Longtime mainframer Reg Harbeck talks with Keelia Estrada Moeller, managing editor of IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z, about why security is so central to the platform
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Keelia Estrada Moeller: Hi, I'm Keelia Moeller. I'm the managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition and we're here with Reg Harbeck today at SHARE ST. Louis. We're going to talk about modernization and security on the mainframe. So Reg, my first question for you is, I know that you have this rich background in computing security and I'm wondering what you think is the most important thing to consider when it comes to mainframe security?
Reg Harbeck: Well you know I thought about that. You know, mainframe security is such a rich, deep area. The mainframe, when it was first designed had a certain amount of security built into it but then in the 1970s, SHARE really participated with IBM creating a much higher level of security on the mainframe. I think about Barry Schrager's founding of the mainframe security project and the principles he brought to that. Then, of course ACF2, which Schrager wrote, and then IBM started moving RAC up to the next level as well and top secret was being written in and that sort of created the space of production quality and security.
But one of the things about security is it’s not a destination, it's a journey. And that journey is a people journey. I think we need to never forget that, that the security on the mainframe—which really is a leading way of doing security—has to always first and foremost be about the people doing that security and making sure they understand what they're doing, making sure they have the time to do it properly and professionally, and making sure that the people who support them, the people who work with them, are doing their fair share. If you don't have a good security education program in an organization, your security people can be doing their very best and everybody else can be writing the passwords on Post-It notes under their keyboards. So I think there's a lot of important things. For example, the encryption that comes with IBM z14 is amazing stuff, and all these excellent innovations that IBM and CA and all these other important vendors are doing with security are very important. But at the end of the day what really matters is the people who are involved, and making sure security is working with those people and those people are working properly with security—including having the right amount of time and management support necessary to do it well.
Keelia: Yeah. So I know that security is obviously a hot topic in mainframe, right? So, what do you have to say about what the mainframe is doing in response to concerns about security within the mainframe community or even outside of it?
Reg: Well you know what, this is so important. We sometimes think we're in this safe protected castle on the mainframe. You know, we think you can't get in here and nobody knows how to get in here. Of course, that's not true. Think of Edgar Allan Poe's famous story “The Mask of Red Death” and the warning it gives us; when we think we're totally safe and secure is when we're in the greatest danger. So there’s just that importance of making sure we stay conscious of the various challenges so I don't know if that quite answers your question.
Reg: Any additional thoughts you want on that?
Keelia: No. I think it does speak to my question.
Keelia: I think that’s a good high-level overview. I want to switch over to modernization now.
Keelia: I know that you have a lot to offer when it comes to modernization. So this is a big question but if you had to do a high-level overview of modernization, what would be some key points that you would bring up?
Reg: Okay, well the last point I'm going to bring up—and I'll prepare you for it now—is, it is always only about the people so keeping that in mind, what does modernization mean? We use that term as if somehow it's a good wonderful thing and yet we’re going to be talking about modernization or a similar term that means that forever into the future. When you think about it, it really suggests just getting with the times. That’s not really good enough. You know, why are we getting with the times? Why does it matter? What matters is that we're making things more human, that we're making things more humane, and I think one of the great challenges the mainframe has had is it has always been seen as this green screen impenetrable difficult area, but in fact it’s in so many ways the most human of the computing platforms.
If you take a look back into the thousands of years of wisdom literature and all these things that have been written about doing things well, you know measure twice, cut once. Do things respectfully; do things honorably. All of these things are so important and I think that that has to feed into how we do modernization. It’s not just about slapping another graphical interface onto it. It's about integrating with the best of what it means to be human. I think that we are doing that more and more on the mainframe.
Obviously there have been some important announcements here at SHARE about some new ways to do that but I think that interestingly one of the most important we are modernizing on the mainframe is actually getting a new generation on the mainframe. Of course one of the exciting things happening at SHARE is we actually have that new generation, people who are involved with the zNextGen project now coming into leadership positions SHARE-wide. So I think all of these things are so important in terms of modernization—which doesn't excuse us from putting together technical solutions that speak to people and not just to what's the current style or what's the current trend. It has to be forward-looking and forward-thinking about what it means to be truly a functional human being in the context of business and in the context of computing.
