RealTime IT News

The Mainframe is No Dodo Bird

NEW YORK -- Remember five years ago when Sun  and HP  embarked on campaigns to disparage the mainframe? Specifically, IBM's  large refrigerator-sized zSeries machines.

At the time, they had a market shift on their side; companies were fleeing the comfort of the mainframe for smaller, more modular and cheaper Intel servers. Rumor had it, they were easier to manage and no one could deny the cost savings just from the price tag on the box.

But what many of these companies setting up farms of distributed servers failed to recognize how much managing hundreds or thousands of servers would drain the IT administrators' time, or that the cost of powering so many data-churning machines would be exorbitant.

With space, management and internal power cap mandates haunting many IT shops, is it possible companies are coming back to the mainframe fold, which so many server vendors and naysayers dismissed as a Jurassic period in the computing world?

It's quite possible from what I saw and heard at an IBM System z Summit mainframe glorification event here this week.

Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM Software, said space considerations, cooling and other factors are leading businesses to look at how they bring workloads together. And they are looking to mainframes for this consolidation.

"Does it matter what the physical box looks like, what the operating system is? Are these religious issues important issues that need to be debated today? Or are the important issues that need to be debated today how to get the more efficient execution of my business... and free up dollars to reinvest in new applications and new capabilities?

"All of that is leading to very fundamental and profound shifts in the attitudes and buying habits of businesses around the world. [Customers] are looking increasingly at consolidated computing choices, and clearly the IBM zSeries is the premier consolidated computing platform in the world today."

Nice pitch, Steve.

Jim Stallings, general manager of System z for IBM Systems & Technology Group, chimed in with some stats to bolster Mills' proclamation.

Mainframe sales and processing units, it seems, are growing. In IBM's fourth quarter 2006, System z sales were up 12 percent year-over-year, while MIPS -- the way a computer's speed and power are measured -- grew 9 percent to tally over 11.3 million MIPS sold. In fact, Stallings said, IBM shipped more MIPs in that quarter than it did in all of 1997.

Twenty-five percent of the total annual MIPS IBM ships are based on Linux, while 60 percent of the MIPS shipped are a combination of Java and Linux.

Moreover, IBM's specialty mainframe configurations for Linux (IFL), information integration (zIIP) and application performance (zAAP) also sold well, boasting MIPs tallies of 1,200, 1,500 and 1,700, respectively.

Stallings said that after traveling the world and talking to customers about their pain points, he is convinced customers are rationalizing their IT strategies in a different way so it consumes less power, reduces complexity, and scales up without losing value.

"Power in many cases is out of control," Stallings said, displaying a chart from researcher IDC that said the power associated with running the server will cost twice what the server costs two years from now.

"The acquisition cost is no longer the driver of the conversation. It's, 'What does it cost to manage it?' The biggest cost to manage it is people. The next biggest cost is power. It's given rise to the mainframe being in more conversations and more deployments and more services engagements than ever before."

In short, he said customers are looking to virtualize as much as possible. Thanks to the increase in virtualized memory for the IBM System z's z/VM virtualization software, the ability to move many servers onto one mainframe became more definitive. Moving hundreds of underutilized Intel x86 boxes to a few larger machines may prove more attractive to some enterprises.

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