Tag Archives: hursley

When “end of an era” doesn’t cover it

This week, I tendered my resignation at IBM, after 10 years and 4 months, to a manager who has been my team leader and friend for the past 3 years. I can honestly say that it was a really hard moment; but also the right moment to make this particular transition.

As I’ve repeatedly written over the past few years – IBM has been a company I always aspired to work for, and once I had the chance, one that I’ve been immensely proud to represent. It’s a company that has endured over a century, and one that I was able to spend time with for a tenth of its existence – it was really the age of both WebSphere and the rise of IBM Software Group, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been there.

I have brilliant memories of the past decade. IBM is an amazing company and I will always value the chance to be a part of it, particularly in a wonderful location like the Hursley Lab. The people I’ve worked with, and with whom I’ve formed what I believe will be enduring friendships, have been simply outstanding. There were so many opportunities to do great things, not only in “the day job” but also as a BlueIQ Ambassador and social collaboration advocate, with IBM developer communities, in the universities programme representing IBM at careers fairs and as a guest lecturer in degree programmes, and the schools and community programme as a BlueFusion volunteer and mentor to kids at schools in deprived areas. I’ve also loved the chances to learn from others formally and informally, and to act as a mentor to others.

This will sound like a total paean, but it’s very true that there are amazing talents around IBM. In 7 years in IBM Software Services, and more than 3 years representing the development, strategy and product management teams in the lab back out to the field, I amassed a list of friends and colleagues from across continents, business units, and brands. It’s amazing to think of the broad reach of my network and I can’t help but be grateful for that.

My next steps are still forming; but I’m looking forward to spending more time with Open Source communities, with developers, with new technology, with connected systems and the Internet of Things, and as a speaker and writer. I’m also grateful to a range of friends for their support, particularly in taking over initiatives like eightbar, and in enabling me to remain involved in strands like Eclipse and MQTT.

Thanks for following me, reading my blog, sharing my thoughts, and joining the journey. I hope what comes next will be a continuation of the path I’ve been on; and an exciting next step in developing the direction I’ve been headed in.

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Reflections on IBM

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the company I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life with – IBM. A few months ago I wrote about the company’s centennial. As an historian this has had me extremely engaged, excited, and interested.

In the last week I’ve had a couple of interesting experiences related to IBM.

First of all, I visited the Oxford University Careers in Computing Event.  I’d been up to Oxford in November for the wider University careers event, but I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with science students about what the company is all about. IBM helped to invent modern computing; to put man on the moon; it invented the PC, the floppy disk, various storage advances; it helped decode the human genome; it built the machines that defeated humans at chess and at Jeopardy; it is helping to build a Smarter Planet. It’s a great place to be.

Secondly, I helped to host some US colleagues in our UK lab at Hursley. I love Hursley and I’ve been enormously privileged to work there for the past few years. I remember my first experience of visiting IBM there as a customer in ~2000 – seeing the wonderful Wedgewood Room, the IBM consultant I was working with dropped the thought that one day I could work there into my head, and I’ve spent a long time wanting to work there, getting to work there, and then learning the history and showing it to others. Wonderful place.

I’m proud to have had the chance to work with an organisation that has helped to reshape and change the world. The quality of the people, the history of the organisation, and the amazing technology, has transformed my life.

WebSphere Message Broker version 8 is out!

Hot on the heels of the latest goodness in WebSphere MQ, it’s the turn of IBM’s Enterprise Service Bus – WebSphere Message Broker – to get a major new update.

WMB v8.0 was announced back in early October and has just arrived ready for  download in versions for distributed platforms, System z mainframes, and as a Hypervisor Edition for Linux and AIX (to be provisioned via the IBM Workload Deployer appliance).

As I did with WMQ last month, I wanted to take a moment to break out and highlight some of the key things in this release that you may have missed from the announcement letter. This won’t be a comprehensive list of everything, but I  want to point out some of the cooler features that you’ll want to be aware of. So, here we go…

(I’ve included a few screenshots to whet your appetite, click for larger versions!)

