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Meet 18 of the 2018 IBM Z Champions

IBM Z Champions


Business leaders, IT professionals and university professors continue to find new, creative uses for the IBM Z* platform. For the first time this year, IBM named 46 of these innovators as Z Champions. The designation is based on the ways they’re using the platform within their industries or classrooms and how they’re using Z attributes to keep their organizations on the cutting-edge.

Champions were nominated by their peers and maintain the title for one year. They’re eligible to renew their title the following year. IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition caught up with 18 of the Z Champions to find out more about the directions they’re taking the platform.


Shaun Frankson
Co-founder and chief digital strategist, The Plastic Bank
In his nearly two years on IBM Z, Canada-based Shaun Frankson has been a fierce advocate for the platform. As a speaker, he promoted it at IBM Interconnect in Las Vegas, Open Source Summit in Los Angeles and Blockchain Showcase in France, as well as at events in New York, Vancouver, and Denver, and at Harvard University.

“The Plastic Bank (located in Vancouver, British Columbia) has been working closely with IBM and Cognition Foundry to develop a blockchain-based platform to ignite a Social Plastic revolution, uniting and enrolling humanity for local action that creates global impact,” Frankson says. “Our app unites an end-to-end Social Plastic recycling ecosystem. It provides an opportunity for those without a bank to have a digital wallet and savings account. Anyone with a smartphone and scale can create their own local recycling business and ecosystem.”

He adds that combining blockchain, Hyperledger Fabric and the IBM LinuxONE* system creates an enterprise system built for trust and global scale. 


Rick Barlow
Infrastructure engineering consultant, Nationwide Insurance
With more than 40 years of experience on the Z platform, including serving as a senior z/VM*, infrastructure and Linux* engineer, Rick Barlow advocates for the platform by talking about what makes it unique and why that’s important.

“I love to talk to both mainframe professionals who have little direct exposure and students who might be interested in mainframes, then watch them get excited about the technology leadership as they see all of the components and features that make the Z mainframe the best choice for enterprise computing,” he explains.

A participant at the most recent SHARE conference, Barlow presented “IBM Z Hardware Overview.” He previously presented “Dynamic Hardware I/O Configuration” and “Business Continuity.”

“My company has been a long-time advocate for exploiting technology improvements in the Z platform,” Barlow adds. “We’re regular participants in early support programs for both hardware and software. Taking advantage of the latest capabilities has helped our company be a leader in our core business of insurance and finance.”


Dr. Zach Steelman
Assistant professor, Walton College of Business, Information Systems Department, University of Arkansas
In addition to working with the Z platform for the last five years, Dr. Zach Steelman also teaches mainframe technologies and an introduction to z/OS* and Linux in his enterprise systems classes. Most recently, he incorporated Hyperledger blockchain development with the use of IBM Cloud* into his courses.

“During the fall of 2017, my students were tasked with a group project to develop a blockchain that models a real-world use case,” he says. “Students developed their initial prototypes during a hackathon using IBM Linux Cloud services to host their development environments and blockchain.”

Last spring, Steelman’s classes focused on enterprise transaction systems and the distributed architecture comprising modern systems. Students completed a proof-of-concept that solved a specific use case using IBM Cloud to host their projects and web servers.


Marcel Daeppen
Chief technology officer, UBS
Based in Zurich, Marcel Daeppen has been working on IBM Z for 15 years. He uses services provided by the Z platform to deliver critical functions across the distributed ecosystem, including Database as a Service and Messaging as a Service.

“We’re innovating on IBM Z by using a service-based core banking as a platform solution that can be instantiated multiple times per run-time environment across multiple time zones,” Daeppen says. “We’re also using an API-centric design that manages the entire API lifecycle for all distributed and IBM Z consumers.”

A member of the IBM Design Council and CICS* Design Partner program, he focuses on DevOps with the goal of eliminating differences between platforms from a developer’s perspective and to have an always-on environment.


Dusty Rivers
Director, Z Systems, IMS and CICS, GT Software
Dusty Rivers may be the Z Champion with the most Z experience. He started with the MVS platform in 1977, first as a programmer, then a database administrator, then a systems programmer for IMS* and Db2*. Ultimately, he worked on integrating distributed systems with the mainframe.

Rivers speaks at SHARE conferences, the Virtual IBM user group and other conferences around the globe about mainframe in an API world. “I work with major global companies to bring their mainframe systems, IMS and CICS, into the new API economy,” he says, noting that his company provides software for Z mainframe applications.


Phil Grabowski
IT network and security forensic instructor, Pittsburgh Technical College
Having worked with mainframe technology his entire career, Phil Grabowski now teaches it. He uses the Master the Mainframe contest as extra credit for students and provides them with a chartered Mainframe Club. In 2015, Grabowski was a Destination z scholarship winner.