Keelia: Yeah and I think what you're saying there is really interesting. It actually relates directly to the next question I was going to ask you. So, I know right now you're working on your Master's in humanities.
Keelia: And you've related that to humanizing technology. You've already linked it to modernization in the statement that you just made but if you would want to elaborate on that, and why you think rehumanizing technology is so important, I think that's a really key point to highlight.
Reg: Yeah, thank you. Having thought about what I wanted to do moving forward, I decided to do a degree in humanities, a Master of Arts in interdisciplinary humanities—so English, philosophy and history. It's really because, having spent three decades of a career working with computing, I've discovered that people seem to think that somehow computing is something other than people and so you have people like Ray Kurzweil who said “Oh, we're going to become computers We're going to transfer our consciousness onto computers.” And for me, they've missed the point. The computer is the tool but it’s the ultimate expression of humanity in so many different ways and we've lost track of it. We've diverged off and treated computing as something other than humanity.
Really, it’s always only ever been about humanity and so there’s this opportunity for people to get involved in that conversation about, what does that mean? What does it mean that computing is not other than humanity, but deeply human, and how do we then manifest that in the way that we do it so that's it is not about slapping a graphical interface on it? It's about seeing that the humanity is so deeply rooted in the computing that it actually can emerge from it when we allow that to happen by doing so respectfully, and doing so with an awareness of all these wonderful principles that thousands of years of wisdom literature have taught us about taking into account how we live our lives, how we do business, and how we create technology, and recognizing that the tool should not be the rule. It should be there to serve us, not to make us its servants.
Keelia: That's really well put. Those are all the questions that I have for you today but I do want to have this opportunity to ask you, are there any closing statements about security or modernization or the topics that we touched on that you really want to put out there?
Reg: Well, I think we each have to be taking ownership and responsibility for all of these at various levels when it comes to the humanizing of computing for the security of computing. We have so much in the world of computing, and especially in the world of mainframe, assumed it’s somebody else's problem. We each have to take that ownership and say “No, it's my problem. It's my problem to let people know what is good quality computing. It's my problem to let people know that the mainframe is the computer where the world economy runs. It's my problem to let people know we need to keep moving that forward while making sure it stays secure both in how we act with it and how we configure it.” So what I really want everybody to take with them is that this isn’t something that’s a spectator sport. This is something that each one of us have to take personal ownership of. We have to really live it out in a manner that is us using technology, living with technology and living with a responsible existence as professionals.
Keelia: All right. Well I want to thank you so much for your time today Reg. You have so much to offer to the mainframe community and I loved hearing your expertise and your thoughts on everything. That's all I have for you today.
Reg: Thank you.
Keelia: Thanks everybody for tuning in. We'll be doing one more video of these later today on Z skills and the Academic Initiative, so we’ll see you later. Thank you.
Reg: Thank you.
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Bob Rogers, one of the minds behind the mainframe 64 bit architecture, talks with Keelia Estrada Moeller, managing editor of IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z, about how performance has helped the mainframe platform evolve and remain relevant.
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Bob Rogers: Hello.
Keelia Estrada Moeller: Hi Bob, how are you?
Bob: Good enough.
Bob: I'm having a nice day.
Keelia: That is great to hear. I am too. The sun is out so that's always good sign.
Bob: Yeah, the sun's out now but when I was taking the two and a half hour drive from where I live to where I am right now, it was raining in the mountains.
Keelia: Oh no.
Bob: I'm very familiar with the mountains because my older son went to Cornell, which is more or less in this area that most of the journey is the same to come here or to go to Cornell. I've seen cars run off the road down cliffs in a blizzard. I've seen down at the bottom of a huge hill two different times cars on fire down at the bottom.
Bob: It's an awesome road but I know that it is something to be reckoned with.
Keelia: Yeah, absolutely. So I think we can go ahead and get started. We're just going to talk a little bit about security of the mainframe and the evolution of the mainframe so I just have a few questions for you today, the first of which is how has the mainframe remained relevant or prominent today and really risen above the competition in relation to security or modernization?