A simpler development experience

Version 8 brings a number of enhancements to the development experience, but one worth highlighting is what we call “Apps and Libs” – the idea that sets of message flows may be grouped into a unit called an Application which can be deployed, stopped and started as a whole. With Libraries, there are also truly re-usable assets like .esql files, or sub-flows, which can be deployed and updated separately, and invoked dynamically at runtime. This is a key change in the way that the Broker works – previously, sub-flows were compiled into the main flow and changing one required redeployment of all flows using it… they are now dynamically linked when needed, so they can be deployed and replaced more easily.

A new standards-based parser and message modeler

A new Data Format Description Language (DFDL, which you’ll sometimes hear called “daffodil”) enables any text or binary data to be understood within the message model. The Broker has had the “MRM” for many years, so of course could already do this, but DFDL is a new industry standard which can supersede the MRM (of course, you can continue to use your existing flows and message formats – you’re not forced to use DFDL). There’s a new mapper, too.

More importantly, coming along with DFDL and the mapper is a really, really nice set of utilities for testing message models inside the Toolkit – you’ll now be able to confirm that the model matches the test data without having to go through a full model->deploy-> test-at-runtime cycle. I saw this demo’ed at the WebSphere Technical Conference in Berlin during October and was blown away by it – it would have saved me a lot of time back in my consulting days!

Comprehensive .NET support

If you have .NET applications, assemblies, or services on the Windows platform, and you want to access those from your message flows – you can. If you want to write your message flow logic using C# or VB.NET or any .NET 4.0 CLR-supported language, using Visual Studio – you can.

If you don’t know how to get started with this stuff, the Toolkit has a new .NET Pattern to lead you by the hand and get you going quickly, and project wizards for Visual Studio.So, if you want a high-performance ESB platform that connects “anything to anything”, with minimal need to learn new skills, and run it on Windows with deep .NET integration – this release is going to cover your requirements.

Web administration

Delivered in version 8 is a first stage in making the Broker more easy to administer from a lightweight client – a web browser. Whilst power users and existing administrators can continue to use the Message Broker Explorer GUI, there is now an easy way to enable an optional web interface for basic administration tasks. Continuing the theme of simplicity the product has followed for a while, no additional moving parts (app or web servers) are required! Version 8.0 provides read-only views of running Applications and access to the log – more capabilities will be rolled into this interface in the future.

Record and Replay

Sometimes, when you are dealing with a set of end-to-end flows of data between applications, you may want the capability to record what is going on, and to replay specific scenarios and sets of events. This could be the case in audit, test, and many other scenarios. Another of the massive enhancements in version 8 is the Broker’s response to this requirement – again delivered using the same simple, lightweight interface offered by the web administration tool.

This also builds on technology around monitoring that has been progressively built into the Broker over the past couple of releases, so there are some really solid foundations and it is straightforward to set up.

Richer, yet easier to use

Just as I highlighted in my piece about WebSphere MQ 7.1, the Hursley teams have been strongly focused on “consumability” (translation for non-IBM-speakers = UX) for a number of years now. WMB continues to add capabilities that make it a richer, stronger integration platform, but also smooths out rough edges seen in earlier releases and is just… well… more productive to use. There’s even a drive to reduce the jargon and make the Broker logs more easy to understand, with new Activity Logging which aims to explain what a flow is doing in plain language (“GET message queue X”, “Update DB table Z”, and so on).

Taken together, the new wizards, web interfaces, integrated testing tools, message modelling tools, reduced dependencies, lightweight deployment with apps and libs… the combination just makes it a much more enjoyable experience for developer and administrators. And there’s a new installer, too.

The “papercuts” and node additions lists are huge: new JMSReceive node; new options for the File nodes; new Connect:Direct nodes; WS-ReliableMessaging support in the SOAP nodes; ability to install without root privileges; dynamic configuration of services without the need to restart execution groups… the list just goes on! Check out the product Information Center for more details on all of the features I just don’t have space to list.

