code at Allstate. The Bellcore tools, the C and C++ Maintenance and Test Tool Suites, are used in mostly non-mainframe projects. The NatWest Group supplies tools for reengineering large-scale existing systems.

IBM started collecting Y2K technologies more than two years ago, at a time when there was little awareness of the year 2000 issue. Now that recognition of the issue is widespread, corporations are realizing that "in general, it's a matter of work to solve this problem," said Perkins. "At the end of the day, this is just work that has to be done."

IBM may benefit from a post-year 2000 mainframe development push. "Customers are better prepared for reengineering than ever before," said Emilie McCabe, vice president of marketing, application development, IBM Software Solutions Division. "As a result of the year 2000 effort, customers have better [software] audits than they've ever had."

About the Authors

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.

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