IBM boosts mainframes support, services

As IBM prepares to ship new 24- and 32-processor versions of its zSeries 990 mainframe computers later this month, the company is ramping up its zSeries technical support operation and, on Tuesday, will begin offering customers a US$250,000 credit to encourage them to purchase big iron systems.

Following up on its A and B z990 models, which were introduced last spring, IBM on October 31 will begin shipping the C and D z990s. The Model C z990 will be a 24-processor machine; the Model D will contain 32 processors.

The company will also announce plans to increase by a third or more the $250 million it spends annually on technical support of by creating a new class of IBM technical support consultants, called IBM System Architects. Big Blue also plans to increase its spending on hardware and software support for the mainframe. "We're increasing our investment in the area of 30 to 40 percent over the next six months, including these new System Architects," said Pete McCaffrey, IBM's director of zSeries product marketing.

About half of the new support investment will be spent on the System Architects, who will be available, free of charge, to mainframe customers. "We're introducing this new role, which is more of a higher level, broader role. Previously a customer would have to hire a consultant to provide this level of service," said McCaffrey. "Initially, we'll be deploying about 150 around the world. They'll be deployed into our top accounts on an as-needed basis."

The System Architects will be charged with evaluating their customer's IT environment and providing consulting services to help users simplify and consolidate IT operations.

The other half of the money will be spent on "beefing up the specialist community that supports these architects," said McCaffrey. This money will be spent primarily on adding more staff to the 1,000 technical support specialists who already work in IBM's zSeries group, he said.

IBM's moves are, in part, designed to assuage fears IT managers might have about a thinning of the mainframe work force, as the technology becomes less prevalent in IT, said John Phelps, a research vice president with industry research firm, Gartner Inc. "They want to build up confidence in the mainframe, that there are people out there who can help them," he said.

"You worry about the mainframe from a skills basis because you don't have a lot of people coming out of college who have been trained that way," Phelps added. "I see this as moving back to that environment where you're getting this kind of good support from the vendor without having to be nickeled and dimed for a support contract," he said.

The $250,000 credit will be another incentive for mainframe customers. Through the end of the year, IBM will offer mainframe purchasers this rebate on a variety of IBM's On Demand services and products, like its BladeCenter or storage systems, or WebSphere software.

When the new mainframes begin shipping at the end of the month, they will feature enhanced clustering capabilities that will allow mainframes as far as 100 km apart to be linked together. They will also contain 30 logical partitions (LPARS), twice as many as their predecessors, and 512 I/O channels, said McCaffrey.

IBM is also enhancing Linux support on the mainframes so that Linux users can now turn on and off processor capacity depending on system requirements. Linux mainframe users will also now be able to use IBM's 2105 Enterprise Storage Servers, and its Enterprise Tape System 3590 drives for storage.

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