SHARE User Group – Phoenix 2019 – A Tribal Situation

By Joe Clabby, Clabby Analytics LLC

I used to love going to SHARE User Group events because they proved an invaluable source for gathering frontline IBM mainframe user research.  At SHARE, information abounds regarding issues, opportunities and trends in the mainframe world.  Unfortunately, other commitments and schedule conflicts have precluded my attendance at any SHARE meeting over the past three years.  This year I corrected this situation by attending SHARE Phoenix 2019 last week.

SHARE Phoenix 2019 reminded me of a TED TV (educational TV) talk given by a renowned sociologist regarding cultures.  People, the sociologist claimed, tend to prefer gathering with members of their own cultures or tribes –eschewing those of other cultures.  A culture shares the same beliefs; it shares a common language; it uses common tools – and it raises children with a value system that has been reinforced over time within the culture.

I like the SHARE culture.  It’s made up of people like me – over forty years of age (and, in many cases, well over forty) who like to solve problems; who like new challenges; who have specialized skills that enable them to run the world’s most powerful, scalable, secure enterprise servers.  I understand this culture – I understand its language. 

As a member of this culture, you speak in a language that can confuse outsiders – often consisting of numbers and acronyms.  “3270,” you might say – to which someone responds “5250.”  Another conversation will involve CICS; TSO; JES; MQ – maybe all in the same sentence.  And the wizened members of the tribe understand perfectly what the others are talking about.  And so, life in the enterprise goes on.

Unfortunately, members of the SHARE tribe don’t usually produce offspring that speak the same language, or that have the same appreciation for mainframe enterprise servers.  Their Millennial children speak of Open Source; of microservices; of cloud computing; of strange AppDev tools – usually running on what the SHARE tribe considers inferior system types.  They use terms like “grep,” and program in languages such as Python, Scala, Go, Rust, Kotlin, Perl and Ruby-on-Rails.  Theirs is another culture, based on the same value system – running reliable systems – but they go about it in entirely different ways.

And this, in a nutshell, is the most significant long-term problem that SHARE faces.  To ensure longevity, SHARE is going to have to find a way to bridge this gap between two similar but different cultures.  The good news is that SHARE is aware of this – and is trying to help its customers cross this “enterprise” versus “cloud” chasm.

This year’s SHARE

About fourteen hundred mainframers attended the SHARE event in Phoenix this year – their best attendance in six years.  The audience included end-users, speakers, employees, and exhibitors.  Of that number, almost four hundred attendees were “first-time attendees,” or FTA’s – an impressive number, showing that more and more tribal members want to gather with their brothers and sisters to discuss matters of importance.  The attendees came from two hundred and seventy-nine companies (some companies sent many representatives.)  Still, a few hundred companies sending mainframers to such an event is an impressive statistic.  Fifty-three vendors exhibited their goods and described their services – up from ten at the last SHARE. The exhibition floor was thick with infrastructure and management software vendors.

The sessions were brilliant.  For tribe members who needed to expand their enterprise system and software knowledge, the speaking schedule was packed with courses such as: “Demystifying Access Control Options in Db2 for z/OS,” or, “Networking with KVM on IBM LinuxONE and IBM Z.”  My favorite was “Adventures in Porting: The Trials and Tribulations of Porting Assembler from AMODE 31 to 64.”  I’m going to have a lot to talk about at cocktail parties when I return home…

Thoughtfully, the sessions were well organized and staffed with expert speakers.  For members of the old Enterprise-speak tribe, there were plenty of deep dive sessions useful for building mainframe development and management skills.  I particularly liked the format of having an in-depth introduction to a given product line – and then, across the hall, a workshop set up where I could go and immediately use the products that I had just heard about.  (I got caught up on IBM’s OMEGAMON product set and Splunk integration – and then went across the hall to actually use the product.)  Brilliant – excellent pedagogy.

