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A Rewarding z/VSE Community

Fans focus on participation and knowledge sharing

6/8/2016 12:00:33 AM | I live in Fairfax County, Virginia—my residential community somewhat by happenstance—because years ago a recruiter ignored my suggested preference for New York or Boston. It's a pleasant place with relatively upscale community services and amenities, but also somewhat anonymous and mostly not featuring collective or peer-to-peer relationships.

Contrast that isolation with rewarding groups and activities I've specifically sought out, such as local theater, public safety citizen support, ongoing education and (especially) technology groups, which have enhanced and enriched my entire mainframe career. These are closer-knit communities.

With a decadeslong track record, the z/VSE community exemplifies the best of what the industry offers. It provides IBM, personal, vendor and installation contributions and interactions; career and personal growth opportunities; valuable technology resources; shared memory of mainframe history; and combination communal soapbox for influencing evolution and sharing old-times stories.

z/VSE Isn't Your (Grand)father's DOS/360

With posts and discussions ranging from support to asking why it’s still around, there’s abundant material to discuss.

For example, last fall marked VSE's 50th anniversary, celebrated in z/VSE's home, Boeblingen, Germany. This brought the system's IBM development team together with attendees at the 9th European GSE/IBM Technical University for z/VSE, z/VM and Linux on z Systems.

It's interesting exploring what the VSE community—in all its feisty spirit—means to members, how it's evolved, what's been contributed to and received from it, how IBM interactions have changed, major IBM and customer contributors, past and current resources and how it may evolve.

z/VSE's half-century evolution is covered in Wikipedia pages "DOS/360 and successors" and "VSE (operating system)." It begins, "It was announced by IBM on the last day of 1964, and it was first delivered in June 1966. In its time, DOS was the most widely used operating system in the world."

IBM's 50-plus years of VSE enhancement efforts have paid off with the current modern version, as exemplified by what it supports for the Office of the Executive Secretary, Supreme Court of Virginia. Mike Riggs, the Court's manager of Systems and Database Administration, started as a high school junior operating an IBM 1419 reader/sorter with DOS/VS. Today, his z/VSE supports multiple mission-critical statewide applications and services, including records management system, case imaging system, video docketing application, case management systems for 325 courts with over 5,000 internal and 4700-plus external users and others, using WebSphere, CICS and Java. Processors are two zBC12-H13 systems running multiple LPARs, z/VM and Linux guests.

While it's easy taking today's z/VSE for granted, users express appreciation for enhancements such as adding extents to POWER files during a warm start without disrupting existing entries, myriad expanded POWER commands, No Page Data Set for running under z/VM, movement of many functions above the line, dynamic partitions, VSE connectors and associated clients, 64-bit virtual addressing, z/VSE z/VM IP assist, 4096-bit RSA key support and VSE and support tapes available over the internet.

Who's in Charge?

Just as the internet lacks a single leader, there's no "VSE CEO." Depending on context, many people take leadership roles. For the IBM product, VSE people long looked to Klaus Goebel, recently retired as z/VSE systems manager with IBM Germany, who managed worldwide z/VSE business. Bob Thomas, publisher of Enterprise Executive & Enterprise Tech Journal magazines—no stranger to the VSE community—commented, "Klaus Goebel is an excellent executive at IBM Germany and a friend to z/VSE users worldwide; but more important, he is a first-class gentleman and a real pleasure to work with."

For many years, the WAVV conference (formally, World Alliance of VSE and VM) was The Place To Be for VSE folk. It provided a semi-formal technical and social home for VSE fans. Riggs comments that, "WAVV really blossomed the notion of what can be accomplished by networking and sharing experiences amongst fellow VSE users." He's credited, in part, success realized on those opportunities at WAVV. He adds that WAVV was run " with an infectious passion for the z/VSE operating system."

There are many ways to be "in charge." Besides being an IBM executive or user group leader, many longtime practitioners offer advice and valuable information on the VSE-L discussion list. Looking at list archive pages reveals frequent contributors supporting, sharing and chatting with each other across state and national borders.

Community Resources

Destination z offers general and comprehensive mainframe information featuring blogs, tweets, member profiles and such, along with a sprinkling of VSE material. Other resources include:

VSE-L Discussion List
This is unquestionably, the VSE community's most valuable—and longest-lasting—resource. The pages note the list's outreach and history: "Over 1,500 readers world-wide! Since 1987." Daily list traffic varies from nothing (on rare days) to many dozen posts (when questions, problems or news trigger lively discussions). Subscribers range from veterans to newbies; all are welcome and people learn from and help each other, with IBMers contributing, too.

VM Workshop
WAVV has disappeared, though for a while it was WAVVL, adding "L" for Linux, but similar resources are available at the annual VM Workshop.

IBM Resources
  1. An IBM-maintained VSE events page includes the Workshop plus IBM offerings such as Technical Universities and user conferences.
  2. Written by teams comprising IBMers, business partners and customers, IBM Redbooks reflect real-world experiences. A comprehensive March 2016 title "Introduction to the New Mainframe: IBM z/VSE Basics" includes 446 pages, a 10 page table of contents and a five-page index.
  3. IBM's extensive live virtual classes
  4. Individual IBMers blog their thoughts, such as Ingolf Salm's z/VSE Blog

Magazines
  1. IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition provides diverse industry, technology, application and personal stories
  2. Anyone who's used mainframes for any length of time has likely seen Bob Thomas' various magazines track mainframe evolution for decades, currently titled Enterprise Executive and Enterprise Tech Journal

A different sort of resource showing VSE spirit is offered by Tony Thigpen of Thigpen Enterprises Inc.: "I am moving from large house to condo. I have several dozen WAVV shirts destined for a donation center. To fill in missing year, or if you just want some, let me know."

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Longtime VSE enthusiast—as vendor and user—consultant for z/Transformation Technology Group Ken Meyer participated in community meetings and discussions for decades. He gave classes and advice at WAVV conferences, IBM Technical Conferences and the North Carolina User's Group. He notes that the benefit of such participation was getting "one on one" with IBM development and support to discuss problems and techniques. He also enjoyed being able to speak to current and potential customers and put faces to names.

Remote mainframe support consultant, Bill Janulin comments that, "it looks like z/VM and z/VSE is still surviving, thanks to the dedicated professionals working with it." It's clearly fit for purpose and right-sized in many installations. And it's helped, as Lou Winston notes, by IBM "providing diagnostic help for other products."

Thigpen remarks: "Look what one person (Pete Clark) did back in the days that brought our beloved operating system forward. Together, we can do more."

Continuing that tradition, Ken McMahon of z/Transformation surveyed the VSE world for interest in and preferences regarding a user group meeting that came together nicely with a two-day technology agenda.

User groups—and on a larger scale, communities—are an antidote to feeling alone with problems, questions and even successes. Through decades of industry evolution and occasional periods of doubt, the VSE community has persevered in its commitment, demonstrating to installations and IBM the business value and cost-effectiveness of "the (not always) little platform that can." Triumphs are praised, problems are solved, and people departing are bid farewell or collectively mourned.

Supporting diverse applications and varying size installations, VSE meets mission-critical needs such as those of Virginia's Mike Riggs. Today's z/VSE hardly resembles its ancestor, 1960s-era DOS, having been modernized with current interfaces and supporting current z Systems mainframes. It's clear that the z/VSE community has kept pace with its favored technology and will continue to do so.


Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with and written about technology for decades. Email him at destination.z@gabegold.com.

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