Careers: Interviews
Internationally-Renowned Analyst: Trevor Eddolls

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with Trevor Eddolls, an internationally-renowned senior analyst, author, lecturer and consultant.  

Trevor’s many talents include authoring VM Performance Management by McGraw-Hill; Introduction to VM by NCC Blackwell; and ASO: Automated Systems Operations for MVS by McGraw-Hill. He has written and produced user surveys such as MVS Automated Operations Software and The Help Desk in Practice. He has chaired numerous seminars, and lectured extensively in the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. Trevor also edited Mainframe Week, a weekly on-line publication containing technical information. Plus, he edits publications like AIX Update, DB2 Update, MVS Update, CICS Update, and MQ Update for US-based Xephon Inc. I caught up with Trevor in the UK, his base of operations for his worldwide activities.

Discussion:

Q: Trevor with your remarkable history in consulting, lecturing, and writing, we are very fortunate to have with you us. Thank you!

A: You’re very welcome – thank you for asking me.

Q: Describe your journey into computers and the lessons learned along the way?

A: It all started a very long time ago. I was a newly-qualified teacher back in the 1970s and I taught maths and science in a secondary school. Our local education authority had a huge programmable calculator that they wanted volunteer teachers to demonstrate to the children. From there I went on a course about how to teach computing to children, and then I spent three weeks at a computer bureau, so I could teach from first hand about the computer industry. The company offered me a job – and from then on I’ve worked in the industry.

The company was using Univac mainframes, but decided it wanted to install an IBM machine. I was one of the first people to work on that machine – and wrote lots of the original onsite training material for it.

My next job was with a computer training company. This combined my teaching skills and my first-hand knowledge of IBM mainframes. I also wrote most of the training material used. I ran training courses in France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and many other parts of the world – as well as in the UK.

After three years, I left and went to work for Xephon, where I wrote and edited a huge number of publications. I also chaired and spoke at seminars, and wrote for various publications. In addition, we were constantly called by journalists for information and comments on the latest computer news.

In 2004 I set up my own company, called iTech-Ed (www.iTech-Ed.com), which provides writing and editing services, as well as training and Web site development. My main customer at the moment is Xephon Inc. (www.xephon.com), for whom I am editing the various Update publications.

The biggest lesson I learned was that nothing is ever wasted – although what you are doing at the moment doesn’t seem relevant to anything else, you’ll find out later that it is! The skills or information that you’re acquiring now you’ll find a use for later.

And I guess the second lesson I learned is that no matter how much you plan, you never know where you are going to be next, or what you are going to be doing there.

So put as much as you can into what you are doing now because it will pay dividends later (even if it’s sometimes much later!).

Q: What is your most surprising experience?

A: I think I have often been pleasantly surprised by just how helpful people can be. You know everyone is very busy, and yet they all seem to be able to set aside some time to help others overcome a problem.

Q: Do have any humorous stories to share?

A: My most embarrassing moment came when I was asked to speak at a conference in the Netherlands. I wrote a paper, which I sent to the organizers to give to the delegates. I then prepared slides – and in those days we still used acetates, PowerPoint and projectors were still very rare. So, with everything double-checked, I packed and flew into Schipol airport. Then I went to my hotel. After dinner, I got out my presentation in order to go over it one more time when the phone rang. After a long conversation I went to bed. The next day I set off early for the conference. When it was getting close to my turn to speak I opened my bag to take out the foils – only to find they must be still on the table in my hotel room! I spent the next hour giving my presentation without foils, referring people to diagrams in their handout, and waving my arms around a lot so the delegates had something to look at. I was very embarrassed by the whole experience. Luckily the delegates still rated the presentation as very good!

Q: Please share your most valuable writing/editing tips.

A: My best tip is to get someone else to read through what you’ve written – or else wait a week and do it yourself. The reason is that your deathless prose is probably full of assumed knowledge, and if you read through the text too quickly after you wrote it, you’re still making those assumptions. Read it a week later and it’s like reading it for the first time. You soon spot giant mistakes.

My other tip is to only write what you know about. This may mean doing lots of research first, but that’s well worth while. When you’ve got all the information you need, read through it, and think about what you would tell someone else about the topic. Once you can do that, you’re ready to write.

When you’re writing, try to make it interesting. If it’s a long piece of text then use subheadings. And where possible, lighten the tone.

And finally, use spell checkers and grammar checkers – but be prepared to not accept what they say. They’re only there for guidance, that’s all.

Q: Describe your current role and projects.

A: At the moment I am managing director (CEO) and tea boy for my new company. I am working very hard on continuing the high quality of journals that Xephon produce for mainframers each month, and I am looking for other writing and training opportunities. Currently I am editing AIX, CICS, DB2, MQ, MVS, RACF, and TCP/SNA Updates, which fills a lot of my time. And because each journal has a news section, I am making sure I stay up-to-date with all the latest announcements from companies selling in that particular area.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: I guess, without being in any way complacent, I like the kind of work I’m doing at the moment. So as long as there are mainframes and people who are ‘improving’ them, I’ll have something to write about – and there’ll be articles written by other people that need editing.

