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CA's 'even a caveman can do it' moment

Company is delivering a free software install wizard for the mainframe that works and actually allows mere IT mortals to install software on the mainframe.

Back in May of this year, CA introduced Mainframe Software Manager (MSM) to its mainframe customers and in a way, to the world of mainframe computing. MSM is for CA's mainframe administrators what a software install wizard is for the rest of us. It greatly simplifies the process of installing and updating CA's one hundred and sixty-odd IBM mainframe software titles. And, like install wizards that come with shrink-wrapped software, it's free.

A free install wizard, and for the mainframe of all things. What a concept.

So now that MSM has been out there in big iron shops for a bit, I decided recently to call a CA customer with hands-on MSM experience to see if it in fact delivered the wizard experience. Indeed it did he said. Installs that once could take days were reduced to minutes. There was once a time when mainframers referred to UNIX and Windows as third-world operating systems. I doubt that any UNIX IT pro ever burned 72 hours installing a mere upgrade.

Complexity has always been an issue with the frame. Yes, it runs the big bet-your-business apps with time-honored aplomb, but it is generally thought that mainframe administrative staff members need years of experience to become proficient. That's a big problem these days. First, that additional administrative time and experience translates to additional operating expense when operational budgets are now severely stressed. Second, seasoned mainframers are retiring in greater numbers than their replacements can be found or grown internally. The expertise pool is shrinking. Mainframes will gradually disappear if the people who run them get harder and harder to find.

That's why, as simple as it might seem to third worlders, an install wizard for the mainframe is a big deal. Granted, it's a bit more complex than your standard Windows wizard, but hey, the mainframe has to hang on to at least some of its nerdy mystique.

CA ran some tests with two IT administrative groups and MSM. One group consisted of z/OS "experts," the other was made up of z/OS "novices." Novices in this case were experienced open-systems administrators and recent college graduates. One point of the exercise was to see how much time on average MSM saved both groups during a software installation. The time saved was indeed significant. But the other point, perhaps even more important, was to see if the novices could install CA mainframe software in roughly the same time period as the experts. The novices, as expected, took far longer without MSM help, but came in only minutes behind the experts using MSM.

Hats off to CA for proving that the mainframe doesn't have to be a difficult place to do computing. The process of manually building tapes to install software upgrades has to find its proper place in the annals of computing history. CA offers an MSM API for other mainframe ISV's to leverage, if they so desire. Who knows where this trend can wind up? Maybe someday mainframe management will be so easy, even a Microsoft certified professional can do it.