Bob: Well the reason goes to the beginning of the mainframe because when you didn't have all these other platforms, the mainframe was the only computer type that was powerful enough to run real businesses with real business applications. It started out having to do things right. Initially the issue was availability because networks weren't that big in those days, so all you had to do for security was keep people out of your datacenter because you didn't have to worry about any kind of internet hanky panky, but we needed availability in those days. And when the mainframe system with MVS or VM running on it provided sufficient availability for a customer application, the customer put it on and then immediately demanded more availability so this made it an upward spiral on the operating system (OS) becoming more and more available, providing more and more types of recovery and error avoidance and so forth because it was running Western civilization. Now we're in a different era than my early days, where security is a very important issue and again, the mainframe has to do things right. Sometimes we're not the first to market with something because we have to make sure that it integrates well with everything that already exists and that it really works, that it can be depended upon.
Keelia: Right. So you mentioned the ways you've seen things change over the years. You talked about security but I know that you've been really absorbed in the mainframe and the mainframe community for a while so you've experienced these different life stages of the mainframe. So I'm wondering as you've seen the mainframe evolve, what's been the most significant change you've noticed?
Bob: Well of course the transition to a 64-bit architecture. I'm just kidding. That was one of the things that I did.
Bob: But there are two major things from my experience, which was always very close down to the iron in the OS. The first one was the ability to run a single OS on multiple CPUs and get good performance out of it and still be able to hold things together and make it so that the two CPUs didn't trip over each other and corrupt data, and that everything would have to be properly serialized. We started doing it decades and decades ago. I don't know how well the other platforms are doing it. I know that they probably aren’t as efficient at it as z/OS and z/VM are. The other one is Sysplex, the ability to have multiple whole OS environments working together on a single set of application tasks and again to be able to do it with proper serialization so that things don't trip over each other but also to be able to do it with a good performance return, a good ratio of how much raw power you have and how much effective power the system delivers. I think those were two of the really major transitions that the system has made. I mean we've also gone from a 24-bit architecture to a 31-bit architecture to a multi-address space architecture with a thing called ESA and then to 64-bit architecture. These were difficult but they’re at least easy to describe.
Bob: Just to give an example of the real meaning of the word evolution and capability. Application programs that were written of OS 360 in 1965 would still run on z/OS version 2 and run correctly. It would just run a lot faster.
Keelia: Yeah, right. Just based on the way that you've seen the mainframe evolve, do you see a certain direction that we might go in the future?
Bob: I normally don't get too much into future. I'm much more kind of like an evolutionist. I think what will happen with the mainframe is what has happened for many, many decades which is it will continue moving forward. It will absorb new technologies. It will even adopt technologies from other platforms and fit them to our purpose so that we can keep advancing to stay vital and retain what they used to call qualities of service (QoS), which is kind of unique for mainframe environments. I'm not a visionary that way with respect to where things are going to go because as I've seen it, there never was a huge jump. I mean certainly, there's big jumps in the whole industry and the way customers use systems but the system itself has really evolved.
Bob: And one of the things that keeps that is that we need to retain compatibility. We need to retain our QoS but yet we need to move forward so it's done with great pain and care and at huge expense but it has been successful for decades.
Keelia: Right. I think that's a good answer to that question and I'm also wondering if you've seen any major factors that have dictated this mainframe evolution like security concerns or increased modernization efforts or something along those lines?
Bob: Well in this era of very strong security concerns, I retired before it hit. I mean security was always important and it was getting more and more important but some things that have happened in the last five years since I retired have really, really cranked that up. It's on everybody's mind so I can't really speak with authority on what's happened security-wise because for one thing, not being a Distinguished Engineer in the z/OS organization, they don't tell me what they're doing with respect to security all the time. I think one of the big disruptive things that happened was when Unix opened systems standards and so forth came online and they had a great marketing line. Why depend on a single vendor? Why don't you use this stuff that's standard? Well it turned out they really didn't deliver as much standardness as was hyped and the other thing is that it’s very difficult to differentiate yourself, to innovate in an environment where you’re held back by standards. But nonetheless MVS and introducing what was first called open addition and now it's called Unix system services actually provides a Unix environment on top of the old time traditional MVS environment. We were able to do that with some success but some difficulties because the marketplace forced it upon us and because they wanted to have this illusion of openness because it turned out that all of the systems had some proprietary aspects to it because vendors just can't give up their tendency to try and hold onto their current customers. That was very disruptive but I think the mainframe came through. MVS came through that and is doing fine even against native Unix systems.