I’d like to see the amount of writing/editing/training work grow so I need to take on perhaps half a dozen staff. I’d also like the Web design side of the business to take off.

I don’t really see myself as an early-retirer. I like to get up in the morning and know there’s work to be done. I think waking up to another day on the golf course would be purgatory

Q: What are the most important trends to watch, and please provide some detailed recommendations?

A: 1) Linux on mainframes
Since IBM got into bed with the penguin as a way of fighting back at the boys from
Redmond, they have made huge developments. Many parts of MVS (or z/OS as it’s now called) are completely integrated with Linux. And the reasons why are obvious: it maximizes the use of mainframe assets, it brings new talent to the mainframe arena, it provides a robust and economical deployment of Internet services, and it allows the mis-named legacy applications to be Web enabled. It also means that companies can run and support one operating system on their mainframe, their medium-sized servers, and on the desktop. It’s just a shame Nokia chose the Symbian operating system for their phones rather than Linux, or else it would run on everything!

2) Voice over IP
I think every year for at least the past five years I’ve been saying that VoIP was nearly here. With so many people on broadband (DSL) you can even install the VoIP applications on a PC. But, and this is quite a big but, the other person has to have the same application installed at their end. And I have to phone them up using the traditional technology to say take this VoIP call. Everything says that VoIP will soon be able to “ring” people. In fact I’ve even seen promises that it will “one day soon” connect to ordinary phones. But it’s still not there. However, once it is possible and those last problems are ironed out, I think customers will leap on it. If you’re prepaying for Internet access, or if you have free Internet access, sending VoIP is going to save lots of money – particularly if you are phoning abroad. I sometimes wonder though, is it like the mythical everlasting light bulb? Is it an idea that’s going to put long-distance carriers out of business, so they buy the technology and lock it away in a draw so no-one can use it?

3) Security
Wherever you’ve got some computing power, you’ve got a security problem. Which means that there’s a problem from mainframes to PCs and on to PDAs and phones. Mainframes have been facing the problem for so long that security is second nature. The problem comes with people not brought up in this environment who think “it’ll be alright”. I have received so many virused messages this year from Outlook users without a firewall it’s unbelievable. And with more homes having the kind of computing power that data centers could only dream of 20 years ago, plus using wireless networking, it makes them very vulnerable places. Norton and MacAfee (and all the others) are helping, but, in a way, they make their money on scare stories, so, again, they’ll never sell us the “everlasting light bulb” to keep all our devices safe – even if they ever develop it.

4) Performance
Computers get quicker, applications get larger, and we run more of them. No, I’m never going to be satisfied with the performance of my mainframe, PC, or any other device until it works at the speeds you see on TV. My children ask why my lightning fast new laptop takes so long to load. And I agree with them. We all want applications with go-faster stripes on the side.

5) Spamicide
Every day I check my e-mail and I find about half is from people selling me mortgages, loans, medications, and pornography. I want a way that will stop that, but still let people I don’t know still be able to contact me on a work or family-related matter. I think we will see a mixture of legislation and software to combat this waste of time and space. And I think that most people who get lots of e-mail will want it.

6) ‘Intelligence’ everywhere
More and more devices are going to have some kind of intelligence built in to them. We are going to have “smart” just about everything. But I’m not sure that most people are really ready for it. I’m thinking of the oven that can ask the freezer what it contains and print out “tonight’s recipe”. Or the freezer that can contact your local supermarket and re-order pizza because the last one has just been eaten. However, I do see a single smart card being used for personal information – driving licence, donor card, allergies, next of kin, as well as home address and photo. I also see mobile phones being able to do the job. It carries a SIM card with lots of personal information. Why not have your shopping bill go on your phone bill? You can pay it all off with a credit card at the end of the month! So watch out for ovens that warn you to keep back unless you are wearing protective gloves, or showers that suggest the water temperature might be too high (or low). At some time we’ve all got to decide whether we are benefiting.

The other intelligence we’ll see in software is autonomic, or "self-healing" features. DB2 currently has this - it allows a system to monitor a system’s "health". It can then take appropriate steps to fix problems detected.

7) Voice control/input
I had a friend with a bad wrist who used IBM’s ViaVoice to work for over a year. Once he got over the teething problems, he found he could control his computer and create text files. When it works it is clearly more convenient than typing – particularly for people who haven’t got the hang of a QWERTY keyboard. I would expect to see a huge growth in this area. Already we are seeing answering services that work by voice recognition and its not uncommon to fond alarm clocks that will tell you the time if you ask (useful in the dark). So it’s a growing technology that I expect to see more of.

8) Wireless networking
Many years ago I had a wonderful stereo system that all my friends were hugely envious of. My mum thought there were an awful lot of wires that needed tidying up. Well, when I had to move my desktop computer the other day I realized that I had created another plate of spaghetti situation there. My wife was also against my plans to wire up the house so that we could share printers. The solution is wireless networking. I can go into any room (or even the garden) and work on my computer now. I can communicate with any other computer in my house and share files, and I can print from anywhere. Now if your home has only one computer, this is not a solution you’re looking for, but if you start having more than one machine, the file you want is always on a different one – and wireless networking just makes life easier (and tidier!).

