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Share user group looks back at 50 years with buttons, ditties

Mainframers are a quirky bunch, and proudly so

March 2, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - ANAHEIM, Calif.—Mainframers are a quirky bunch. They make up songs about the technology that occupies their workdays, and wear buttons that say: "Don't Panic, It's only 1's and 0's."

At the Share user group expo this week, a chunk of big iron history is on display as part of the group's 50th anniversary observance. Walk by display cases holding ancient tape spools and punch cards, and you're likely to overhear gray-haired systems veterans say this about mainframe memorabilia: "It's a bit sad when you actually remember them."

Chicago-based Share may well be the oldest surviving computing user group. It traces its start to a 1955 meeting of aerospace IT techies that included workers from rival companies Boeing Airplane Co. and Lockheed Aircraft Corp., as they were known then. Group members at the time began sharing IBM mainframe code, leading to the user group's name.

Fifty years later, the mainframe remains an important part of Share. A hot topic among users at this conference was running Linux on mainframes, despite one button on display that says: "Never trust a language under 30." Users say they were eyeing Linux as part of a server consolidation strategy.

One 30-year member, Pat Carroll, an enterprise technical architect who works on a mainframe for a large retailer, said that while applications have moved to a distributed environment, databases often remain on a mainframe. "There is still an interest in keeping your family jewels on the mainframe," he said.

Share members used to have singalongs. Among the songs they came up with is one to the tune of "Happy Days Are Here Again."
It goes, in part:

HASPy days are here again,
Fixed core is at an all time min,
To run without it is a sin
HASPy days are here again.

(HASP stands for Houston Automatic Spooling Program, which dates from the 1960s.)

Attendees also said that the peer-to-peer networking remains valuable. For instance, Arthur Louise, an assistant vice president in charge of the mainframes at Group Health Inc. in New York, said he has found solutions to mainframe problems at past conferences that might have otherwise required consulting help. "In many cases, it will save you a bundle back in the office," he said.

But Share has also branched out to include distributed, end-to-end systems. Many members have responsibilities that extend beyond managing big iron, and include such problems as regulatory compliance. "All the technologies have rolled over several times, but the problems have not gone away," said Anne Calvori, a Share past president and IT manager, who asked that her company not be identified.

Although the founding companies of Share were competitors, the business value was in the systems built on that shared code, not the code itself, said Robert Rosen, president of Share and a CIO at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Rosen said he believes that code-sharing practice "was the genesis of the open-source movement."

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