Keelia: Right. So it looks like we've covered the questions that I have for you today but I'm wondering if there is anything else that you'd like to add?
Bob: Well let's see. Well having seen what I've seen and having had the joy of giving presentations about the non-death of the mainframe and how colonists for computer worlds like Stewart Alsop had to eat his words when he said in I think 1992* that the plug would be pulled out of the last mainframe in 1995. Well the news for him would be we have programmers working on mainframe OSes, MVS, VM and Linux that weren't even born until after he said the mainframe was going to die so my advice is if you're going to bet against the mainframe, don't bet a lot.
Keelia: Well that's a good motto to live by. I want to thank you so much for your time today. Your opinions and your voice is really valued in the mainframe community so it’s such a privilege being able to talk to you about these topics.
Bob: Well call any time. You know how much I love to chat.
Keelia: Absolutely. Thank Bob.
Bob: Have a good day Keelia.
Keelia: You too. Bye.
Bob: Bye bye.
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Meredith Stowell and Christy Schroeder talk with Keelia Estrada Moeller, managing editor of IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z, about the IBM Academic Initiative and addressing the Z skills gap.
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Keelia Estrada Moeller: Hi, I'm Keelia Moeller. I'm the managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine Mainframe edition. Today, we're here at SHARE St. Louis talking to Meredith Stowell and Christy Schroeder about the IBM Academic Initiative and skills on the mainframe. So, Meredith and Christy, I have a few questions for you today. The first is just an overview. If you had to synthesize what the goals of the Academic Initiative are, what would you say would be the main things to highlight?
Meredith Stowell: I would say that the primary goal and the primary reason we got the idea of the Z Academic Initiative is really to build a talent headline for enterprise computing, ensuring that we have that talent pipeline for the future to not only be able to do the mainframe technologies and not just the traditional technologies but also the new technologies that are on there—from DevOps, to blockchain, to analytics, to machine learning—and really getting the awareness out there that this platform exists and that there are fantastic career opportunities. So it’s really about building that talent pipeline and then connecting that talent pipeline with clients, with partners and with various employers all around the world that need those critical skills in their shops.
Keelia: Yes, absolutely. What are some of the best ways that the initiative works to achieve those goals?
Meredith: Well we have a couple of different programs—things that have been going on for quite some time and some that are newer. Number one, we definitely partner with universities around the world, really partnering specifically with faculty members to incorporate content, whether it’s incorporating a whole new course, whether it’s incorporating a module or a guest lecturer into their existing courses and existing curriculum. That's also not just universities. I'd like to expand that also to high schools because it’s important that we start early with the STEM skills. We also work with clients, particularly in local regions, pulling together clients with round tables—so pulling them in with the round table, with the educators in that area, to talk about “Hey, these are the skills that we need, and how can we incorporate those skills and build those skills in the different programs.” We also offer student direct programs so instead of necessarily requiring that we go through the university or through the school, we have various programs that students can just sign up and participate in. The most successful one is the Master the Mainframe contest.
Meredith: So we host that on an annual basis in the fall from September through December. It's a progressive challenge-based contest where you need absolutely no prior experience, but you really get an opportunity to understand the mainframe technology, and understand what's going on in the industry around that. We also offer a lot of free courses online for students to take. So whether it’s e-learning through Interskill, one of our partners that we offer. We also just released a new video series—an intro to z/OS through the Redbooks—so once again just short little seven minute video series to go get up to speed and start to understand the technology. Did I miss anything?
