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Mainframe users chart course for upgrading to z/OS

Planning and research help mainframe users pave the road for smooth migration to z/OS.

Planning and research help pave road for smooth migration

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) is in the process of upgrading its mainframe operating system from OS/390 to z/OS, the new computer operating system for IBM's zSeries mainframes. Still in the early stages of migration, the department, based in Ames, Iowa, has several months to go before the project is complete.

So far, there have been no major complications, no setbacks and, in fact, according to one administrator there, the migration is pretty much routine.

The Iowa DOT is just one of hundreds of companies currently migrating to the new operating system before IBM discontinues support for OS/390 -- and one of many organizations that are likely to do so without incident. To most mainframe shops, the process of migrating or upgrading to a new operating system is fairly commonplace when performed on a regular basis.

"We do an upgrade just so we can keep up," said Charlotte Bentley, a systems administrator with the Iowa DOT. With new versions of the z/OS operating systems coming every six months, Bentley said it is probably unwise to wait too long before upgrading. That's why many shops do it routinely.

"My company has always had the philosophy that staying current is the best practice," said Bret Goodfellow, manager of network computing services at Questar InfoComm (QIC), a Salt Lake City-based provider of telecommunications services, software applications and computer networking services.

Like Bentley, Goodfellow has been upgrading every year simply in order to stay current. His organization's last migration was from z/OS 1.1 to z/OS 1.3.

"Because the upgrades are done every year," he said, "the migrations are typically uneventful. If we waited longer, say every two years, we might not have been as successful."

Indeed, migration can be relatively painless. However, experts say that migration can be complex and sometimes costly -- especially for organizations that don't update often.

z/OS was first issued in March 2001 and, since then, there have been three subsequent releases. The release of version 1.5 is expected to be delivered during first quarter 2004. z/OS is a renamed and upgraded version of OS/390, which in turn evolved from the MVS operating system. z/OS is a high-performance operating system based on 64-bit architecture.

With its last z/OS release, version 1.4, in September 2002, IBM announced several additional z/OS-related performance enhancements. While most of the upgrades are modest, said expert Jim Schesvold, president of Best Customer Solutions Inc., a mainframe systems consulting firm, there are significant improvements if you have functional needs in specific areas.

The new operating system exploits the power of 64-bit architecture. Users will want to take advantage of the increased performance, efficiencies and flexibility. In addition, users can run multiple operating systems, such as Linux, Unix and z/OS, on one box.

IBM has also changed its pricing structure with this release. In some cases, the new pricing plan can lower operating costs.

According to Schesvold, other performance-related enhancements include better real-time balancing of batch workloads across a sysplex, Workload Manager self-optimizing capabilities, and better self-tuning/granular performance reporting of WebSphere processing.

There are also two new Web-based wizards. One wizard, IBM Security Planner, helps users create a more consistent security policy across IBM platforms. The other wizard helps plan Intelligent Resource Director (IRD) implementation.

z/OS V1.4 extends TCP/IP with support for the new IPv6 protocol (a z800 or z900 is required) and has a new TCP/IP daemon for synchronizing clocks between various platforms in the network, Schesvold said. VPN support across a sysplex has also been added to z/OS V1.4, as have improvements to SNA network manageability.

According to Schesvold, there have also been security enhancements such as extended Public Key Infrastructure capabilities, a beta version of V1.5 Security Server Enterprise Identity Mapping. Unix Security Management usability enhancements are also provided.

Time is running out

Most significant, however, is that z/OS V1.4 is the last release to provide coexistence with OS/390 V2.10.

Upshot: it will become increasingly difficult and costly to upgrade to the current releases of z/OS and, eventually, some shops will be left to manage on their own if they fail to upgrade before IBM pulls its support.

"If you don't position yourself properly, you won't have IBM support," Schesvold said.

In a recent poll, only 15% of the mainframe users responding said they had already upgraded to more current versions of z/OS. While 51% said they plan on doing it soon, 23% said they hadn't migrated but were concerned about support.

"I think those who haven't yet migrated probably don't have a lot of pressure to do it because versions of the operating system will be supported for a while," Schesvold said. "But you have to consider that, at some point, not only will you not be supported, you won't be able to get older versions of the operating system that may be required in order to upgrade -- when you decide you want to."

Now that you've decided to migrate

Schesvold said that the first thing to do once you've decided to upgrade is to develop a project plan. That means determining who the project leaders will be, outlining current processes, researching the upgrade, and establishing a migration timeline.

A major step in that plan should be to perform a survey of all third-party products you run under OS/390 and determine whether they're z/OS compatible and -- for those that are not -- you've got to get them upgraded.

For many shops, this is the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process.

"Third-party software vendors usually slow down the process for these z/OS upgrades," Goodfellow said. "This is why it is equally important to have your third-party software at current levels. Our issues at Questar have always been whether the third-party software is compatible with the z/OS upgrade. My belief is if you can keep your third-party software at current levels, then your z/OS upgrade will occur quicker."

Schesvold also recommends users research their systems. The better you know your system, the better the upgrade will go, he said.

Product changes, removal of function, enhancements, migration tasks, installation tasks, application and operations impact, and a variety of other aspects must be researched and understood prior to undertaking the upgrade. This information should then be folded into the project plan as tasks. There are a number of OS/390 and z/OS manuals and Web sites you can use to obtain information useful in planning your migration.

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