Big Iron lives on

There's life in the mainframe still

The demise of the mainframe has often been predicted over the past fifteen years, yet customers never seem to want throw them out. Indeed, last month, IBM revealed that its mainframe revenue grew 12 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the previous quarter, and 25 percent year-on-year.

IBM is so convinced of the long-term prospects of big iron that it is working on a five plan costing US$100m in order to simplify the mainframe. To this end, the company has introduced several software products designed to make its System z mainframe more secure and easier to manage.

Big Blue is also providing a control structure and very attractive pricing for using System z mainframe processors for new workloads. According to Saugatuck Technology, customers purchasing or upgrading a System z, for example, can request one or more processors for exclusive use by workloads running under Linux. These Linux-only processors are priced approximately 90 percent lower than a processor utilised for a traditional mainframe workload.

Using System z virtualisation, a customer can configure a System z at an attractive price with the capacity to run workloads from hundreds of discrete i86 servers, says Saugatuck. IBM also offers similar special pricing for processors in the System z for database workloads and for new types of workloads such as gaming.

Unisys is already migrating its traditional ClearPath models to operate on Intel chips. Unisys has also migrated MCP and OS 2200 operating systems to run natively on Intel.

The result was that the newly announced ClearPath models are populated with Intel microprocessors. Workloads running on Windows, Linux, MCP, and OS 2200 can all execute concurrently and share resources such as data files, networks, etc.

Saugatuck says IBM and Unisys mainframe platforms have succeeded in a key area where non-mainframes have failed. The researcher thinks that both approaches enable non-mainframe workloads to benefit from many of the capabilities which had been exclusively experienced by traditional mainframe workloads. Specifically, both approaches provide levels of security, integrity and availability that each vendor has engineered for the past four decades into their respective platforms.

Saugatuck says that its research showed that the approaches adopted by both Unisys and IBM were being increasingly recognised and embraced by customers. For example IBM has confirmed that approximately 25 percent of all System z capacity currently being shipped to customers is designated for Linux workloads.

Further, IBM says that the System z is has been gaining high-end server market share for several years and that System z capacity shipped in 4Q06 was greater than the total capacity of the then current installed IBM mainframe worldwide inventory. These measures of demand are evidence of the growth in usage of mainframes for both traditional and new, non-traditional workloads.

Other factors driving the demand for mainframes seems to be a combination of space consideration, cooling costs, and consolidating computing platforms, as well as running concurrent individual instances of an application on a single mainframe. Certainly, the mainframe's stranglehold on the banking and retail sectors seems pretty secure.

IBM said that mainframe revenue grew in Latin America and Russia, and it doubled in India and China over the past year. It seems that companies in developing markets without large in-house IT departments still see the benefits of running an entire business from a single machine, rather than opting for distributed servers.

Saugatuck recommends that mainframe customers should consider upgrading to enable non-mainframe workloads to be migrated to the mainframe platforms.

Furthermore, it believes that customers without mainframes installed should evaluate the cost of a mainframe, versus the benefits of migrating non-mainframe workloads to the mainframe. Saugatuck thinks the benefits of such migrations are improved workload management, performance, availability, and security coupled with reduced costs for electrical power, cooling, floor space, and support staffs.

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