The millennial and cloud messages

I’ll call the older SHARE tribe members “enterprisers” because these people know how to run and get the most out of mainframe data center environment.  The new millennial tribe I’ll call “clouders.”  This tribe knows how to use open source code to develop applications quickly and inexpensively.  They experiment.  And they learn differently – the enterprisers are comfortable learning by sitting through lecture after lecture in drinking-thorough-the-firehose fashion.  The clouders like to learn in snippets, quick YouTube videos or short tutorials from other sources.  Learn-and-try; learn-and-try – immediate gratification.  (This could, in part, be why there are so few millennials attending the SHARE events – it’s a different teaching method.) 

But look more closely at the SHARE session topics and you’ll find that SHARE is making an attempt to bridge the chasm between the enterprisers and the clouders.  The SHARE speaking agenda included topics such as “Future Mainframe Talent Is Here,” and, “Will Zowe Redefine the Way We Interact with z/OS,” and, “Skills 0 to 100 in Day 1: Get off My Lawn and into My Datacenter!”  My favorite was “How to Make Your Mainframe Millennial Friendly,” an in-depth discussion about “how to speak millennial,” including advice on speaking “cloud,” open source, microservices, common AppDev tools, open source, Zowe, and skills development.  In essence, these sessions help the enterprisers better understand what the new generations clouders want – and help find common ground.

It should be noted that IBM is also promoting the same messages.  As I wrote in my last blog on IBM’s “THINK” conference, IBM has rearchitected its entire product line, reorienting it toward cloud architecture.  IBM’s Chapter 2 strategy is to mesh and meld the enterprise datacenter environments of the world with the cloud environments of the world.  The real work ahead involves getting the two camps – the enterprisers and the clouders – to work together to rationalize which systems and architectures will best serve the computing needs of a given organization as it transforms digitally.

Other notes

The Thursday morning, 8:30 a.m. session was packed with attendees looking to learn “How a Non-Mainframer Hacked a Mainframe.”  The session described a “pen tester” (penetration tester) who was hired to find vulnerabilities in a mainframe environment.  This individual used “Wireshark” to analyze network packets and traffic – and randomly found a TCP/IP file that could be cracked for user ID and password information.  Using that information, the pen tester got access to a Unix file system that was not adequately protected on the given mainframe – and using “Kali,” (a Linux distribution that includes hundreds of tools) tapped into TSO, CICS and more.  This packed session illustrated how keenly and seriously enterprisers take mainframe security.  They seek out advisory sessions like this to be 100% sure that their environments are locked down.

On a final note, it’s interesting to see how SHARE members do not hesitate to challenge presenters – or augment what they are saying.  SHARE isn’t just a professional gathering—it’s a support group where everybody shares wisdom and opinions.

Summary observations

By necessity as a technology research analyst, I must track activities and speak the common languages of both the enterprisers and the clouders.  What strikes me most is that most of the enterprisers can speak a little “clouder,” but the converse doesn’t seem to be true.  The clouders care very little about speaking in numbers or acronyms.  But the beauty of what I see happening at events like IBM THINK and SHARE is that there is a major push to obfuscate the old language – to mask it, to cover it by running services and microservices.  The clouders don’t seem to care that a database is called “Db2” – all they care about is getting access to the data. 

The same holds true in management environments.  The tools are being masked; the lines between hierarchical systems and distributed systems are being blurred by new tools and utilities that operate in a fashion that is familiar to millennials – but also contain the types of interfaces that the enterprisers like (CLI interfaces, for instance).

After attending SHARE Phoenix 2019, I have some suggestions for SHARE and the enterpriser tribe:  Partner with leaders of the Open Mainframe Project; with the Linux on Mainframe movement; with members of zNext Gen; with members of IBM’s Academic Initiatives – and start running SHARE along with “clouder” events.  Also, it should be emphasized that there is a Linux and VM project at SHARE (LVM) which is already tasked with carrying this flag.  So find ways to encourage clouders to attend enterpriser presentations – and find a way to encourage the enterprisers to attend the clouder presentations.  Perhaps mixing and matching in this way will break down the language and cultural barriers that currently exist between two groups that have a common cause.

Finally, the best idea I heard regarding bridging this chasm came from a lady from IBM.  “Ask SHARE management to allow their enterpriser members to bring a clouder along with them during future SHARE events.”  Anybody can attend SHARE – whether a clouder or an enterpriser – or otherwise.  I’d like to see SHARE find ways to get more clouders to attend this event. i