management: Where Do You Find Mainframe Information?
Every IT product will provide some form of documentation: information that explains how to install, customise, use and administer it. This is essential for technical staff responsible for making it work. But this documentation won't be enough. It will be aimed at technical staff, missing basic information and concepts. It won't include user experiences and gotchas, and may be difficult to understand, or miss some topics or issues. So where can you find this missing information?
Technical Documents and Presentations
There are lots of 'supporting documentation' available. Some of it is produced by the vendor, some by other sources: conferences, consultants or other vendors.
Perhaps one of the most famous are IBM Redbooks. These are free books and papers sponsored by IBM. They are usually written quickly by a select group of technical people. For example, a Redbook is written for every new mainframe with technical information about the hardware, and how it works. There are also Redbooks with basic information and concepts. For example, there is a Redbook introducing z/OS, and a Redbook series called 'ABCs of z/OS System Programming'.
For more 'modern' IBM products, IBM developerWorks is another great resource, with blogs, articles and other information. Many believe that developerWorks is only for non-mainframe products, but do a search on 'z/OS' and you'll find a lot of good stuff. For example, you'll see my article on programming with both traditional z/OS and z/OS UNIX.
IBMs techdocs website is another lesser-used IBM site for technical information. This is advertised as the 'sales' library, but has great information including presentations, IBM flashes and whitepapers. For example, in 2016 a technote was published with sample COBOL/CICS code to copy Websphere MQ messages from one queue to another, applying a message property to each message.
Outside of IBM, one of my favourite resources are Share presentations. The Share conference is held twice a year in the US, with other 'branches' in Europe (GSE) and elsewhere. These presentations are from vendors, service providers and users, and some of the information is amazing. Often Share presentations are about the 'latest and greatest' features, but there are also user experiences, and other background information. One of my favourite presentations was the 2007 "Best Practices for Catalog and VSAM."
Share certainly isn't the only conference in town. CMG have their yearly imPACT, and DB2 users have IDUG.
Articles and Newsletters
There are a few resources for technical articles produced by consultants and other independent resources. For example, Watson and Walker release a regular tuning letter with great information on z/OS performance and tuning. Robert Crawford has been writing CICS-related articles for TechTarget for many years, and I've always found great content in them.
The Virtual CICS and Virtual IMS user groups release regular newsletters with information and articles on, you guessed it, CICS and IMS.
Merrill Consultants release a regular newsletter with information not only about their MXG product, but about performance-related issues and news. Those with Merrill's MXG installed at their site will want to look at the MXG SOURCLIB PDS. This includes so much performance information, including content from Barry Merrill's original "Merrill's Expanded Guide to Computer Performance Evaluation Using the SAS System", and lots of information about understanding SMF records.
CMG regular produce their MeasureIT, and there are other free magazines includig IBM Systems Magazine, z/OS Hot Topics, Enterprise Systems, Enterprise Systems Journal and of course, Longpela Expertise's LongEx Mainframe Quarterly.
Xephon Magazines are no longer published, but I still regularly refer to them for information. All past editions can be found on the brilliant cbttape.org site.
Blogs and Groups
There are many blogs and user groups around that can also be useful for asking questions or getting more information. Some of my favourite blogs include Martin Packer's on z/OS performance, Marc Wambeke's Mainframe Watch, Trevor Eddolls' Mainframe Update, and Alan Radding's Dancing Dinosaur. Share also publish blogs, as do many mainframe software vendors.
IBM-Main has been a great resource for question and answer information for years, and there are other groups such as the LinkedIn Mainframe Experts Network.
YouTube and Webinars
Many vendors now produce Webinars on their products and offerings. These are a video equivalent of white papers, but can sometimes have some excellent information. YouTube is a good starting point, as are vendor websites.
Products and Product Lifecycle
Sometimes we need to find out about products - but not technical information. For example, we may be looking for alternative products to one already installed. The only up-to-date resource I know is Longpela Expertise's Lookup Mainframe Software, which lists most mainframe software products currently marketed or supported today, and many that aren't.
Product support and version information is also very important. For example, we may want to know when our version of a product will no longer be supported, or if a newer version has been released. IBM has an excellent Product Support Lifecycle page with this information for almost all IBM mainframe products - when they were released, if end of support has been announced, and if so, when it will happen. Other vendors such as BMC and CA also have this information in the support sections of their websites.
This support information may also include information about co-existence information. For example, CA has a matrix with all mainframe products, and if they are supported on the latest z/OS releases. BMC includes similar information in their Support Central.
Those doing future planning for mainframes will be interested in IBMs z/OS announcements, statements of direction, and notable changes page.
Sometimes you need to learn about something before you can use the documentation. Finding mainframe education courses and resources can be difficult, but there are options out there.
The Share conference previously mentioned always includes education and learning sessions: sometimes hands-on, sometimes simply explaining things in English. IBM also have their Technical University conferences with education on many things, including mainframes.
IBM Redbooks include some great primers for understanding about products and concepts. For example, there are Redbooks introducing the mainframe and z/OS.
IBMs Basic Skills Knowledge Centre has exactly that: basic information about IBM mainframes. IBM also provides free course material for basic mainframe skills.
Those wanting to learn about traditional mainframe languages have some free books that are available. For example, John Ehrman's Assembler Programming Language for IBM System z Servers and Bill Quall's Mainframe Assembler Programming. Some schools and universities also post free courses. For example, the University of Limerick in Ireland has a COBOL course on its website.
Newcomers to IBM mainframes will love the Destination z website with links to learning, blogs and more.
There aren't many commercial mainframe education options available. Interskill Learning have online training options, as do Marist's IDPC.
Pricing and Costs
It's not only technical people that need mainframe software information. Every site will be very interested in the costs of the mainframe and mainframe software.
IBM software pricing can be very confusing, but IBM attempt to clear some of this up in their software pricing website. IBM also provide some pricing options and information in their release notes or each product.
Software and other costs are often related to the capacity of the machine, or the CPU used. This is usually measured in MIPS, MSUs, or four-hour rolling average (4HRA) MSUs. IBMs Large Systems Processor Reference (LSPR) provides information on processor capacity, and can be used to convert CPU seconds to MIPS and MSUs. We will show how in the next issue.
There are many resources for those working on or with mainframes: both beginners and experts. However with so many different choices, Google is often our number one tool for locating this information.
But Google may not get it all. In this article, we've included some of the resources that you may not find with Google. One final website to make this easier is Longpela Expertise's mainframe links page, with links to all the sites and resources mentioned in this article.
Disclaimer: Longpela Expertise are a partner with Interskill Learning, and have worked with software vendors such as BMC and Compuware. They created and maintain the Lookup Mainframe Software website.