… and finally…

Huge congratulations to some hard-working development teams in Hursley, Toronto and Bangalore in getting this release out there. As I’ve said before, I’ve been using the Broker for 10 years now and it just keeps getting better, and better. These guys are a very strong set of developers who turn out a fantastic, high quality product every time. Special thanks to MGK, @mqmatt, and @domstorey for some of the screenshots in this post 🙂

Footnote: version 8.0 is friendly to developers who use Ubuntu, too! 🙂 Anton (my go-to guy on all things Debian – listen to him!) has some good advice about running WMB or WMQ on Ubuntu and Debian.

WebSphere MQ 7.1 is out – here’s why it is cool…

I’ve been fairly quiet about the latest software from the Hursley lab here on my blog – although, over the past few weeks since the announcements back at the start of October during the European WebSphere Technical Conference, I’ve definitely been speaking about WebSphere MQ v7.1 and WebSphere Message Broker v8.0 – two exciting product releases.

I’m going to spend this post talking about WMQ 7.1, which became available in electronic download form for the distributed platforms last Friday (z/OS will follow shortly). I’ll return to talk about all the (über)-coolness in Message Broker a little closer to the release date for that product.

So what is the big deal in this release?

It brings parallel / multi-version install

From version 7.1 onwards, there is now the capability to install more than one copy of WMQ on a system, for Windows and UNIX platforms. This includes installing alongside WMQ v7.0.1.6 (fixpack 6 on v7.0.1, the minimum level for multi-version install to work) – you can have one copy of v7.0.1.6, and multiple copies of 7.1, for example – and future versions will also be able to be installed in parallel, should the need arise. This should make migration and testing simpler. Applications can now point to their “own” install of WMQ if required. The GSKit installation, which provides some of the security functions for the queue manager, now gets installed “inside” the main installation as well, to make the whole thing more self-contained, and potentially easier to embed into other solutions if needed.

Here’s a teaser image from a Windows system that my colleague “mqjeff” sent me earlier today 🙂 he has 7.0.1.6 and 7.1 on the same machine.

It’s (even more) secure

WebSphere MQ has always had a number of strong security capabilities, including SSL for channel authentication and encryption, and fine-grained access control of queue manager objects via the Object Authority Manager. It has also been possible to add transparent, per-message / per-queue / per-policy on-disk encryption and signing of message data via the Advanced Message Security feature. In v7.1, a renewed focus on end-to-end security adds the ability to authorise on a per-IP/user connection basis, as well as adding more crypto algorithms and additional authorisation options, and making much more of that security function available via the MQSC administration tool. T-Rob has a much more complete post about these changes so I won’t go into any more detail here.

It runs better, on bigger systems

Bigger systems… like the z196 mainframes? Well, that’s one example, yes, but WMQ v7.1 has been more optimised for big and multicore systems in general. On the mainframe, there are a bunch of great enhancements such as increased resilience in dealing with shared queues in a coupling facility, and the introduction of Shared Message Data Sets (SMDS) to significantly improve performance there as well. Let’s just say that the performance numbers for z/OS are looking really, really good… which brings me on to…

It continues to push the performance envelope

A major focus on performance in the v7.1 cycle has produced some fantastic results, and when the performance reports appear (as SupportPacs, within the next few weeks), you’ll see the “fastest WMQ ever”. This theme runs throughout everything: not just the base runtime messaging, but also things like making the WMQ Explorer tooling significantly snappier to operate as well (oh, and that’s now 60% smaller, and more sleek!)

There is also a new option for publish/subscribe applications – the ability to publish on a topic via multicast. This re-uses some of the technology from the WebSphere MQ Low Latency product so that it can run very fast. After the initial application startup, it means that applications can also operate when the queue manager is not available.

It adds Telemetry to the base install

No surprise that I’d highlight this one (it is also an important part of the overall story, per the next heading!) – I’ve been talking about the IBM implementation of MQTT, the open protocol which is being standardised and which it was just-announced will be part of the Eclipse Paho M2M project, for the past couple of years.

In WMQ v7.1, there is no longer a separate installation to run in order to add this support. On the platforms where the Telemetry feature is supported – Windows, Linux IA64, and (new in v7.1) AIX – this is now an optional part of the base installation. That means it is very easy to try out. Oh, and as well as being integrated with WMQ Explorer, the full range of Telemetry objects can now also be administered via the MQSC command line.