9) All-in-one devices
In those far off days when I had a wonderful stereo system I spent hours getting the best record deck, and the best needle, and best-balanced arm. Every component was meticulously researched, lovingly cared for. Nowadays, I’m a Swiss army penknife man. I want everything in one box – and I want a small box as well. The early phones were large, and would act like a phone! – ring a number and let you talk. My current phone is my diary (no need to carry one of those), my address book (another lump gone), it takes photos (I never forget my camera at family events) and short videos, a photo album, it’s a dictation machine, an mp3 player. I could check my e-mails, but that bit isn’t too good – it will be in my next upgrade. There’s no reason why it couldn’t play videos (some micro DVD format), pick up radio programs, or even let me watch TV. And if I could use Word on it, that would be very useful. Could I get stones out of horses’ hooves? Not yet!

10) Battery life
The problem with mobile devices is that the battery gradually dies (except on TV). There have been great strides with battery technology over the past five years, and I predict this will continue. I want to be able to take my laptop on a long flight and be able to use it all the way, not just for four hours.

Q: Can you provide your perspective on SCO versus Linux?

A: Well, it’s a strange dispute really. To start with IBM has improved on the code they were given. Linux is still selling well, 9 out of 10 Linux users don’t care, and the other mainframe software giant, CA, also has a licence. There’s going to be only one winner here, and it’s the lawyers. I think it will run and run as a thorn in the flesh of IBM. I think SCO are suing everyone they can at the moment (recently AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler were sued). And eventually they’ll just run out of money to pay their legal team - and IBM will step in and buy the company. The only people really benefiting from a battle between Linux providers is Microsoft!

Q: Please comment on Linux and security and the whole Open Source movement?

A: Linux was always thought of very secure. Mainframe Linux probably still is. The problem is that the typical hacker (if he or she ever existed) always supported “open” software, so was more likely to focus their attention on Windows machines. That was then, this is now. It was reported by a strange group called Mi2g that in January there were over 17,000 successful attacks, comprising 13,600 on Linux servers and just over 2,000 on Windows servers. However, their original figures were not available just their headline-grabbing bottom line. Some cynics might suggest Mi2g begins with the same two letters as Microsoft and there is a link!!

To be perfectly honest, I think open source as an idea is great for any fledgling software area. However, once things mature and the non-hobbyist type of people want to use it (and don’t want to run updates every couple of days to install a feature they may never use), then is the time for reliable companies to take over the management of the software.

Q: Who/what do you think are the winners and losers in IT in next five years and why?

A: I think the winners will be people who are always thinking “does this make life more convenient?”. Because if the answer is “no”, then its just going to sit on the shelf. I think people working on voice communication with computers are going to do well, and I think people working on the laptop as entertainment center or the PDA as entertainment center are going to win – why read a book on the train when you could be watching a movie?

I think the losers will be anyone who thinks tablet computing is going to take off. And people who don’t make their software or hardware easy to use.

Q: What are the top challenges facing IT departments in the next two years and what are your recommendations to meet/overcome these challenges? Please provide specifics…

A: There are really two major challenges – keeping track of the data, and keeping it secure. And this doesn’t ignore all the “everyday” challenges that IT departments are very familiar with. The trouble with data is that it no longer sits on fixed disks in the Data Centre. It resides on laptops and PDAs and other micro-devices. This data has to be quickly assimilated into the company’s other data. So, orders from customers can be quickly sent to small handheld devices of people in warehouses – and all the necessary back office functions taking place as well. It’s important that the data is captured quickly and only the once! If the line goes down or the device restarts, the data cannot be sent again and assumed to be a new order. And Data Centres have got to know every step of the way what is happening with that order.

The second challenge is security. That data has to be back-ed up and retained. It has to be sent in a way that means it cannot be read or captured by others - Company B could find out how much Company A was charging customers for its products and undercut it. It’s also important that as devices get smaller they become easier to mislay or steal. It’s important to ensure that only authorized people are accessing the data.

There are no easy answers to these problems. It’s important that companies adopt the best procedures and practices to keep track of data and keep it secure.

Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?

A: My house is full of computers. We have a wireless network and everyone has a laptop (me, my wife, and my two daughters). We also have two desktop PCs. I also have a desktop PC and a desktop Mac, which I used to use for work and keep for old data that I suddenly need. I also have a Mac laptop networked with my PC laptop. This is so I can use Vantage and Hypercard – because there are no PC equivalents. We all use the broadband network.

Q: What drives you to do what you do?

A: I enjoy what I do. I like to wake up in the morning with a list of things to get done – and go to bed knowing that they have been done.

Q: How do you keep up with all the changes?

A: I make use of Google news for product announcements specific to CICS, AIX, DB2, MVS, MQ, RACF, and TCP/IP. I also get lots (too many) press releases of new announcements. And I read summaries of announcements on mainframe software vendors’ Web sites. I supplement this with visits to exhibitions and conferences to hear what people are saying.

Q: Thank you for sharing your valuable insights with us!

A:  You are very welcome.

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