“To be honest, everyone has been working on the Z platform and doesn’t realize it because mainframes run western civilizations’ economies.”

Thirty-one of his students attended SHARE in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2017 and competed in the Master the Mainframe hackathon. This June, he’s taking a group to the Enterprise Computing Community Conference where he and a colleague are presenting their paper, “The Gamification of IBM Enterprise Z in Higher Education Enhancing Self-Efficacy of Students.” In August, he’s also taking students to SHARE in St. Louis.  


Cameron W. Seay
Assistant professor, College of Science and Technology, North Carolina A&T State University
Cameron W. Seay has been teaching Z platform-related classes for nine years. The university offers four mainframe courses for undergraduate and graduate levels, with up to 100 students enrolling each year.

He’s also generating interest among students before they get to college. “We’re exposing high schoolers and middle schoolers to mainframe technology,” he says. “For the past 10 years, we have hosted ‘Extreme Day,’ which began with a mainframe focus but expanded to include cloud computing and cybersecurity.”

  Seay helps high school technology teachers encourage students to participate in the Master the Mainframe competition, with one high schooler completing Part 3, which less than 1 percent of participants achieve. Seay and his colleagues have helped place more than 150 students in mainframe positions at major companies.

“First we undo the negative comments students have heard about mainframe—that it’s obsolete, no one is using it anymore, etc.,” he says. “We give them the facts—mainframe runs the global economy. I also tie this mature platform to the latest innovations in IT, such as blockchain, analytics, cloud computing and social media.”


Timothy Paul Cronan
Professor, information systems, Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas
In addition to teaching about using the Z platform for nearly 15 years in the classroom, Timothy Paul Cronan is also the director of information systems, graduate programs and M.D. Matthews Chair in information systems. In his dual role, he enables students to learn about Db2 and Z. Currently, he’s focusing on blockchain applications.

“Working in conjunction with companies such as ArcBest, IBM, JB Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart, we’ve developed a blockchain consortium,” Cronan explains. “We expect to be approved as a Blockchain Center of Excellence by the end of the semester.”  


Gangyi (Gary) Ding
Dean and full professor, School of Computer Science and Technology, Beijing Institute of Technology
Over the last four years, Gangyi (Gary) Ding has closely collaborated with the IBM Z team in China and the U.S. He has served as co-chair for the largest IBM Z conference in China (CHUG), and he works to promote the Z ecosystem’s software and hardware products to academia.

He’s now researching how to build an innovative new platform for low emission data collecting, in addition to other projects. “I’m currently working on bridging artificial intelligence and blockchain to IBM Z, with strong applications to the Internet of Things and stage performance design and simulations,” he says.


Daniel Esser
 System manager for System Z, Generali
An apprenticeship in 2010 introduced Germany-based Daniel Esser to the mainframe. “During the theoretical part, I thought, ‘Oh, no, what is this?’ But then came the practical aspects and I got really interested,” he says. “I now work for the mainframe team, and it’s the best decision I made.”

  Esser is chairman of a working group that focuses on mainframers under 30 years of age. During the group’s twice annual meetings, members share information and teach each other. He promotes the group when attending international conferences, encouraging young professionals to experience the mainframe.

“In my company, I also teach new hires how mainframes work,” he says. “Right now, we’re experimenting with Linux on Z and blockchain.”  


Wolfram Greis
Managing director, European Mainframe Academy
After writing a lot about mainframes over the years, including a book, Wolfram Greis co-founded his current Switzerland-based company in 2008, which provides commercial education materials. “My passion is bridging the proverbial skill gap,” he says. “Our flagship product is a two-year, on-the-job education that teaches mainframe basics to upcoming system administrators.”

Greis is president of the Central Europe Computer Measurement Group, a vendor-neutral expert group offering an experience exchange in enterprise computing. One group focuses on optimization strategies for IBM Z. In 2016, he co-founded the Academic Mainframe Consortium, a not-for-profit in Germany that fosters mainframe education at universities.

“One essential achievement was replacing two old z9* machines at Leipzig and Tübingen Universities with two z114 systems donated by a mainframe customer,” he says. “From the IBM lab in Böblingen and from another customer, we received two DS8000* disk systems, replacing two DS6000* systems.”


Donald Zeunert
Principal software consultant, BMC Software
Donald Zeunert has been working with IBM Z for more than 40 years. For almost 30 of those years, he’s worked for software vendors on performance and tuning MVS and its subsystems.