It brings the family together

This is a big one, in my opinion. I’ve mentioned that WMQ “base” can now interoperate with WMQLLM via the multicast publish-and-subscribe support; and the WMQ Telemetry functionality is “in the box” as part of the installer on the relevant platforms.

Why do these things that matter? Well, as I mentioned in my recent MQTT FAQ, something that IBM has observed over a number of years of building and delivering production-ready messaging middleware is that one size does not fit all. There’s the fundamental transactional messaging backbone (WMQ base) which needs to be solid, reliable, and easy to administer through comprehensive scripted and graphical tools… but beyond that, there are some additional qualities of service that need to be considered. There’s the very high speed, low latency use case which may be very specialised (WMQLLM), and there’s the need to deal with small and constrained devices and less-reliable networks (WMQ Telemetry / MQTT). Of course, you may also want to perform file transfer over that infrastructure (WMQ File Transfer Edition), secure your messaging (WMQ AMS), or route and transform your data and connect with “foreign” systems via different protocols (WebSphere Message Broker). I’ve been talking about this as part of IBM’s Messaging Vision for a number of years and it is really showing through in this release of WebSphere MQ. It’s a complete story.

It addresses many “papercuts”

On top of all of that… the team has really tried to address many of the common papercut issues, by which I mean the gotchas, annoyances, and the “wouldn’t it be so much better if….”s. Things like, gosh, I wish I knew what version of WMQ that client is using to connect to me? (yep, you can find out now).  How about “bind on group” for messages in a cluster? The ability to backup / dump and restore the configuration of a queue manager without needing to use a SupportPac? There’s a real sense of “fit and finish”, and I believe that shows that the development team have been listening to feedback and making the tweaks that users have been asking for where possible.

So – all-in-all, there’s a lot in this release that makes it worth a look, either from the perspective of users who are looking at an upgrade to gain performance, security and usability benefits; or for those looking for a solid, dependable messaging platform which can support modern applications. There’s a lot of excitement and innovation going on in the “traditional Message Oriented Middleware” space at the moment and WMQ and the related protocols like MQTT are right at the heart of those trends.

To learn more about the features I’ve talked about, and some that I haven’t, check out the online Infocenter. You can also check out the “What’s New in WMQ v7.1” presentation from the WebSphere Technical Conference, via T-Rob’s blog.

Centennial

On June 16 2011, IBM is 100 years old – a little older if you include the companies that existed before the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (that was later renamed to International Business Machines) merged in 1911.

That’s pretty good going, for a technology company.

If you’ve listened to me speak this year, you will have heard me mention various reflections on how IBM has endured as an organisation. In amongst all the celebrations, and excitement, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection this year. I’m an historian by education and interest, but also a technologist; and perhaps I might even dare to describe myself as a futurist. The IBM 100 celebration has really set me thinking.

Personal Beginnings

Hursley My first introduction to the place where I now work, our lab at Hursley, was when I set foot in Hursley House as a customer, which I think was sometime around about 1999. I was struck by the beautiful wood-panelled (or Wedgewood-decorated) surroundings, the sense of history (IBM has had a research and development lab here in the UK for over 50 years), and the excitement at being at the location of some of the biggest technical innovations of the century.

I grew up and went to school in Portsmouth in the 1980s. IBM at the time was huge. The IBM PC was becoming commonplace, although I was always more of an Acorn lad; many of my school friends had parents who worked at the IBM UK headquarters in North Harbour. I couldn’t fail to know what IBM did, and I grew up learning about computers, how they worked, and wanting to learn and do more with technology. I was a schoolboy nerd, sure – but I knew what IBM did and how important the company was to the technology industry.

The more I’ve been involved with “social” at IBM, the more I’ve come to realise an issue, which SVPs like John Iwata recognised several years ago. You don’t buy IBM-branded consumer software off the shelves now, and although we invented the personal computer, very few people realise that now – let alone care about the PC as a device, by comparison to mobile phones, tablets and game consoles (even if IBM chips do power all three of the current dominant home gaming platforms…). That’s one of the many reasons why IBM chose to trust its employees to tell the broader story of the company and its capabilities through social networking and online interaction, a situation that stretches back to 1997 when IBMers were first actively encouraged to be online and public, and that has continued as the social web has continued to develop.

