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IS survival guide: the mainframe is still dead

IS survival guide: the mainframe is still dead

Management speak: We need to upgrade.

Translation: We need a different set of bugsBack in my electric-fish days, I helped my French friend "Bullet" Micheloud develop a computer simulation.

Bullet had laboriously collected sex-ratio data on two species of fig wasps (if you like Fig Newtons you don't want to know - trust me). We ran the simulation on a Texas Instruments programmable calculator, because I was a weenie, but not enough of a weenie to use a Hewlett-Packard. We based our simulation on the theory of sex-ratio selection and predicted his results pretty well.

Back then we knew the difference between mainframes, minicomputers, and microcomputers: mainframes had 32 bits, minis had 16 bits, and micros had 8 bits. It was simple, clear, and easy to keep track of.

Now it's all a matter of opinion, and it's my opinion that the mainframe is dead, despite the 37 articles you've just read declaring: "The Big Iron is back." It's IBM that's back, and you can learn from its strategy . . . after I put another nail in the mainframe's coffin.

The mainframe really is dead, and IBM just killed it. It still sells boxes that it calls mainframes, but that's just marketing. Have you seen these puppies? They're the size of a big file server. They're built around a bunch of microprocessors. They include the whole AIX API, IBM says - in other words, Unix.

IBM can call this a mainframe if it wants, it can tell me it now runs AIX on its mainframes, and it can repeat its mantra that "the mainframe is just the biggest server on the network". Heck, IBM can explain that teenagers from Arcturus get bored on Saturday nights, fly to Earth, make big circles in cornfields, and then laugh hysterically at the stupid Terrans who come to gawk.

It can tell me this all it wants, but that won't make me believe it.

IBM could have announced that it had ported MVS to its mid-range computers instead. It's all in how you look at it, of course, and if it makes Big Blue happy to call its new super server a teeny-weeny mainframe, well, so be it.

Regardless, we're all going to wake up one day soon and discover something remarkable. IBM, while we weren't paying attention but in plain sight, will have transformed its entire product line into a single platform that is built around PowerPC technology. All of its boxes will be able to run MVS, AIX, and OS/400 - and Windows NT as well.

Who knows? Rhapsody may run on it, too, now that Apple has survived Larry Ellison's silly takeover idea. (I never could understand why someone who hates the idea of stand-alone PCs as much as Ellison would want a company that caters to the most rabidly independent PC users on the planet.)This forecast doesn't bode well for OS/2, of course, but very little has boded well for OS/2 since IBM took it over from Microsoft.

Now about that career lesson. Think of the technology marketplace as an employer and IBM as a corporate executive who took some highly public missteps and found his/her career in the doldrums. It happens in every large company, and it can happen to you.

If you don't want to find other employment and you do want to resuscitate your career, you can take some lessons from IBM right now. IBM first did everything wrong, announcing semi-annual reorganisations, pricing changes, and a variety of incomprehensible strategies. It was in denial. It has since found the right answers: great engineering and solid execution. It has started to stick to its knitting so it will have real successes to point to, while the nonsense fades into memory and its rival overplays its hand.

If your career has taken a wrong turn, follow IBM's current strategy: stick to your own knitting and amass some clear successes. Ask for a project or problem area to clean up, drop out of sight for a while, and do a lot of stuff right. Eventually, your own nonsense will fade into memory, and your own rivals will overplay their hands.

There are worse ways to succeed.


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