“I’ve been evangelizing Z for decades by speaking at user groups to dispel myths and inform clients on how the Z platform is the most cost-effective and high-performance platform to run applications,” he says. “I also assist clients in eliminating inefficiencies in their hardware or software configurations, and pinpoint application issues.”

Zeunert’s company helps clients achieve mainframe cost optimization and reduce MLC software costs.


Martha McConaghy
System architect, technical lead, Marist College
In addition to working with the IBM mainframe for more than 30 years, Martha McConaghy is a member of the SHARE board of directors and currently serves as the director of conference operations. She also speaks about Z technology at various events.

  “I work to support the open-source community’s efforts to port software to IBM Z,” she says. “Most of our projects provide public access to the Z platform for developers. I’m also involved with the Open Mainframe Project of the Linux Foundation and provide support for several of its projects.”

She points out that many of her college’s most important services are hosted on IBM Z. “We regularly partner with IBM on projects such as the LinuxONE Community Cloud,” McConaghy says. “On the academic side, we are part of the IBM Academic Initiative and host the z/OS system used for teaching classes in Z technology throughout the world.”


Dr. Robert Steven Owor
Interim chair and professor of computer science and software engineering, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Albany State University, Georgia
  Dr. Robert Steven Owor has been working with the Z platform since 2015. “We participated in the Master the Mainframe Competition the last three years,” he says. “We taught the Z platform in our courses in 2017 and 2018, and LinuxONE the last two years.”

Owor’s students have taken the IBM zEnterprise* Computing Kickstart course, which offers 44 hours of online education. They’ve also built a blockchain microfinance application on IBM LinuxONE. Owor and his students have attended several Z council meetings, IBM Watson* training events and blockchain conferences. His college is planning conferences this fall on Z and Watson.

“We won second place in the IBM Blue-Hack Hackathon in Atlanta last year using the IBM mainframe running Watson facial recognition algorithms,” he says. “Right now, we’re focusing on developing blockchain solutions using IBM z14*. Some innovations include a GPS-based identity management system and a facial recognition system for large crowds that may include suspicious people.”


Leanne Kemp
Founder and CEO, Everledger
Since its inception in 2015, Leanne Kemp’s London-based company Everledger has successfully partnered with IBM, including using the Z platform and cloud solutions. “Secure cloud hosting is crucial for the success of the client projects we run, and IBM’s secure hardware offerings are integral to our entire end-to-end process,” Kemp says.

When discussing products during the company’s sales cycle, discussions on immediate and future needs for cloud-hosting solutions always come up. Kemp says the company recognizes the IBM Z platform as one of the most secure and appropriate options, which is why they recommend it to clients.

“We use the high-security hardware provided by IBM Z to augment our high-value asset provenance tracking solutions,” she explains. “This helps to assure our clients of the end-to-end security we can provide.”


Trevor Eddolls
CEO, iTech-Ed Ltd.
Having worked with Z and its precursors since 1980, U.K.-based Trevor Eddolls writes about current trends and new innovations with the platform.

“I publish a weekly blog that’s predominantly about Z-related matters, and I also blog for Destination z and Planet Mainframe,” says Eddolls. He also serves as the editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, which is all about Z. “I talk about mainframes to everyone.”

In addition, he chairs Virtual CICS and Virtual IMS user groups, and produces newsletters for them.


Hemanth Rama
Senior software engineer, BMC Software
Hemanth Rama has used his 13-plus years of experience working on the Z platform to continually innovate. He’s received three patents relating to Z innovations in optimizing capacity on IBM z/OS LPARs to reduce the cost of running workloads, helping clients keep their MLC costs down. He’s a passionate promoter of the Z platform.

  “I regularly write technical content about the Z platform for many popular IT websites, magazines and my personal blog,” says Rama, who also speaks about the platform at conferences, symposiums, user groups and as a guest on mainframe podcasts. “I’m engaged with the mainframe community by volunteering as a project officer for SHARE conference MVS performance and Z next-gen projects.”


James Gill
Principal consultant, Triton Consulting
James Gill has been working on Z for about 30 years, starting on MVS and DB2 2.1 on 3090 600J machines. Now he focuses on client technology consultancy along with research and development using Db2 for z/OS, seeking to publish his findings in blogs under the DB2Geek banner (db2geek.triton.co.uk) and through formal presentations.

Last year, he presented on the REST API at IDUG EMEA, including a live demonstration using his U.K.-based company’s zPDT*.

“We talk to a lot of clients about REST, and increasingly more about DevOps for mainframe development and delivery,” he says. “This is proving to be a serious culture shift for many, but the benefits for their business units in terms of time-to-market really drive this movement. These are exciting times to be working on Z.”

Brett Martin is a freelance writer based in Shakopee, Minnesota. He’s been writing about business and technology for more than a decade.


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