IBM and history

As I look at the history of the organisation and the various world-changing innovations that we’ve catalogued and highlighted via the IBM 100 site, it makes me THINK.

Many youngsters don’t appreciate the invention of the floppy disk now. In fact, most of them will never have seen one. They are as bizarre an item today as the massive twin-tape-spinning machines I used to see on TV as a child, harking back to the 1960s and 1970s era IBM mainframes. Why should the floppy disk matter? Well, in a sense, not at all… they are a relic of a bygone technical age, before the Internet. But, of course, without the floppy disk, we wouldn’t have been able to build the amazing things we have now. Tablets, mobile phones, tiny portable wireless computers. Don’t forget where we’ve come from.

Talking of where we’ve come from, the BBC has posted a lovely video featuring my friend and mentor Dr Andy Stanford-Clark and the Hursley lab, talking about IBM’s centennial. If you listen at the start and end of the video, you’ll also hear the company anthem

Why does any of this matter? Does it, or should it, matter, that the company that I’m working for helped to put man on the moon using computing equipment less sophisticated than today’s smartphones? Or that we helped to unravel the human genome? Or that we’ve built a computer called Watson that can instantly understand highly nuanced and difficult questions? Some of these things have had clear commercial imperatives, others may have had less, but all have helped to increase the human race’s understanding of the world in which we exist, and have helped towards greater things. Big Data, mobile apps, event-driven business, and the Internet, have all built on top of these earlier advances.

I haven’t blogged for a while, because I’ve been travelling and speaking. A poor excuse, but it does at least enable me to comment that last month I toured the Nordics, and had an opportunity to see a working IBM punchcard sorting machine at our HQ in Helsinki, Finland, along with a variety of other cool things (well they were cool to me – just go with it…)

Numeric keypad Start | Stop IBM Series 82 Card Sorter  IBM Parts Catalogue  IBM Clock  System/360 and 370 Electromatic Typewriter Emergency Pull System Reset

Final thoughts

My final thought is, fundamentally, a mix of cautious optimism, and fear of a technology “generation gap”. I’ve grown up during an era straddling the pre- and post-Internet generations. I’m actually hugely grateful – it gives me perspective. I’m an enthusiastic adopter of many of the technologies that have arisen as a result of the interconnected world, and my day job is involved with enabling systems to work together, reliably. Important stuff, in my opinion.

The current/next generation is growing up in an immediately-connected world, and faced not with keyboards and mice or touchpads, but with magic pieces of glass, or indeed, gestures in the air. We’ve moved beyond the period where I hacked open my Acorn Electron and soldered in headphones and a switch to avoid bothering my parents, and indeed beyond the time where graphics and sound cards could be slotted in and out of a motherboard, to an age where everything you need is apparently contained within a magic sheet of glass which responds at a touch.

This is fantastic – glorious – magical? – Technology, as our friends at Apple like to say, just gets out of the way. But, as various commentators are observing, this progress comes at the price of the wider population understanding technology, or even having the inclination to dig beneath the surface and try to fathom how these super-duper, integrated chips and advanced operating systems, enable this advanced behaviour. I’m not saying that every child should be forced to understand programming, chip design, technology internals, etc. – but an awareness of what got us here, and how we can continue driving forward, and inquisitiveness, seems to me to be essential. That’s why I’m delighted by the emergence of Arduino and electronics prototyping; and by The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park; and why I’m proud to be an IBMer, aware of our heritage, and still helping to build a Smarter Planet. It’s a responsibility to continue to understand, explain, educate, and help others to make sense of the capabilities we have developed.

Final, final thought: how can we all work together to change the world again, tomorrow?

Book recommendation: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, by Lou Gerstner.

Video recommendation: I’ve already blogged about IBM’s story of the first 100 years. Check out the videos 🙂