Christy Schroeder: Yes, and I would say the great value of that is that we're also including digital open badges as a part of that learning so as they are going through our Master the Mainframe and/or the Interskill learning that’s available out there, the students can earn open digital badges and what that allows them to do is advertise themselves. Go out and brand themselves and show that they've earned these mainframe skills. Then we've been working to create a top match tool that the clients can leverage so they can then use this tool that’s available at no cost. You can put in the specifics. We happen to be in St. Louis here today, so I could say “Show me all the people who have earned an open digital badge around mainframe in the St. Louis area” and I would get a list. If they opt into it, then as an employer, I would be able to go out there and reach out to them through their social media profile and say “Hey, I have an opening. Would you be available in these types of positions?” So it’s a great opportunity for the students to learn and then use the badges to find opportunities.
Meredith: And I think that badges, from a student perspective, each one of the badges that you earn has the specific skills that you actually gained and verifiable skills that you have gained. You can actually click on those skills and see all of the open positions that are out there that require those skills and immediately apply for those positions. So it’s a great way to not only showcase “Hey I have these verified skills” but also to connect directly to the employers with that talent.
Keelia: There are so many amazing things and strategies going on in this initiative. As you've seen it change throughout the years, what are some of the ways you’ve seen that direction move, whether it be working in specific ways to get to specific areas of focus, or have the areas of focus themselves changed? How have you seen it evolve?
Christy: I think one of the great things about the program is we initially did start off by having it as a contest really focusing on Master the Mainframe. That was the start of the Academic Initiative program and we did focus on the students at those junior high, high school, college levels, getting them mainframe skills. Now the program has really broadened to be the entire ecosystem around getting the employers. We're here at SHARE this week where we’re trying to make sure we connect those employers with the talent so I think as an academic initiative program, it's becoming really more of a skills program where it’s all about the school all the way to getting employment. And how do we connect that mainframe community so that we connect the talent with the employers to build the complete ecosystem?
Meredith: And I think it’s also that, to your point, it has broadened beyond academic into non-traditional ways of learning and non-traditional programs. So, for example, being able to support some of the new collar initiatives that are out there with something, whether it’s through an apprenticeship program, or whether it’s through programs like Watch Code that are actually here out of St. Louis. They've worked closely with one of our global training partners to create a program that really focuses on the underserved populations, helping to build the workforce, getting them these mainframe skills and getting them the jobs. So I think it has really broadened just beyond what academic is all about.
Keelia: Yeah, that's a great answer and obviously a lot of work goes into these efforts, so has there been a moment where you've really seen a combination of all of your efforts into one story that just demonstrates how worth it all of this effort is?
Christy: So I'll take that one first because I've had the opportunity—and Meredith just alluded to it—where we're doing so much more around helping the new collar community because there’s such a wonderful pool of talent for our clients. Anybody can learn. I love one of our quotes from Jessica from Etna. She said, "It's not what I don't know. It's what I can learn" and that’s so applicable to everybody. So we've been working with some of these not for profits. Per Scholas is one example where they work with the underserved of the community and we build a mainframe, a training program for them. It was a five-week program. They combined soft skills with technical skills for the mainframe. They incorporated badges so all the students who went through were able to put three badges onto their resumes and their portfolios. I talked to the students. I went to the graduation and it truly was life changing for me. I know that's huge to say but it truly was because as I was talking to one of the students, she was talking about her life and how much of a difficult background she had. She said that she was taking the course as a way to break the cycle of poverty because she had been through it. Her mother had been through it and she didn't want that for her daughter; she wanted to show a different way of living and so she took that mainframe program as a way to improve herself. My understanding is that she did get an offer out of that and so we see how we truly are changing people's lives by giving them opportunities in an industry that they may not have even known about and yet they can do it.
Keelia: It's such an amazing story that you just told and I want to reiterate what you just said. You are changing people's lives with these programs. You're reaching out to students and young people. You're doing so much to help them further their careers. It's just amazing.
Christy: Yes, and Meredith you had a story from last year.
Meredith: Christy really helps to facilitate quite a few of the new hire panels that are out there and the new tenure panels. They come, they talk about their experiences and how they got involved with the mainframe and so many of them actually got started with Master the Mainframe. You see where they are today, that they're productive in this career, that they would never even known about had the Master the Mainframe contest not existed. It was in a SHARE event last year that we met one individual who was a winner from South America in one of our previous contests. He said “Master the Mainframe changed my life.” Now, he’s a mainframer, but he said “I didn't know that this even existed. I didn't know that I was even interested in this. I did the contest and I found my passion. I am so happy with where I am today.”
Meredith: And it's not a one-time story. You hear it over and over again so that to me is really where it culminates and you really see that not only am I enjoying what I do but I'm truly making a difference in these people's lives.
Keelia: Yeah. I've also noticed that with the results of Master the Mainframe. I mean most notably we have Anna McKee, the first female winner and so we're setting these trends and the young people who are interested in the mainframe have these idols to look up to now. I mean one of our writers talked with Anna a while ago. She just said “I want to set an example to other young women in tech that they can do this too.” Again, so amazing what you're doing. I just have one last question for you.
Christy: Well I wanted to add one more of Master the Mainframe winners because I just love Ari Kenney too. What I love about his story is that our contest Master the Mainframe is a worldwide contest. It's open for anybody all around the world and that Ari Kenney, he started taking Master the Mainframe in high school through his school down in Florida. He participated several times. You don't just enter it one time and you're done. You can enter it as many times as you want and as a high school student, he beat out everybody all over the world. He became our worldwide leader, so it just also shows it doesn't matter your age. You’re able to do it and he showed that passion, the dedication and willingness to do it. You’re going to be able to become our next champion.
Meredith: That's right. Our next hero.
Keelia: Yeah, so just one last question for you. We have Master the Mainframe and other initiatives like Mainframe Playground are coming along. You mentioned Per Scholas and a few other programs similar to it, so do you see any of these strategies as most effective or do you think it is more a culmination of putting all these strategies together to work in a similar direction?
Christy: I'll let you take that.
Meredith: I think it really is a combination of everything. I don't think it’s any one thing. I think one thing works for one person and something else works for another but what I do see is that we've been able to take everything that we've done over the past years and we continue to build on it. We continue to change it and make it better. We want more input to continue to allow it to evolve so I think that’s one of the keys is that it’s ever evolving. Right? It's not stagnant. We have, with the Master the Mainframe contest, for example, new challenges every year and we really try to look at what's going on in the current IT trends, what we’re bringing out that’s new to really make it and ensure that it’s relevant to everything that's going on today so the students get the latest and the greatest. So I think it truly is that combination of all that we're doing.
For example, even with Master the Mainframe where it used to just be a contest, we saw how great it was working as a learning tool and so now we actually have the system open year round so that anyone—whether you're a client, or whether you're just somebody out there that’s interested in learning some new technology—anyone can access that learning system and go through all the different challenges so I think it’s a combination. I don't think it's anything that’s just one but I would say one of the key components of success is ensuring that it’s about the community. Right? This is not just an IBM thing. This is a mainframe ecosystem, a mainframe community, and it's really when we pull in the clients, we pull in the partners, we pull in the educators, and we pull in the students that we really get such a great win for everyone. The students get the skills. The students get the jobs. The employers are able to have the skills that they need.
Christy: And I would add that it would the opening of the aperture and so it's not just those traditional students that were coming out of the high school. It's opening it up really to anybody who is willing to learn. As we are doing these new collar discussions with Per Scholas or Launch Code or companies like that, and that syntax is another great area. Anybody who is really looking for an opportunity to advance themselves in a career where we’re impacting those big companies, the ones that you rely on, that their systems have to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and opening up those opportunities for everybody.
Meredith: You know what? I think you had mentioned something earlier when we were talking about what really helps from a training perspective. I think it’s the mentors that make the difference, right—in fact in the panel this morning at SHARE, one of the things that one of the panelists said was “You can't cram 30 years of experience into one year of training.” Right? So it’s about the training; it's about getting the experience, the on-the-job experience and it's about having those mentors who are willing to share their experience and help them to get up to speed.
Keelia: That's so well said and that's all the time we have today but I want to thank you both so much for answering these questions. It's so helpful and what you're doing is just incredible.
Meredith: All right. Thank you.
Christy: Well thank you.
Keelia: All right. Bye.
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